Three designers from Dresden transform concrete into smooth and stylish objects.
The words “concrete furniture” conjure up images of moss-covered park benches and big, bulky tables at motorway service stations. We’re all familiar with them and they aren’t exactly inviting. Knut Krowas, a qualified product designer, Mark Offermann, architect, and business graduate Lars Schmieder – all in their mid-30s – knew outdoor furniture was associated with being heavy and cumbersome, but nevertheless were sure they wanted to work with concrete. So they set up their own company – Paulsberg.
Furniture for inside and out
Marrying the properties of concrete with the functional and comfort requirements of furniture was quite a challenge, so the young entrepreneurs decided to take the grey industrial material to a whole new level. This was possible because researchers at TU Dresden have succeeded in turning the traditional mixture of cement, sand and water into a flexible, multifunctional composite reinforced with carbon fibres, which the three former school friends soon found was ideal for their work. The special concrete can be cast in thicknesses of just a few millimetres thanks to a coated carbon mesh reinforced with fibreglass, which helps to reduce both bulk and weight. “Fibreglass mesh is much less prone to corrosion and is thus replacing iron in reinforced concrete in the construction industry,” says Schmieder.
The Paulsberg designers received an EXIST grant to help them through the company’s challenging set-up phase. The money came from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the European Social Fund. That was in 2010–11. Their bank then stepped in with a loan to cover investments, while income from ongoing business pays the wages of the partners and several members of staff.
More than a product
Concrete furniture – albeit multiple award-winning – is just one strand of the business, however, and the company is focusing on expansion in a number of other directions. In addition to producing its own distinctive chairs, tables and benches with the aim of raising the profile of the brand, Paulsberg creates products tailored to specific requirements – such as artistic wall coverings in decorative concrete, or benches and chairs for outdoor classrooms. But Paulsberg is first and foremost a design studio, not a factory. The products made by the company “demonstrate that we really get to grips with abstract material, that we develop products and are able to make a statement with them,” says Schmieder. “What we really want to do is tell stories.” The 33-year-old believes the German market is lagging at least 20 years behind when it comes to exhibiting and presenting products. Paulsberg therefore plans to expand in this area in the future. The Dresden designers work with business customers to showcase products, brands and materials effectively at trade shows, in presentations and via pop-up stores. Well-known companies, including watchmakers Nomos and Swiss-based building materials company Holcim, are part of the established customer base.