Visiting Jörg Mennickheim in his studio is like stepping out of the city and into the jungle. The flat-roofed building—a former park café—is tucked away in the trees of the Klettenbergpark in south Cologne, and I am greeted with freshly brewed coffee and a selection of snacks from a local bakery. Jörg is a product and retail designer, brand consultant and design lecturer and has been working from this studio with various collaborators since 2003.
Upon entering the studio, the surroundings change from leafy and laidback to clean and industrious, with concept sketches, mood boards and design magazines lining the walls, a conference room full of neatly sorted material samples, and a well-equipped workshop.
The Vitra chair miniatures dotted around the shelves hint at his work for the Vitra Design Museum, one of the institutions where Jörg leads workshops and lectures. "I like to take the students out of their comfort zone" is how he describes the approach to his teaching work, the student groups include craftsmen, design students and architects alike.
A long pinboard shows inspirations for a retail design project he is currently working on - a fashion brand that went from wanting just new shop interiors to deciding to change the whole brand strategy over the course of the project.
Product-based brand strategy is a field Jörg is currently expanding in his portfolio, helping brands to holistically plan their approach, from the classic corporate design to specific details like the materiality of the walls in a shop.
His passion for materials, finishes and surfaces becomes evident as he is sitting on top of the carefully labeled shelf wall in his conference room, cradling a block of foamed concrete, and repeatedly drifting off to musing over possible applications as we speak.
Most of the material samples and designs for clients go through the studio's workshop, where I follow Jörg next as he hits the buzz saw to cut a hand stained oak board into shape for a presentation, and tinkers with new add-ons for a prototype of the wardrobe "Raster." Raster is his latest design for the Utensil Kollektion, a collaboration between Cologne-based concept store Utensil ("Industrial Culture for the Home"), and a group of young designers. The collection covers a range of industrial products that have proven their right to exist over the years—through convincing materiality, functionality and lifelong application in industry and institutions—and have now been adapted for everyday life. "Raster" is based on perforated sheet metal, partly folded to create trays and surfaces.
Jörg's first contribution to the Utensil collection, "New School," is a bar stool based on the design of a wooden primary school chair. Most Germans will recognize the design from their first years in school, where they spent their days in these chairs learning mathematics, spelling and other basic education.
While maintaining the typical construction and materiality, the design has been adapted to meet the challenges of changed balance created by the new elevated seating position. The added footrest also hints at the stool's new employment in drinking establishments, which allows the seated patron to safely unlearn whichever basic ability might be lost over the course of a long night in the pub.