Paperlux


They are definitely one of the big ones of 2011. Paperlux has drawn the audience’s attention by designing the cover of novum’s November issue. But in fact they have been playing in the first league for quite some time now. Hermès has already titled Paperlux “Atelier Artisan” and their clients are major companies such as Montblanc, Alexander McQueen, Adidas, Goldene Kamera, Stöver and many more. Their work stands out through high quality, extraordinary materials and downright love for detail. Paperlux creates artwork in limited quantity. But if you expect a bunch of reserved art directors in an arty office you would be suprised. Behind the door of the frame house located at Schanzenviertel Hamburg you will find many school furniture, one of Max Kuehne’s passions who is the founder and owner of Paperlux. This office is the home of a team of creative individualists who Max Kuehne lovingly calls his family. Reason enough for us to peak behind the scenes.

COHEZION blog
Is Paperlux a family business?

Max Kuehne
Yes we are a family business. My wife and I are share the management. She is responsible for client contact and I am handle the creative side. We are currently working on offspring for our manufacture. (laughing)

COHEZION blog
How would you describe Paperlux in a few sentences?

Max Kuehne
It is relatively easy to describe Paperlux. Paperlux is the connection between my parents and their jobs respectively. My mother is a trained modiste. She was a hat maker. My father is a mechanical engineer. Paperlux connects these two strings. On the one hand Paperlux is very creative, very artistic, always keeping an eye on fashion, pretty things, nice materials and surfaces. On the other hand we have an extremely high standard for technology and precision. That sums up Paperlux.

COHEZION blog
Yes, I’ve noticed that. Everything is very precise. My favorite work is the tree with the woman. I think you designed that for…

Max Kuehne

Alexander McQueen. It was an illustration drawn by himself. We developed the idea of how the invitation should look like and how it would be designed. It was a very interesting cooperation.


COHEZION blog
What is the philosophy of Paperlux?

Max Kuehne
At the end of the day Paperlux are these two things: on the one hand the love for good design and for good materials and on the other hand the precision as far as implementation is concerned. I always tell my designers: “design starts with the material, the base. Never let anyone else select the material, it already expresses so much.” Every artist begins with the base: for example Andy Warhol who painted on cars or a graffiti artist who chooses a nice wall or a street artist who says “this corner is perfect for my artwork because the corner next to it is telling a story” or because he can work with the area surrounding it. That is our mindset and that is what we do.

COHEZION blog
Do you produce in house or do you have a cooperation with a printer?

Max Kuehne
We have been working together with several partners. Otherwise you couldn’t do it. I distress people for many things because we want this precision. There are only a few who understand that and have the sympathy for what we do. Hence these are all long-term partners and we work together in an amicable manner. Our printer is currently undergoing a change of generations. The senior is leaving and the junior is taking over. He is our age and is even more understanding. He knows how the market works in the future. Especially among printers there is a lot of price competition, it is very important to have long-term partners. On the other hand we are very fortunate to be one of only a few design studios who have their own workshop. Our entire ground floor is a workshop. There we have an old Heidelberg printing press which is operated by a friend of mine who is a subtenant, there we also have our laser and it gives us the chance to manually process things. Especially with small quantities we do the final processing in house in order to do the final check and say “now its fine”. And I’ve found someone who is responsible for this part and who has developed a passion for it.

COHEZION blog
It is good to find people who have the same principles.

Max Kuehne
It is a tough job and we established it on a long-term basis and not to make quick money. We do it because that’s our passion and because we can do it. I see it with a certain humbleness that our customers enable us to do it and that we do not need to agonize ourselves. That is also important for us. We have told clients, we can’t work together because it doesn’t benefit neither of us. It’s nit good for us and it’s not good for the client because he is not satisfied and he sees the result differently. That doesn’t make any sense. For us the client is always someone we work with in partnership.

COHEZION blog
Your story, your progress. I found an article from 2009 which stated that you did graffiti and dropped out of school.

Max Kuehne
Yes. After 10 years they suggested I should do something else than school. It’s not that I dislike school, our entire office is filled with school furniture. I love old school furniture. I also loved school up to a point. 1989 we left Dresden. It was a different educational system in West Germany and I couldn’t cope with it. Fortunate circumstances got me into vocational training to become a sign writer.

COHEZION blog
That means you already have a creative background.

Max Kuehne
Yes, but it is more handcraft than studied communication design. The progress of Paperlux starts with the name: Paperlux is the combination of ‘Paper’ and ‘Light’. Many people suspect ‘Luxury’ or ‘Deluxe’ behind the name, because we work with premium and luxury clients. The truth is the name stands for ‘Lux’ for ‘Light’ and that is because of our paper etching process. That is an idea I worked on in the 90’s, to get more latitude into the design process. All the different printing and finishing processes are very interesting, but they all have a problem: I always have to build a pattern, which means I have to build an embossing tool or a printing plate. I wanted to have more flexibility during the design process and when working with different surfaces and so I experimented with a laser. That was in 1997/1998. Then the whole thing got lost in a drawer. Hamburg is a media-city and during the whole internet-era it was something like gold miner-city. I found it very interesting, all the new opportunities, and started to work with it. That was as a free designer. In 2003 it all collapsed. Hamburg was very depressive during that time and I went back to the things I really like and in which I am good at. I took the whole thing out of the drawer, showed it to the first people of the paper industry and they were enthusiastic about it. I talked to Gmund because I really liked their paper. So we put our main emphasis on paper etching plus production and design. We always had clients that we served, also 2003. Starting with Jette Joop, who we worked for two years, until 2005. We made her first website and all her print stuff, private as well as for the company. I founded the company with a partner. I separated from him in 2009.

