As a domestic command centre and haven of hospitality, the contemporary kitchen should be as welcoming as it is practical – not an easy feat, considering the various appliances required to run it. Yet through its long history of pioneering household wares made largely by hand in the most durable of materials, the German firm Gaggenau has consistently achieved just that. All the elements that belong in a professional kitchen, including the most advanced technologies, are issued in clean, precise designs that always consider the appliances’ effect on a home kitchen. As Gaggenau’s global head of design since 2011, Sven Baacke ensures its products continue to be highly functional sculptural objects. Sotheby’s spoke with Baacke about the luxury brand’s pursuit of perfection, down to the smallest detail.
When did your passion for design first begin?
It started when I was a child. My father was an architect, and there were painters and artists in the family – creativity was all around us. I first thought I would go into architecture, and design came a little bit later. For me it was the perfect combination of creating something that is useful to people and beautiful to look at.
How would you define your design approach?
We think about how people live, as well as about how people will live in the future. We study the way people inhabit their homes worldwide, and then think of ways to improve that experience. Gaggenau has been thinking along such lines for more than 330 years. So on the one hand, the design team’s work is rooted in tradition, while on the other, it is looking to the avant-garde.
Does addressing both tradition and the avant-garde pose a creative challenge?
It is challenging because the end result has to look effortless. Designers always strive to do things in a different way, and that disposition creates a positive conflict with the tradition of Gaggenau. As a result, we are always self-checking: “Should we do it this way? What does this add?” We don’t do something just because it is the latest technological advancement. Tradition helps keep us grounded. This tension between heritage and future defines our approach.
People become emotionally attached to objects in their homes, however functional. How do you make a domestic object stand the test of time?
In an ever-changing world, people are seeking things that act as anchors, as constants. Our products are timeless so they can travel with you into the future, and they will continue to be modern. They don’t look dated.
Do you get a chance to speak to your clients and customers?
Yes. Our clients are not typical customers, so it’s always very interesting for us as designers to speak with them. What I really like is talking to people who have owned an oven for twenty years: it has become part of a family and its way of life. That’s inspiring for us.
From where do you draw inspiration?
Everyday life is one of the biggest inspirations for me and for my whole design team. We are looking everywhere, noticing details that no one else would notice. We are all interested in craftsmanship – there is one member of the team who forges knives by hand, and another who shapes surfboards. We all love to cook, and sometimes we cook together. We love drinking wine. We’re interested in art, music. As designers, everything speaks to us and tells us a story.
What is your working relationship like with the engineers at Gaggenau?
Because we are all product designers first, we have a fairly practical approach to the design process. The common assumption is that designers have their head in the clouds, but our team has the technical experience to recognise what is possible and what is not. We work very closely with the engineers from the start; without that I don’t think we would come up with these great products.
What does the future hold for Gaggenau?
At the moment, we like to do something that we call “back-casting.” We project ourselves into the near future – to 2042 or a time that’s far away, but not too far – and try to envision what the world looks like there. How will people live, what will housing be like and what will Gaggenau look like there? And then we work back from this perspective. How will London look in 25 years? Will kitchens and houses be as big? Will there be kitchens? Will everything be completely digital? We are a very tangible brand. We are always looking for new lines of vision.
LEAD IMAGE: GAGGENAU'S PARIS SHOWROOM. © PHOTOGRAPHY BY SIMON BROWN.