Designer Talks: Philipp Rinkens

A series of interviews with the designers and makers behind the brands featured and coveted by COMPENDIUM DESIGN STORE.

PHILIPP RINKENS on the design process, the German Navy, and door handles.
- Summer, 2014. Perth, Western Australia -

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. Of late Philipp has been working on a range of consumer products for our 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.

I can tell you're from Germany from your silly accent and… particular sense of humour. When did you arrive in Perth, and what made you stay?
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!
You did a stint in the German Navy, a cabinetry apprenticeship and then studied architecture, before working as an architectural model maker. In what way has your education and experience influenced where you are today?
The German navy influenced me more on a personal level which I profit from in working life too. The apprenticeship has helped me to develop a great understanding of how things are made and also what is possible and of course my love for architecture and my studies have influenced my eye for design and how I approach my work. When I studied architecture I got exposed to all the incredible architects and designers and I started to look up places before travelling. That eventually brought me to the Villa Savoye from Le’Corbusier and this must have been the moment where I realized what design and architecture is all about. I will never forget walking through the empty villa and feeling completely enthralled by the design.

Do you think there is a particular German style or method to the way you approach your work?
I suppose so. Most people (here in Australia) expect a certain ‘German’ attitude to work which mainly has something to do with showing confidence, being on time and delivering what you promise. For me personally it has more to do with the love for engineering and trying to find a minimalist style which offers beside the good looks a high functionality. But I think you can find this kind of style all over europe and i would rather speak of a european style then a german style. it also has a lot to do with europeans being far more educated in terms of design.

Your work champions natural materials with a kind of honest and minimalist form… how do you describe your design philosophy, if not overtly 'German'? 
I don’t judge materials in the traditional way (for example; only natural timber products have a right to be in a high class furniture) and i think that each material has its own right to be used in any kind of design piece. most importantly for me is how environmentally friendly the materials I use are.

How do you find being a self-employed creative in Perth? How has living in Perth affected your style?
I personally think that Perth, on the one hand, has a lot to offer for the creative mind and I find a lot of inspiration from my surroundings and the lifestyle (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.

A stool prototype in progress.

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. i try to incorporate my clients in the design process and give them multiple choices which also means that i sometimes have to let go of my favorite design but it helps making the client more proud of what they get. but if i can make the one i love myself it’s always a great joy. 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!

So, do you hate door handles or something?
Not necessarily, but 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.

Would you put handles on it if a client asked for handles?
Yes certainly. Sometimes a handle can improve the function a lot. For example the wallpaper cabinet had to have handles since the wallpaper can dis-colour easily when its touched all the time.

How long did it take to develop that workspace design? 
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. That workspace for example 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 more drawings. As a final step I always draw the design in the computer to see the actual dimensions. I would say most of my clients trust me with my design judgement so I get a lot of freedom in designing and making…

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.

Philipp with a finished PCSW-1. Walnut Pencil box, small. Perfect size for two Kaweco pens.

What originally sparked the diversification into product design? Which do you prefer; commissioned projects or working on your own products?
i prefer to work on my own projects since it gives me far more freedom and i don’t need to work around a client and their dream. but by saying that the greatest joy working for clients is when you mange to fulfil their picture in their mind.

So you have been doing consumer products for some time, just for yourself and friends?
i started quite a long time ago making designs for friends and family….i think the first real product design was in about 1999.

What made you finally bring them to market? Why didn't you do it earlier?
I knew I wasn't there yet, but now i feel it is the right time to come forward with my designs and also to fulfil this dream of mine.

I know some products come to you in a flash at the breakfast table (stubb-e holder), and others take months of engineering and prototyping (the pencil boxes). Can you describe your design process? Is it very different to designing a kitchen or office?
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 box, 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!
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).

How do you decide on a direction of an object's design? Do you decide on the material to be used first, or does that come later?
since most of my products have a function there are always a few decisions to be made which influence which material can be used. but i always try to leave things open so i never get too stuck with one idea or with one material. 

Do you aim for, or are you conscious of, an overarching style or common aesthetic of the Philipp product range? Is it important each design is identifiable as a Philipp design?
i think i developed a certain style for myself, which is minimalistic and functionality driven but always has some nice design elements to it so its a joy to use or even just have. it is not really important that all of my products are identifiable as a ‘philipp’ but it seems that i achieve that without wanting to achieve it. 
The walnut Pencil Box PCSW-1 (pictured) is so cool, and I don't want to inflate your ego further, but it's definitely been worth the wait! A pencil box is commonly a purely utilitarian device, but looking at the PCSW-1 and the clever lid closure mechanism, it's a beautiful object. Was this melding of aesthetics and the engineering of the closure a challenge? What's the rationale behind the PCSW-1 and what makes it a better pencil case?
The pencil case was a tricky one, since there is the classic (and very functional) sliding lid design, which everyone associates 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 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 try-outs to get to the final result…the main thing was to get the shapes right in the computer.

Glueing the two halves.
Sanding the pencil box.
Finally, some polish.

Having now spent time with you in the workshop, helping to make a pencil box, I have to say, I didn't know how long it took you and just how involved the process is. Can you sum up the process of finishing off a PCSW-1?
it is certainly a bit of a process and i am glad i could show you! first the raw timber needs to be dressed into the right thickness, then it goes onto the cnc router to be cut out into the shape, after that it gets a felt lining inside and the top and bottom piece get glued together. after that the pencil case needs to be sanded and checked if it works. once i am happy that the pencil case is ready to work and be sold i have to hand sand and oil and wax it so it gets the nice sheen and feel to it.

What made you decide to not brand your products?
i think the branding is not important as all my products are about the product itself and not about me. i know i might miss out on some extra sales but i hope that my products make enough of an impression that people will remember me too!

Owning a design store, I see a "re-emergence" of the maker occurring, and of the value by many of traditional craft and manufacturing skills. You obviously embrace modern production techniques as well as traditional craftsmanship. Do you see this change occurring, and if so why do you think it is?
currently the trend is to have handcrafted products as they give a lot of individualism to maybe even mass produced products. i use modern technology as well as my own hands to craft the products and its important that i am the one who finishes them by myself. i want to be part of the production which is why i wouldn’t go overseas with my products. in the 90’s people wanted to have a mass produced item rather then the handcrafted object but now it seems that everyone wants to be more individual and therefore there is a market for handmade products…unfortunately you also find a lot of unskilled people trying to sell their stuff under the handmade label…handmade doesn’t mean to me it can have flaws…it still needs to be perfectly finished!

How important is it to you to have your products presented in a brick and mortar store and not solely online?
it is important that you can feel and touch and as you do jayden smell my products. it gives you a much better sense of the object then a picture can do.

Who are your design heroes?
le corbusier, charles and ray eames, tada ando, suot de moura, robert zumthor, louis baragan.

Your range has expanded to include desk and table accessories, as well as jewellery. What's next for Philipp?
thats a good question….as you know my ideas can change quickly and i have a lot of inspiration so i don’t really know! once i solve problems like the wooden wallet and i can finally bring them on the market i will look again for something challenging and fun to make.