COHEZION blog
That was Jan…

Max Kuehne
Jan Staecker, exactly, we worked together from 2003 until 2009, 6 years. 2006 someone joined us who organized our financial side. That was wonderful and I am very grateful for that, because that is a point that still drives me crazy. I now understand, that these things can’t only be beautiful, they have to be cost effective – they have to earn money. We are fortunate that we are rarely in the position of having to sell something. We invite to a television gala or we make a present for a rugby team. Those are always projects far away from the typical marketing. Nevertheless we have to be economic, because even for these projects there is a budget and that is rarely unlimited. novum is a total stroke of luck, but only because the people there give us the opportunity and say “at the end of the day the figures don’t matter, it’s all up to you.” In other cases we work within a budget plan which isn’t bad, but where other agencies earn more money because of the fact that their production isn’t that costly.

COHEZION blog
Therefore your work is extraordinary.

Max Kuehne
Yes, that’s true. I think it is more sustainable and such cooperation’s especially like with Hermès express exactly that. We are the only German design studio who works directly with Hermès in Paris. They once titled us as ‘Artelier Artisan’.

COHEZION blog
What is the core area of Paperlux?

Max Kuehne
We have a very high artistic standard plus an extreme technical know-how. Our focus is to manage projects from start to end. From the first idea until the end, when somebody takes a final look and says, “this project or this product is fine and it’s finished and we can pack and ship it”. By now we even ship our things globally. The second focus is paper etching. In that point we are very selective. We produce our own products with Gmund as well as finished products, which are sold in the Gmund-Store. On the other side, making a booklet like the one we made for IWC is very interesting. We also get approached by people with certain designs where I know right from the start, that they haven’t looked into the subject and the method. The result would look like a badly made embossing. There are so many examples for finishings where it would have been better to do it without the finishing and by now we learned to turn down these kind of projects. Our main emphasis is on design and production.

COHEZION blog
Does Paperlux have a special working method?

Max Kuehne
I briefly mentioned our working method: to begin the design with what the material has to offer, whether it is wood or stone or paper, what kind of paper, which surface, is it cold, is it warm, is it wet, is it dry? That already says so much and I think that’s what’s so special about our work. Plus that we are fortunate to manage the entire process from start to finish. We don’t have to hand over the project in the middle of the process: we develop the concept, we are responsible for the design and the production and we are able to make changes and modifications in every production step without having to ask anyone. That is a big gift and trust given to us by our clients. It’s not about making major changes but small details what makes the product what it is in the end. And that is why we are able to make the product like we do. That corresponds to the work of a ‘couturier’ compared to ‘off the shelf’-products. In nearly every project I can visualize how it looks on the table and which parts I want to take photos of. I think that is the art and what’s special about it: to develop a feeling and the love for the material. For example we developed an edition with Ralf Ziervogel. Now there will be another edition with a street artist from Berlin where I will be in the workshop with the artist experimenting with various materials and trying different things. I won’t have to ask anyone or I won’t have to say “we can’t try that because we do not have the machines for it”. With our workshop we have given us many opportunities i.e. we have a direction and we know what is possible in the production.

COHEZION blog
“Who” is Paperlux?

Max Kuehne
On the one hand Paperlux is me and my creative team. We are four people, one senior designer and two juniors. Hassan has just made a collage for the last ‘Intro’. Dani has a good sense for materials and processing and has a lot of potential in that area. Carolin is my senior designer. She has a very great sense for typography. We can exchange minds very well, because I am a big typo-lover. That is my little creative team. On the other side I couldn’t do it all without my wife. She is responsible for all the client contact. She has a team of two – actually three people including accounting. That’s the team plus Alena, who manages our production. I don’t want to say anything wrong, I don’t know how old Alena is, but I think she is 55 and is just finishing her art studies. We share a passion for processing and an eye for quality and detail. That’s the team at Paperlux plus Gerrit Baumann our letterpress printer who is a contractor but belongs to the family. We can exchange minds about printing and experimenting.

Cohezion blog
What is the typical way of finding an idea for a project?

Max Kuehne
In my opinion searching and finding ideas is always linked to a certain limitation. I have noticed, that it’s really difficult to tell my employees “do anything”. That doesn’t work at all, so you have to invent a little story. We rarely look into design blogs. Instead we say, “Ok let’s go outside” or “I’ve got this little note” or “Look at this photo I took the other day” and then we begin. A typical example of finding an idea would be the novum cover. We only focused on two things, when we did the designing and everything that had to do with the technical aspects: on the one hand the offset-print that we wanted to play around with and the punch press that we had. Concerning next year’s “Die Goldene Kamera” we were inspired by the topic “La Dolce Vita”, Italy in the fifties and sixties, as well as the movie. We looked at photographs, typography and old movie posters from that time. What’s important is the story, the material and the people that inspire you.

