Custom-made divas

A Berlin furniture designer creates tables known for their beauty and refined functionality. Sometimes they even lead lives of their own

Franz-Josef Schulte © Schulte Design GmbH

Franz-Josef Schulte runs his hand over the surface and the edges, closely inspecting the grain and the fissure in the middle: “It’s incredibly soft”, he says. Of course, he’s only talking about a table, but this one is his pride and joy. He designed it and drove 2,000 kilometres to Italy to purchase the 250-year-old olive-tree log from which it was made. He then drove it back to Germany and had a carpenter from eastern Westphalia fashion it into a table top, sanded and oiled. Finally, Schulte himself mounted it on a brushed cast-iron frame. “This wood lives on”, he says. “It does what it wants and remains forever beautiful”. Indeed, it’s best to handle such headstrong tables as one would a diva, making it the centre point of one’s home and giving it the attention it deserves as a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Schulte is a furniture designer who has made tables his specialty. “People spend a lot of time at tables. They do creative work around tables but also gather there with their families and friends”. He liked the idea that his tables would engender the best conversations and best hours spent. Schulte comes from a family of furniture makers, and the beginnings of this tradition date back to 1888. He studied interior design and now specialises in furniture design. The Krefeld-born designer has only been in Berlin for two years. He set up his showroom on the banks of the Spree River, where he takes guests around with a mixture of Rhenish friendliness and simple elegance.

For him, there’s nothing better than designing furniture and creating the first prototype: “It’s almost like bringing a baby into the world”.

He uses one of his tables – a stunning piece made of dark American walnut – to demonstrate his approach to design; in order to transform the desk into a dining table, he casually pulls out a panel from under the desk and turns it 180 degrees, thus producing enough room for three more guests. Thanks to this unique technique, it’s possible to extend his tables effortlessly on both sides in a matter of seconds. Schulte loves simple ideas like this. One of his other desks is equipped with a spring that instantly raises the table to become a standing desk. He also put his design ideas into his kitchen tables: one of them reveals a ceramic hob that can be concealed just as elegantly after cooking by simply pulling the walnut table apart. This combination of German high-tech and elaborate craftsmanship is inimitable, and Schulte argues that anyone who buys his furniture should be able to spend their life with it. His products are designed for people in the “post-Ikea phase”, he explains. In other words, these artworks are no discount bargains, nor were they designed to be so. “We’ve all gotten too accustomed to relying on mass produced furniture”, he says. Once again, he stands over his olive-wood dining table and runs his hand over the velvety surface. A diva like this, Schulte says, is worth the price. Indeed, it’s so much more than just a slab of wood on four legs. (mse)


Michael Sellge
Kluge Köpfe 2017