An interview with designer maker Doreen Westphal

I met Doreen at this year's Maison et Objet and instantly fell in love with her concrete lace curtain. I'm so glad I stopped to find out more, because hers is a really interesting story... Doreen Westphal Concrete Lace Curtain

What’s the most important thing to know about you?

I was born in East Germany. When the wall fall down I was 19 years old. Sometimes I think I grew up twice; once within and once outside the East German system. Sometimes this past makes me think of what I would have become if I was born in West-Germany or The Netherlands. I am glad that the wall came down in the end, but I am also very grateful for my experience growing up in Eastern Europe.

Describe a really good day and a really bad day in the life of the Doreen Westphal.

Good day: We get up in the morning, when I leave my son at day care he smiles and waves at me. Arriving at my studio I receive an email from g.tecz telling me that the latest tests we did came well out of the mould. I have lunch with a friend and in the afternoon I can go down to my concrete kitchen to work on a new experiment. When I come home with my son, my husband is already cooking and we spend the evening together.

Bad day: I read in the paper that our politicians have introduced another idea that will make people drift apart even more; that can make me worried about the world.

Doreen Westphal table cloth


What inspires your ideas?

Challenging materials, skilled crafts people, social issues, political news. These can really get me going. Last year I made a lamp with arabic concrete lace writing. The text was the weather forecast for Egypt the day after Mubarak fall - that really made a deep impression on me.

Describe the process you go though to turn your ideas into products.

It starts with the challenge, for example, during visits to Bulgaria I found a hall full of leftover leather from large production. I thought "What a shame; so much valuable material and it's already waste.' I asked the director of the company if he would like me to make a design so we could use all the material. He was happy with the suggestion and I designed the first bag, which is made from the same size leather squares. Back in Holland I read in the paper that we are throwing away a fifth of the food we buy. So I put a scale from 1-5 on the back of the bag - now people can decide if the stop buying at 4 or go through until 5. In the meantime the project has grown out into a whole leather collection called 'Measure'.

Doreen Westphal Measure bags

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer maker?

A product has a front and a back; the front is what you see, feel and experience. The back is the story of how it gets there; the ecological footprint, the material used, the circumstances under which people have produced it, how far the product has to travel before it reaches the user and its life time. Try to create a balance between the two.

Which three items could you not live without?

I have a collection of old German ceramic 'collectors cups' and some contemporary ceramics but also a mug from iittala with an illustration that reminds me of the czech animation films of my childhood which i really like. Looking at things can bring up this positive feelings.

Doreen Westphal concrete lace

What are you most proud of?

I am very proud to have the freedom to combine design ideas with experiment and social engagement and yet have commercial success.

What’s next for you?

A project I call 'Layered Concrete.' I am working on a way to be able to thread concrete like a textile and then make small furniture pieces out of it. In this process I can go right back to my roots and all the knowledge and craft skills I accumulated when I was a tailor in East Germany.

And, finally, what’s your favourite colour?!

The blue of the sky in the morning of a brilliant sunny day.