As New York remains under lockdown, Paul Clemence introduces us to one of the many international designers who make their home there.
NATURE AND PRECISION, these two most Swiss elements, are at the core of the work of designer Patrick Weder. “Nature is the best artist there is,” says the Swiss-born (now New York City-based) designer who for the last few years has made a name for himself creating high-end furniture pieces. “From moss growths, to rock formations, growing up by the mountains I was always drawn to nature.” At the same time, he was also drawn to an industrial and machine aesthetic, an inclination that strengthened after he moved to New York two decades ago. “I feel my work combines these two themes, the natural but within a frame of industrial lines and proportions.”
His career path has been as idiosyncratic as his creations. Originally from Wädenswil, an area near Zurich, Weder wanted to be an artist at first. He started drawing and painting as a teenager – self-taught except for a technical training in photolithography. He went on to pursue his art and had his own atelier, before an exploratory trip to New York took his life in a different direction. Curious to check out the “art capital of the world”, he literally stumbled into the famed Art Students League (having never heard of it before) and decided to enrol in their foreign artist program. He has been living in New York ever since.
After finishing a four-year programme at the League, he got a gig helping a friend build a bar on the Lower East Side that led to a job building custom kitchen cabinets. In his free time he continued to make his art. It was then that he began to develop an interest in craftsmanship so that when the time came to furnish his loft, he started making his own pieces. In this way, he eased slowly into professional furniture making. “My art was always kind of functional anyway, so it wasn’t a huge leap from one thing to another,” he says. Initially, he worked on projects for architects and interior designers, but slowly developed a clientele for his own creations and began to focus on these. “I started in the art world, went into the design world, but as my work gets more sculptural again, I feel I’m leaning back towards the art world,” Weder explains. “Even if you look at what I was creating when I was a teenager, you can see a thread.”
The ‘Honeycomb’ lamp in his portfolio is one such item that goes back to his earlier days: the first version of it was created in 1994 and it is still part of his collection. It feels organic, yet man-made, as if an industrial living creature, and reveals Weder’s admiration for the Swiss artists H.R. Giger and Alberto Giacometti. The furniture pieces take this balance between natural and craft processes even further, in an elegant and unassuming way. His choice of wood is a vital part of each project. He selects the woods very carefully, using mainly maple or walnut, considering the wood grain and texture and how both relate to his concept for the final object. He often selects spalted or wormy maple, because the discolourations and overall stains (a reaction to fungus or worms) give the planks patterns and irregular streaks akin to abstract art. The material is not a means to the designer’s final purpose, but intrinsic to the design itself. Each piece is a one-off and takes several months to make.
Like all New Yorkers, Weder has had to adapt to the COVID-19 restrictions. “My studio team stayed at home, but I am still working when I can. I live a short ride from my studio, so if the weather is fine, I’ll get to the studio to water the plants and spend some alone time on the pieces I have in production. On the wet days, I’ll stay home with my wife Tamika and our cat Leon and work on some new ‘Honeycomb Light Sculptures’. These pieces are very labour intensive and time-consuming. Working on those pieces for me is like a meditation.” A productive meditation, nonetheless: nothing could be more New York!