Made for Humanscale

Das Haus

Cologne

24 January 2017

For the last five years, the IMM Cologne furniture fair has commissioned Das Haus, a project that gives free reins to an appointed designer to reimagine contemporary living space. This year's nominee is the New York-based designer Todd Bracher. Shortly before the opening of IMM Cologne, Disegno sat down with Bracher to discuss his approach to the project.

Key to Bracher's vision of Das Haus was reconsidering how domestic space is compartmentalised. "If you buy a house that is 50, 100 or even just 10 years old," says Bracher, "it has rooms in it that you didn't ask to have there." The floor plan, notes Bracher, will probably conform to dated ideas about the functions of rooms. "It'll typically have a dining room, but I don't need a dining room. Nevertheless, people tend to put a dining table there, eight chairs, a chandelier." Interiors magazines perpetuate the same old tropes, says Bracher. "We don't really re-evaluate how we live, we just update colours and textures."

In Das Haus, Bracher's alternative distribution of space focuses on blurring traditional boundaries between rooms. "Today's homes are more open plan, where the kitchen is opened up to the living area," says Bracher. "That's become an aspiration in modern living. I'd like to explore what the next iteration might look like." The result is a tripartite pavilion whose three zones encourage an array of activities. The central space, labelled the "sustenance room" by Bracher, is devoted to the cultivation of food, curiosity, and friendships. Accessed from the sustenance room via a darkened hallway is a smaller, dimly lit "processing room", where a rocking chair and daybed offer an opportunity to rest and reflect. An outdoor area, fitted with a shower and dressing table, is devoted to "hygiene".

The sustenance room is lined with capacious shelving throughout. Like a modern-day wunderkammer, the shelves display natural and human-made curiosities (a piece of fossilised wood, taxidermied animals, ceramic vessels, and glossy tomes on design history). A collection of utensils line one of the walls: they could be used to prepare food, craft objects, or dissect a specimen. Preparing food, cultivating your imagination, and learning about the natural and human-made world need not necessarily be disconnected activities, suggests Bracher.

This realisation came out of reading a picture book about birds to his son: "We live in New York so I realised he doesn't know what this bird actually looks like," says Bracher. "He doesn't know what the bird feels like, what it sounds like, or even how big it is because it's a picture inside a small book. So really, the book is kind of useless." The same disconnect characterises the way we consume food in modern cities, Bracher argues. The sustenance room is an environment that encourages cultivation of food and of knowledge alongside each other, rather than as separate activities. "So you're sustaining your body, your mind, and your spirit. There is food like bread, pasta and grains, as well as things to learn from, like animals and little examples from physics."

Similarly, the processing room acknowledges that there are different ways to rest than sleeping in a bed. "There is thinking," says Bracher. "Sometimes you just want to sit and think. There is daydreaming, napping, meditation, and sleep." Furniture and architectural setting can facilitate these activities: "For example, there's a rocking chair for thinking, a daybed for napping, and meditation cushions," says Bracher. The curation of objects and products in the processing room - as throughout Bracher's Das Haus - follows a conscientious design philosophy. "I've not put a lot of things in this house because we don't need a lot of things. Everything that goes in there must serve a function or it doesn't exist."

These criteria are key to Bracher's overall design thinking. "For some reason, folks think I'm a minimalist," says Bracher. "But it couldn't be further from the truth. I'm not a minimalist at all, but an essentialist." Bracher sees the two as diametrically opposed: "Minimalism is about taking everything away. It's about how little can you have. Essentialism is completely different: it's what is needed and nothing more." Bracher points to a previous design to elaborate this point: "If you look at the Trea chair I designed for Humanscale," he says, "there is actually no styling to it. We determined what angles are most critical for the body, how we need it to recline, its height, weight, and the material it needs to be for strength. You start going through a whole list and when you get to the end, the chair is finished."

In the Trea chair as in Das Haus, the idea of determining the functional parameters and never adding unnecessary frills is the leading thought. "It's about defining that truthful ecosystem and trying to drive out a result that is loyal to that ecosystem. Anything else is cosmetic and untruthful," says Bracher. "Das Haus has gone through an identical process: we've ignored the architecture and said: I want to be able to consume for my body, mind, and spirit, and I want to have a little rest. I want to hygiene in relation to nature. You go through this list and then the architecture appears."