Magnifying the wholeDetail and the whole: it takes a close look to truly appreciate the quality of an item – because quality is in the details.
For more than a century, Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau has cultivated a concept of quality which was almost old-fashioned even way back when the company was founded. Since quality is always seen in the details, the company has never considered anything to be too trivial. Everything always was – and is – of equal importance. Seemingly small elements receive the same meticulous treatment as major conceptual designs. Moreover, the company has always endeavoured to gain a better understanding of the materials it works with than its competitors. This way, the materials yield singular solutions of detail. Is this mindset still relevant in today’s world? We believe: yes.

No room for liesQuality and Price: Quality has its price. At least when creating something of genuine value. This is one truth that hasn’t changed at all since Karl Schmidt’s era.
Quality and Price: “On the one hand, we want to create only the richest, most elegant and modern furnishings, yet on the other, also furnishings, furniture and trinkets for the homes of the middle class which aren’t just hollow flimsy imitations of the lavish, moneyed creations. We want to provide thoroughly useful and lasting production for the middle class which nevertheless still has an aesthetic appeal and is not inordinately expensive.” (from a publication of the Dresdner Werkstätten für Handwerkskunst, 1899)

The versatile artistArt, handicrafts and industry: the offices of the German Work Federation were located at Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau for a number of years. The company was one of the founding members of this important institution.
“Instead of misplaced desire in furthering consumer illusions as to the intellectual value of the production, in other words the design, coming from the heart and soul of the company and not from the mind of an artist, commercial art companies should take pride in being able to draw on the best minds in Germany and embrace economic productivity... The best intellectual might should be coupled with the best economic power, in other words, the best artistic designs should be realised in the most dignified way.” (Karl Schmidt, founder of Deutsche Werkstätten, 1906)

Sustainable endeavoursSustainability and intrinsic value: At first glance, these would appear to be modern catchphrases. Yet Karl Schmidt recognised their significance at the very beginning of the 20th century.
“It is curious how hard it is to grasp the simple fact that raw material – and thereby also the item made from it – stays the cheapest when it is processed properly and conscientiously. Turning wood into shoddy furniture... is a sin against a natural product. If we use as much material as the earth can grow in a year , these materials will have reasonably normal prices; if we processed less, prices would drop due to abundant supply; if we consume more, prices will of course rise in relation to the increased demand. Not just that this raises the prices of products, but it’s also at the expense of our children and grandchildren. Taking this tack is a sin and a dishonour.” (Karl Schmidt, 1912)

Paying homage to whom homage is dueMaterials and material understanding: What could be more important to us than handling a material with respect – no matter whether that material is wood, glass, stone or plastic...
“The materials surpass the best teachers in their educational gifts, they are always there, unfailingly, with unwavering patience, they guide the hand to bring out the form and design. They never err – no other teacher can claim that, and the mistakes of teachers are always dangerous – they never force a student to that which is not their nature, they never push forward too rapidly; it is nature itself teaching through its material. Not only does it spare a teacher lengthy discourse but its manner of speech is plausible and clear and of a totally different world.” (Richard Riemerschmid, designer Deutsche Werkstätten)

Ambition and pragmatismSource and target: Seemingly difficult questions often have simple and intelligent answers. One just needs to know where to look. Karl Schmidt had a knack for this as well as the ability to get his point across.
Karl Schmidt, co-founder of Hellerau as well, came of age in an era of sweeping change. He experienced this in his own carpentry training, which took him to Denmark, Sweden and England. Especially in England he saw how manufacturing processes were becoming more and more industrialised. And it was the same for the manual arts. The profuse machine production of decorative ornamentation quickly led to a blight and a cheapening of commercial art goods. Schmidt later became acquainted with the unaffected, functional work of Henry van de Velde, he studied the thoughts of Alfred Lichtwark, and saw the genesis of a real movement – a movement looking to express itself in a new contemporary voice. And in it he found a home for his ambitions and the desire to turn them into reality.

