Welcome to Designer Talks, a series of interviews with the designers and makers behind the brands featured and coveted at COMPENDIUM STORE.
PHILIPP RINKENS on design, the German Navy, and cabinet handles.
We chatted with Philipp Rinkens (that's one L, two Ps), a Fremantle based cabinet and furniture maker, normally working on high-end bespoke kitchens and shop fit-outs. Recently Philipp's been working on a range of consumer products for COMPENDIUM STORE. The range is growing, and so far features key rings, CNC'd beer holders, and an ingenious pencil box. All are designed and made by Philipp himself, and available exclusively at COMPENDIUM STORE, Fremantle.
COMPENDIUM STORE: I can tell you're German from your silly accent, when did you arrive in Australia, and what made you stay?
Philipp Rinkens: Yes you heard right….I have a silly German accent and I came here about 8 years ago, falling in love with the country first, and then my now wife!
How do you find being a self-employed creative type in Perth, a city experiencing a mining boom and a high cost of living, and critised by some as a 'cultural void'? What about our city gets your creative juices flowing?
I personally think that Perth, on the one side, has a lot to offer for the creative mind and I find a lot of inspiration from my surroundings and the life style (stubb-e carry tray for example!). On the downside, there are not a lot of people into design and I think there is the need for more design education and a higher acceptance of creative people. Like there is in Europe for example. Also, there are a lot of limitations in such an isolated city in terms of availability of materials, resources and skills, but that on the other hand has the positive effect in which Perth creates some amazing art and design which you can’t find elsewhere.
Tape dispenser prototypes in the workshop.
I know some products come to you in a flash at the breakfast table (the stubb-e), and others take months of engineering (the pencil box). Can you describe your design process?
Designing is a very complex process and is influenced by a lot of things. There are certainly two different types of objects I design: for example the stubb-e being functionality driven (a CNC'd plywood beer bottle carrier), and on the other hand the Pencil Case, which is supposed to trigger the emotional side with being a beautifully crafted but still very functional object. The second category usually takes far longer, because I try to create something which is as pleasing to the eye as it is to touch and use. As you know that can not only drive me crazy, but also you waiting in anticipation!
Getting the drawing right on the computer.
For all my designs I usually start with one of the three main points:
#1; a reinvented product with my personal style and maybe a different angle of approach (pencil case)
#2; a complete new product which hasn’t been done (and yet something very usable) (stubb-e)
#3 a beautiful material which asks me, "What would I like to create out of it.." (key rings, rulers)
(A day or so later Philipp arrives at COMPENDIUM STORE in person, beaming, and presents me with a 'luxe' version of the pencil box, something we've been discussing together for some time. It's made of solid walnut and black MDF. It's stunning, and in the days following customers noticeably start to gravitate toward it.)
Philipp's walnut Pencil Case.
The walnut version of the pencil case [pictured above] is so cool, and I don't want to inflate your ego even further, but it's definitely worth the wait! That lid closure mechanism would have taken some engineering... how did you arrive at that result? What lead to this lid design, instead of, say, a hinge or a simple sliding lid? How many variations and iterations do you think you experimented with before arriving at that?
The pencil case was a tricky one, since there is the classic (and very functional) sliding lid design, which everyone connects with a wooden pencil box. I wanted to approach it differently and create an unusual lid design which besides its' nice looks, also offers a better locking mechanism. The design is certainly pushing the limits of what can be done with plywood or solid wood and even I was really impressed by how well it works. What started to be more as a wishful thinking design turned out to be very usable! Once I had the idea established for the locking mechanism it didn’t take many tryouts to get to the final results…the main thing was to get the shapes right in the computer.
Follow the process of making a Pencil Case below...
Setting up the CAD drawing on the computer...
The case gets cut out from solid walnut using a CNC machine.
The Pencil Case takes shape.
Some strategic gluing for the lid...
Clamped to dry.
Next the Pencil Case gets oiled.
How did your time in the German Navy lead you to a love of design?
Did it change you at all?
The love for furniture was always there and I think as early as (the age of) 10 or 11 I dreamed of making furniture. My national service in the German navy didn’t really change me, but I did learn a valuable lesson, how to get along with people you don’t really like. 42 men on a tight ship for weeks is not an easy task to handle, but you learn to deal with things and leave your ego behind… A good lesson which not too many people get the chance to learn. For my work-life it meant I learnt how to put my own desires of grand design behind the needs and wishes of my clients. That’s why it is particularly nice when my grand ideas meet with the wishes of my clients….
Your custom residential and commercial cabinet and furniture work I've seen is beautiful, often championing solid timber and a minimalist aesthetic. How do you convince clients to commission bespoke design work and is it tough at times convincing them to run with a design?
Most of my clients approach me, so I usually don’t need to do much convincing. In the design process I offer up to three different versions for my clients to choose from. That gives them the sense of being part of the decision making process and makes the whole experience more personal…I want my clients to be part of the process and be proud of the result!
"Obviously I never like all designs equally and have my own favourites, and when they get chosen then it makes the overall making of the piece an absolute joy for me too."
Philipp sets up the CNC to make a Pencil Case.
The best example is one of the latest creations: the CP-1 workspace I absolutely love the design and wish I could have it at home myself….but don’t worry…I have a very interesting computer station planed which I hopefully will be able to make soon!
Wow, that's awesome. I love that. So, do you hate door handles or something?
Hate is a pretty strong word but I do find that handles are most likely to be in the way of the actual design. Also handles seem to have a lifespan and come into fashion as quickly as they are out of fashion again, while my furniture pieces hopefully will outlast a fleeting design trend….at least without handles you can’t put a time stamp onto it when it was made!
Would you put handles on if the client asked for handles?
Yes certainly. Handles do have their place when it comes to cabinets….Sometimes a handle can improve the function a lot, especially when it comes to high gloss or fragile surfaces which you don’t want to be touching all the time. For example the wallpaper cabinet had to have handles since the wallpaper can dis-colour easily when its touched all the time, but a wisely chosen handle doesn’t interfere with the design in that case!
How long did it take to fully develop that workspace idea?
My ideas grow in my head first for a long time and they kind of sit on the back burner and simmer, and when the right piece comes along they pop up and manifest pretty quickly…. Since most pieces are designed for clients with an actual space in mind there are limitations and boundaries to work with, but I developed a good eye for proportions when I studied architecture and I can make something look good and actually fit into a space rather quickly….That workspace was in my head for about 2-3 weeks before I sat down and made some sketches, but then it developed very quickly over a few sketches. As a final step I always draw the design in the computer to see the actual dimensions (and if i didn’t cheat to much in my sketches!) I usually don’t do 3D drawings as I find it takes too long, and also its important that you stay abstract in a design stage so you can change and tweak things as you go along. I would say most of my clients trust me with my design judgement so I get a lot of freedom in designing and making…
I just sold the first Walnut pencil box!
Everything is finished by hand.
Do people tend to choose the second most expensive design?
Yes they certainly do! But the price is less a criteria, as most options I give them cost the same….generally I do the pricing and the design separate from each other and offer designs within a certain price range, so the client has no limitations in what to choose simply by the price tag. Mostly we discuss price first, and then the design.