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Design Hero: German modernist Richard Herre

The diverse work of this forgotten 1920s designer is enjoying a much-deserved revival

design hero richard herre's modernist works reissued by e15
Viaduct

Germany during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was a momentous place to be.

Creativity was unbounded – this was the era that gave us Fritz Lang’s futuristic film Metropolis (1927), as well as the Bauhaus design school – but so was political corruption and social unrest.

In this febrile atmosphere, the rationalist architecture of Adolf Loos and the streamlined furniture of Mies van der Rohe must have felt like a sharp antidote.

modernist designer richard herre  in 1958
Richard Herre in 1958
Richard Herre estate

These names are now legend, unlike that of Richard Herre (1885-1959). Though he was prominent throughout the 1920s, World War II obliterated Herre’s reputation: his studio was blown up in an air raid in 1944, along with most of his work, and thereafter examples of his furniture survived only in family collections.

Thankfully, that’s now changed. His son, Frank, an architect, and musician grandson Max have collaborated with German manufacturer e15 to put his designs back into production.

Their first two launches – the ‘Stuttgart’ chair, a simple curved form in oak or walnut with a removable seat in fabric, leather or wicker, and the ‘Zet’ kilim, which reveals Herre’s flair for colour and graphic pattern – date back to 1926, when the designer was at the height of his powers.

german designer richard herre's reissued ‘stuttgart’ chairs
Herre’s reissued ‘stuttgart’ chairs
Viaduct
german designer richard herre's reissued ‘zet’ rug
Herre’s ’Zet’ rug
Viaduct

Herre trained as an architect, but moved inartistic circles. He was friends with the painter and choreographer Oskar Schlemmer and a member of the art collective Üecht (meaning genuine).

He was also strongly influenced by the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement that suffused the 1920s German art world. Associated primarily with portraits by the likes of Otto Dix, it sought to depict the world in unflinching, realistic detail. As practised by Herre, this translated to pure, functional forms, stripped of unnecessary ornament.

richard herre’s original designs in a german home in 1927
Herre’s original designs in a German home in 1927
Richard Herre estate

Herre designed only one building; he was more interested in interior architecture. As a member of the Deutscher Werkbund – an association of craftspeople, architects and industrial designers that preceded the Bauhaus – he created interiors for one of the homes on Stuttgart’s Weissenhof model estate, built in 1927 to showcase the best new German architecture. It was here that the ‘Zet’ rug made its first appearance, along with a full set of furniture and lighting.

In the spirit of the Werkbund – whose motto was ‘from sofa cushions to city-building ’ – Herre explored every aspect of design, but then went further still. He wrote poetry and essays, illustrated book covers and posters, and translated French architect Le Corbusier’s Le Modulor books into German. And now, his remarkable talent is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

‘Richard Herre Collection’ by e15, from £1,225, Viaduct

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration July 2020

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