Reconciling manual arts and technologyHow was it possible in 1906 to make aesthetically appealing furniture of high quality, which was, yet and above all, inexpensive? With a revolutionary new design and machine production.
Beginning in 1902, entrepreneur Karl Schmidt worked closely with architect and painter Richard Riemerschmid . Both held the manual arts dear to heart . Yet both were at the same time aware that machines were the wave of the future . They believed that only mass production held the key to turning good designs into affordable products . Schmidt and Riemerschmid did not perceive this as a threat, but as a great opportunity instead. In their view, handicraft and industry had to be united . So they went on to make the realm of machine work a mainstay of Deutsche Werkstätten . Riemerschmid developed a design world in line with the opportunities machines now offered . This “machine-spirit furniture” was reflected in the mass-produced machine-made products of 1905/06. Thus was born Germany’s first high-volume machine-made furnishings. They were affordable and had a new, contemporary form . Furniture came into retail trade as tier-priced “Dresdner Hausgerät” ( “Dresden household units” ). This programme was later expanded to “Deutsches Hausgerät” (“German household units” ).

New lifestyles, new furnitureHousing requirements change, lifestyles vary, dwellings are used in different ways, architecture never remains static. Furniture needs to respond to all this. In Hellerau, it has some help.
By the mid-1920s, economisation and mass production were acknowledged as being inevitable for Germany. This came as no surprise to the Hellerau craftsmen. Building upon the prototype “Dresden household units” and “German household units” furniture programmes, novel and ingenious furniture was developed for Germany. Thus, Adolf Schneck’s “Billige Wohnung” (“Inexpensive Dwelling”), the first furniture series to be produced on an assembly line, became a symbol for consistent standardisation. Starting in 1930, Bruno Paul developed the “Growing Home”, the first complete furniture programme which enabled incremental room furnishing. After 1945, East Germany continued this “programme approach” to single or grouped pieces of furniture which consumers could assemble themselves. A well-known single piece from the mid-1950s was Franz Ehrlich’s “Model 602” chair, no less popular was the MDW group furniture introduced by in 1967 (assembly furniture of Deutsche Werkstätten, Rudolf Horn design collective).

Experiments in woodCLV boards and plywood are familiar all around the world. Both of these technological innovations originated in Hellerau and had far-reaching consequences for furniture production.
The search for new designs led early on to the search for new techniques, occasioning years of experiments at Deutsche Werkstätten (beginning in about 1899) producing large, smooth furniture modules. Initial results yielded plywood boards and later compressed CLV boards. Both developments lent a substantial boost to the woodworking industry. Karl Schmidt went on to patent hand and machine-applied laminates to solid wood for furniture production in Germany.The material shortage during the Second World War toled “tempered wood”. Inferior laminates were grouted with a thin phenolic resin coating to thin and light boards which retained their shape and were less susceptible to humidity. This allowed entire furniture sections to be shaped into their final form during the production stage. As the material was stronger, the end result was less material demand and lighter furniture.

New beginnings, new directions, new ambitionsAfter the Wall came down, Hellerau also experienced considerable change. Deutsche Werkstätten was privatised, a change which encompassed far more than just the legal corporate form.
The first change was eliminating serial furniture production. This market segment did not hold out promise for the future. Instead, “special production” became the starting point for the company’s new direction. “Special production” had been a separate division within the “VEB Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau”, having amassed years of experience in interior décor on exclusive building projects. As early as the founding years, much stronger yet in the 1930s, Hellerau became more and more involved with fine interior décor and had thus gained a wealth of specialised knowledge. This knowledge had lived on in the “special production” department. Deutsche Werkstätten set out to become the best address for high-quality interior furnishings and for work which met particularly high technical demands. And that we have done: from the seeds of a cabinet maker’s workshop grew a world-class engineering and artisan group accomplishing a broad range of endeavours.