A coincidence and lots of fun experimenting
Lea Gerber and Sophie Liechti have together created «Atelier Volvox». They are providing some information about their work in their shop in Zurich district 3.
Designers realise that design and business are two different things after completing their studies at the latest. Schools prepare them for the design aspects of designing. How one should then bring these items to a man or woman, is written on a different page. Very few designers support the entire process from the first draft to the finished product, distribution and sale. Which doesn’t mean this can’t be exciting. As shown by a visit to «Atelier Volvox».
However, handling all these components oneself is very time-consuming, as the two Zurich designers Lea Gerber and Sophie Liechti suggest in our conversation. Together they have created «Atelier Volvox». The premises of their studio in the centre of district 3 also have a shop facing the road. This special combination is the result of a coincidence. «We actually didn’t want a shop, but via a friend this opportunity presented itself two and a half years ago and then we decided to try it out», they both explain. They continue to produce their wooden items in a carpenter’s workshop in Altstetten, which they share with other people. During shop opening hours they are on site in Bertastrasse, designing, researching or doing office work. If necessary they can also explain their items to anyone who expresses an interest themselves. In addition to their product portfolio, they sell pieces in their shop from designers whom they know and appreciate. They also look for this direct contact with customers at various trade fairs such as blickfang.
Gerber and Liechti have been working together for quite a long time. After studying product design at Zurich University of the Arts, in 2010 they founded «Atelier Volvox» together with friends and since 2015 there are just the two of them and they have designed various products together. It takes time to build up a collection and they also want to take this time because good products only come about through experimentation and further development. In order to optimally balance these processes, which are often complex, they work with various manufacturers and arrange for their designs to be produced in various quantities. This is because there is one thing the «self-made-women» have learned: The larger the order volume, the lower the price of the individual pieces. And the higher their margin. However, this doesn’t work for every item and is also not their aim.
They have arranged for their «Alba» vase for example to be produced in a metal printing works in Aargau. Each item is one of a kind because different colour gradients occur when the copper is heated. Although the pieces are produced in series, the vase also has its price because of the manual manufacturing stages. Sometimes an idea also arises from a fascination for a certain household item or for a material. After reading an article about salt and doing some research, this lead to alabaster as a material. The two busy women travelled to Tuscany, where this crystal-type material has been found and worked with for thousands of years. There they found some craftsmen, who have since been making beautiful salt boxes for their label. Gerber and Liechti also like to be hands on themselves. As Lea Gerber is a trained carpenter, she brings craft expertise to the design and manufacturing process. Depending on the customer’s wishes, they use various colours for the handmade «Abra» wooden chest of drawers. Custom-made items are also part of what «Atelier Volvox» can offer.
Their curiosity drives both designers to continually experiment with new materials, currently glass. In this way the label’s range is continually being expanded, which fits with the designers’ process-oriented view of design as a discipline. The downside to tinkering is the financial aspect. This is because the designers invest part of the profit in production. «It takes three series until a product becomes profitable», they report. Although the shop is self-financing, it’s main purpose is to be a showroom and platform. This is why most of the items in the shop are commissioned and they rarely buy anything in. They both have casual jobs as a sideline to keep their heads above water. But they have not lost their optimism and enjoyment in design as a result. «We are always on the way up», they say smiling. The price for controlling the design, manufacturing, distribution and sales is high, but the two committed designers are not thinking about giving up.