MEET PAUL LOEBACH
Designer Paul Loebach's earliest childhood memories take him back to his father's woodworking shop: the noises and tools, the furniture he crafted.
Takes a hands-on approach to design. Comes from a lineage of family craftsmen. Focuses on emotive meanings of objects.
“The art of design is to take all those factors and create a balance—to produce something that’s relevant and meaningful, that represents a certain value.”
Today, those formative experiences continue to influence his own creations, which are deeply rooted in materiality.
Paul, who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, holds a degree in Industrial Design from Rhode Island School of Design. Upon graduating, he quickly decamped to New York City, where he settled in Brooklyn’s burgeoning Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood; however, his work life isn’t confined to the Big Apple alone. For the past several years, the designer has shuttled between Brooklyn and Berlin, where he opened a second studio in Mitte. His work reflects an ongoing observation of how people interact with—and assign value to—objects, and his singular approach to design has attracted clients that include Kontextür, Roll & Hill, Areaware, Kikkerland and Matter.
When asked about his most memorable achievement, Paul says, "I’m hesitant to mark moments in the past because I’m so fixed on the future." Even so, he seems pleasantly rooted in the present, as he eases back into living in the US full-time. "I’m looking forward to being a little more firmly planted in New York,” he says, “and all the unexpected things that brings."
Tell us: how’d you get into design?
I grew up mostly in Cincinnati, Ohio. My dad is a production engineer and his dad was a wood and metal worker, so he taught me a lot about materials growing up—both in terms of production and hands-on craft techniques. At some point, I learned that industrial design was a career path and went to Rhode Island School of Design. After I graduated in 2002, I moved to New York and started to do design and product and furniture and lighting.
I see woodworking as a foundational background that I’ve brought with me and applied to a range of materials. My design approach is materially based because it’s rooted in that hands-on understanding. From there, it’s all about user experience. I’m interested in how design explores the evolution of the way people use objects and interact with them.
How would you describe your design philosophy?
It’s about a constant, ongoing study of how we assign value to objects in our material world. To me, design is taking that understanding of value, meaning and user experience and applying it to the creation of an object through a particular set of materials and production methods. The art of design is to take all those factors and create a balance—to produce something that’s relevant and meaningful, that represents a certain value.
Can you name a favorite object of the many you’ve designed over the years?
I like the x3 watering cans. Lately, though, I’ve gotten so involved in the projects I’m working on. I’m creating a dining table that’s really my favorite project right now.
How does your design philosophy apply to say, that table?
I decided I wanted to work on a dining table and started thinking about the way people sit at a table and what happens to their feet—I’ve been having a lot of ad hoc dinner parties lately. I like the idea of a table as a really versatile surface that you can work on, or sprawl on as you’re eating, or where you can bring a group of people to enjoy each other’s company. Where is the line between a conference table and a dining table? I’m interested in that aesthetic boundary.
What else inspired the design of this particular object?
Very light, delicate ceramics are historically considered a standard of elegance or quality in porcelain, so I became interested in creating a really, really dense and heavy ceramic object. I’m interested in the weight of objects in general, and there’s a certain satisfaction when an object weighs what you think it should weigh, like a bowling ball. I wanted something that looked heavy and was heavy and earned its heaviness through its functionality.
Did the 3D production method excite you?
It opened subtle shifts in the form. I designed the geometry purposely in a way that wouldn’t be able to be molded traditionally as a nod to the challenge of the 3D technique.
You’ve spent quite some time traveling between New York City and Berlin. How many hours of your life have you spent on a plane, would you say?
A lot. I travel a lot in general.
For work or for fun? Or both?
I’m definitely one of those people for whom that line can get really blurry. That can be both a good thing and a challenge. I travel a lot for work and for fun, but I think those things tend to overlap pretty significantly.
Your routine must fluctuate considerably, depending on which city you’re in. Can you walk us through a typical day in your Berlin or New York studio?
I can’t do that. [laughs] I haven’t had a typical day in a long time.
I’m interested in the weight of objects in general, and there’s a certain satisfaction when an object weighs what you think it should weigh, like a bowling ball.
You mentioned earlier that at some point in your life, you learned that industrial design was a career possibility. Tell us about that moment.
I have a memory of pulling a Raymond Loewy book off a library shelf. This book and character were so bizarre to me, but it was the first time industrial design was really explained to me as a profession. I’m not inspired by Raymond Lowey—he’s a strange character—but I think my career path was informed by his book in a small way. It clarified a certain path for me as a kid.
Did you know that you always wanted to be a designer in a broader sense?
There was a time when I didn’t know that was a thing, but I knew I wanted to be involved in shaping my material environment.
What was the first thing you ever made?
I couldn’t tell you. I don’t remember making one specific object. It’s more that I remember the joinery technique for making box corners and connecting things together. As a kid, I remember wondering, well why can’t you just stick it together? The early lessons were very fundamental and mechanical in a sense.
What did you make for your collaboration with OTHR?
It’s a small catch-all type object. The product description says something like, ‘If you’re always losing something, this should help.’ That’s a problem I don’t have personally, but I’m inspired by the old cliché of someone constantly losing their keys.