I’m not sure the first time I saw one of Patrick Weder’s hanging lights, but the design stuck with me. It reminded me of coral, or some piece of interstellar flotsam. Turns out it was papier-mache and chicken wire.
Wider has been designing furniture since 1994, when he moved from Switzerland to New York. His background as an artist is evident in everything he makes, even his Greenpoint studio space, which has a light airy feel to it. Wider is a creator above all else. He shuns mass production and spending time in his office in front of a computer, and he’s committed to making one-off objects.
While I visited his studio, he was working on some new designs that I can’t share here, but I was fascinated to see the way he combines materials. One bench he made (pictured below) is made with wood, concrete and wool (the pillow on top). The materials look beautiful together. Before the current trend of minimalism and clean lines, Weder was working with marble and cleaner surfaces, creating objects ahead of their time. It will be fascinating to watch what he makes next.
H&E: I guess first off, how do I pronounce your name?
‘Vader.’ Like Darth Vader.
H&E: All right. Everyone must mispronounce that. Tell me briefly how you came to be in this spot and came into design?
Being a furniture designer?
I came to New York in ‘94 to just check out the art scene. I was planning on two or three months. The tourist visa is three months max. I stumbled onto this art school, Arts Student’s League on 59th street. It’s one of the oldest, I think the oldest, art schools in the United States. So I went there for four years and I just never left basically.
My art was very functional. As an example, those light sculptures you see, I did those.
H&E: Oh, so you’ve been doing them for a long time?
The first one, I probably made close to twenty years ago.
Then I stopped making them. And then in the last four or five years, (I’ve been making them). Because I’m coming from the art world, all my pieces are one of a kind pieces. I’m not doing production. For me it’s very important that everything is one of a kind.
H&E: That must be hard, from a business standpoint.
Of course. It’s all similar (his work), but it's not like I’m doing: This is the product and now let’s manufacture all of them…
H&E: And knock off like twenty in a row.
Yeah. It’s just not what I like to do. I never wanted to have a business. I just wanted to make stuff. And because I’m an artist, I just started building stuff, and because my art was very functional, one thing led to the next.
H&E: So once you made the lights, you started making stuff for your apartment. Is that how you got into it? Making furniture?
Yeah. I moved into a loft in Williamsburg. It was a raw space and we built out everything. There was a sewing factory before we moved in. So we had to make everything, sheetrock, electricity, plumbing, everything. We needed a big dining table, so that’s how it started. For me the satisfaction is the same if I make a sculpture, or a cool table, or a cool whatever it is, furniture. My art was already functional, so it was a very fine line. It’s that fine line between art and design. It’s nothing that I planned it to be. Now 15 years later, I wake up and I’m kind of like wow.
H&E: So you just let it evolve?
Just let it evolve, and now I feel myself going back towards art a bit more.
H&E: Do you have the urge to just create straight art?
No. It still has to have a functional aspect of it. For me, personally, what's really important is that it’s not a product, it’s something more. That’s why I treat it like art. Through that, all my clients are like all collectors. It’s like they start with once piece and they’re collecting my stuff. So that’s kind of nice and I was just lucky to meet the right people. It’s just beautiful to come from Switzerland to New York, and 20 years later, I make my life out of stuff I love to do.
H&E: It’s impressive.
Yeah without a plan. Of course, it’s a roller coaster. That’s life I guess. Yeah once in a while, I’m like yeah you should be happy.
H&E: You seem like a pretty happy person!
Yeah! I’m okay. No, no. (Laughs). Yeah because I love what I do.
H&E: How would you describe your aesthetic the style of your work?
Hmmm. It’s just very... clean lines, minimal. Maybe that’s where the Swiss thing comes in. The quality, I’m very into quality.
H&E: It has to be super high quality?
As good as I can make it. I guess that's where the difference between art and design comes in. In art you can take two 2x4s and paint it or whatever, and oh “This a sculpture. It’s art.” It is! But when it comes to design, or furniture, then it has to have certain kind of craftsmanship.
H&E: Yeah, there has to be craftsmanship.
Of course. The funny thing is I feel like over the last ten years, in the beginning when I started, it’s amazing over the years how the craftsmanship has increased. It’s nice to see how the younger generation is really into it. I mean I guess in history if you look at it, craftsmanship used to be extreme. And then maybe in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, it crashed because everyone was into mass production. And now, it’s everything. People in Brooklyn are pickling. It’s coffee, food, cocktails. It’s kind of everything. Whatever people pick up, they kind of push to that next, almost extreme level.
H&E: Sometimes I worry that we’re peaking on craftsmanship, and at some point the pendulum will swing back. How long will people be pickling things you know? We’re in this moment right now, where craft is really appreciated. Obviously that’s what this blog is about...
Yeah watches! Whatever it is!
H&E: Right. I just hope it keeps going. I think it will.
It will! Because we all grew up, at least for me I’m born in ‘72, so 70’s 80’s, globalization started taking off and then we’re all kind of yeah wait a minute…
H&E: This isn’t so awesome…
Yeah! I prefer to have less stuff, but the stuff I have is really nice. And then of course Brooklyn
H&E: Which can be a little over the top, but I think at its core is still really genuine ,and you know, appreciative of craft.
Of course. And it can be too crafty too.
But I think everyone finds that niche. I just found that niche. Everyone has their own thing.
H&E: It’s cool to hear how you sort of just rolled with it and let it happen naturally. I think a lot of people try and force it.
Yeah I think you can’t. Also now, the newer generation of course they grew up with computers, so it’s a totally different mindset. For me, I do some emails. I don’t even do drawings on the computer. I sketch by hand. If my clients want a 3D rendering, I hire someone to do it. It’s just not my thing.
I think that’s maybe the big difference between designers and artists is how you start the work. Most of the designers these days, start to design something on the computer. Where I kind of start, I just take a piece of wood and kind of let’s do this here, let’s move this over here, and it organically grows into whatever, a piece of furniture.
H&E: So is there anything that you want to make that you haven’t done?
I mean for me personally, I would love to just build a cabin in the woods or something. A modern looking thing that works with a nice wood stove. That would be nice. I’m sure sooner or later I’ll have the time to do something like this. For design, bigger installations. That’s what I’m working on.
H&E: For commercial spaces?
It can be both, yes. Like with the light sculptures, do big ones. You can’t do them too big because structurally they don’t work anymore as you can imagine. But yeah just do whole ceilings. It’s so much time. But yeah, public projects maybe.
H&E: That’s cool. I don’t think there’s anything else I wanted to ask. Thanks so much.