 Cohezion blog
What inspired you to do the novum cover?

Max Kuehne
Buckminster Fuller and a limitation: the offset-print and the possibility to punch was all that we had at our disposal. I have been thinking about Buckminster Fuller’s constructive and philosophical ideas for a few years now. For instance the topic spaceship earth: it is our duty to treat the earth with care to save resources and be reasonable with the whole thing. So we had the idea to say “create six varieties of colors, out of four printing plates”, which were available for sale. Actually there were four to the power of four possible varieties in that project. This was very exciting, even the planning of the print. That was the first time I was happy to have Excel, because we did the planning of the print for the plate change in Excel.

Cohezion blog
Were the offset-print and the punching required or did you give this limitation to yourself?

Max Kuehne
We limited our self. Of course we could have done this with gold and relief varnishes, but we wanted to do it with our printer and looked, what machines we liked right now and what we can do with them. We had a huge punch press with size of 70 c 100 and an offset printing press. Then we developed an idea.

Cohezion blog
How do you proceed? Does one of you sit down and think of everything creatively possible with those machines or do you hire an expert who tells you what is possible?

Max Kuehne
Fortunately we have the required know-how to do this. Concerning such things I am the driving force. Due to my previous job I learned how to print and I am familiar with the handcrafting. I know what’s possible and I often try to get to know its limits as well. Then I talk to the expert and ask him about what is possible and what possibilities these machines have. I don’t know every machine’s limits, but I try to go as far as possible. So I watch my people and tell them “that has to be done better and that has to be done more precisely” and of course I make sure that I develop a technical understanding. In his early years besides his actual job as a mechanical engineer my father had a workshop together with my uncle, where they repaired “Trabi”-motors in East Germany. There I spent most of my childhood and I was always happy watching them do. My father developed the machines they needed to do their job – some presses and other things. I was interested in it very early, more unconscious than conscious, but in my opinion this is even more important. I understand many of these machines: what’s possible and how we can use them to their fullest.

Cohezion blog
How does the paper etching process of Paperlux work?

Max Kuehne
It is a laser process. Lasers are used since the sixties. The laser punching however exists a littler longer. To etch to an exact point and to create different depths within one motive is what makes the etching process so interesting, because you can create a three-dimensional surface. We create the patterns on the computer and transfer them to the material. But we are very dependent on the material. Compared to the regular printing process I can’t say whether the result will be green or red. I have to know how the material reacts to the etching. I can regulate it a little by changing the intensity, but I’m still very dependent on the material. We only etch on paper from Gmund or Lakepaper, because we know the quality assurance and the circulation stability. This is why I can say, that the quality of the first part is the same as the quality of the last part. It’s interesting, because there were some really crazy results depending on the material we were using or on what material Gmund had invented. Fortunately we are involved in the development to a certain degree, which is the reason why we get new sorts of papers very early. We can say “Ok this works for the paper etching” and of course we can issue a sort of licensing. But there are also sorts of paper that we can’t etch due to the material.

Cohezion blog
Do you work together with other designers or agencies?

Max Kuehne
With pleasure, I’m very open-minded. We work in the production industry, so we often worked together with other designers and agencies. I don’t have many secrets. In my opinion the most important secret – and you can’t copy that – is being passionate about what you are doing. I think that is the secret of everyone, who does these things – the passion. Everything else follows by itself.

Cohezion blog
Do you have any doubts that someone will copy certain production methods during the cooperation?

Max Kuehne
There are many good designers out there. I think at the end of the day everything is interesting and we are afraid of nobody and least of all, that someone is copying us. In the end everyone is copying each other somehow and that is very important: inspiration on every possible level, whether it’s during cooperation with another artist, designer or agency.

Photocredits:
Team Photos Niels Kramer
Product-Shoots Michael Pfeiffer

 

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1 Comment on "Paperlux"

  • Thays on 26.02.2012 at 23:13:

    Reading your acrtile I can?t help wishing that more designers would read this. I studied Interior Architecture and at the moment doing a masters in Industrial Product design.I can?t help to feel that there is a lack of material use with in design practice. I don?t know if it is because of lack of knowledge about materials. Though I observe that material selection is the last thing on a designers mind while conducting the design process. Most of the time it doesn?t seem to be integrated and just stuck on at the last moment; ?O yeah, by the way? this is the materials I?m thinking of? instead of making the material part of the design solution and actually letting intelligent materials be a solution for complex problems, rather than solving the problem by designing a complex shape or an extra part.Take the interiors of cars for example, there is so much that new and different materials can add to these interiors and yet car designers and manufactures sticks with the ones they know? over using them in different shapes and forms and colours. They are very much conservative with material use and like to play it safe. Why not explore new materials? Are we as designers afraid?

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