Veronika Gombert is the 25-year-old industrial designer behind an array of thoughtfully crafted lifestyle, furniture and lighting products. When we met her, she was calm and focused despite the fierce July sun glaring down over our interview in her East London garden. It’s a poise that disguises the vast reserve of energy that has allowed for so much experience despite her young age; energy that is revealed as she begins to talk.
Her hands fly across the table as she drums her fingers, waves her arms or draws out shapes and positions. Here are hands whose main purpose are to animate ideas, hands capable of elevating the ordinary. She uses them to create tables which turn into plates, to make a dust-pan and brush beautiful or to re-imagine traditional cutlery set tools in walnut, brass, ceramic and hammered steel. After talking with her, we are convinced she is navigating a young but exciting design career.
I’ve been in London for one and a half years, but I grew up in Germany and studied in Switzerland. After I finished studying I got a job here with BarberOsgerby. Jasper Morrison is a London-based designer but I worked with him in Paris too. BarberOsgerby was much bigger and I worked on a lot of furniture products and on quite complex projects in a team, whereas when I worked with Jasper I worked more independently. He really influenced me and I felt like we were on the same level.
I have two brothers and a sister and we are all doing something different. My parents always encouraged us to do what we love. I started studying when I was really young; in Switzerland you usually do a foundation year but I skipped that so I was always a couple of years younger than everyone else. I was working while I was still there too. I started working with Jasper when I was 21, which is quite early, and I always had the feeling that I was less knowledgeable. Many of my colleagues had already done an apprenticeship or worked somewhere, so I had to ask a lot of questions.
It is hard to say… When I was young I really liked to do stuff with my hands, I kind of wanted to become an inventor. I loved drawing and making things and I did everything by myself. I grew up in this really old house and my parents and I made everything: every room; from the wood floor to the walls, everything. At some point someone gave me a sewing machine and I started making clothes too. I enjoyed that; if you want to have something, you make it. I wanted to make beautiful things but I also really enjoyed solutions and design can do both. I really admire this French designer, Inga Sempé. There aren’t enough women working in the industry though and it’s a shame.
Nothing specific but I do love art. I just saw one of Roni Horn’s sculptures for the first time in Basel. She does a variety of things, from photography to painting, and I love her sculpture works. She makes these massive cast glass pieces, they’re huge! It looks like you’re looking into a body of perfect water: no cracks no bubbles, nothing. They weigh around four tonnes and they have to stay in the kiln for a whole year to bake slowly so they don’t get cracks when they cool down. I found it incredible.
Lately I’ve been playing around with leather. It’s interesting; it can be really fragile or really hard. In general I love working with wood, that’s the material I feel most connected with.
When I make something, I have to make the first piece by myself because I feel like I need to understand everything and know that every detail is the way it should be and the best way for what I’m doing. Then, when I’m happy with the process, I can give it away. I can let other people help me. That’s not always the case though, I’m just working on a jewellery project and I have to work really closely with the manufacturer. I do all the computer stuff but they make the prototypes and it’s not how I usually like to do it.
At the moment I’m jumping around a bit. I have a workshop in Germany and here in London I can do model-making and digital design stuff. I don’t need so much space and I never know if I’ll need to travel so it doesn’t make much sense to have a studio right now.
I do like London a lot. Of course I love the V&A [Victoria and Albert Museum], there’s this great collection of mathematical and measuring tools I love to look at. But I also like going to art fairs and science museums, I see so much design on my day to day, it is nice to escape from it now and then. A place I really love to go back to in London is [the architect] Ernő Goldfinger’s house; he built the whole thing together with all the furniture, every detail. It is so impressive...
What I love about London is all the different people who live here, you often get to meet so many people…but personally, I am kind of stuck in a design bubble so it’s hard to say. In some ways yes, but they have a really amazing attitude towards design in Scandinavia and Switzerland that’s not the same here. People there have the custom of appreciating nice things and surround themselves with them.
Haha yeah, actually there are many times when [in England]I ask myself : why? Why this way? Because it makes no sense whatsoever! There are also some toilet flushes I don’t understand. It’s complicated and probably also more expensive to make, and doesn’t make your life easier, which is what design can do!
I fly home to see my family when I can. I have lived in so many different places: different cities in different countries. People use things in particular ways and there is such a variety of objects for the same function, attitudes towards things change from place to place so I think it is important for designers to be mobile, to see a diversity of cultures.
All my work is quite simple and focused on daily life. I look at things around me. I get a lot of inspiration when I’m out and see things and talk with people and use things. So I have this stuff floating around in my mind and sometimes it’s important to just sit down and organize it all.
I usually work best when I’m under pressure. I’ll be chill at first but at some point (she clicks her fingers), boom! I run.
Haha, I always have the weirdest tools in my handbag. I carry a slide calliper everywhere and sometimes I forget, like I’ll be travelling and I’ll have a cutter in my pocket and I get to the airport and they stop me. Once I had screw bits in one of those plastic compartment things, so they stop me and ask me to empty my bag and they looked like parts from a gun! I also have a Japanese saw that I love a lot.
I can’t imagine. I love science. A lot of my projects are quite technical. I love mechanisms. Economics interest me too, but I think I’d get bored. What I love about design is that you start from zero with every project and you learn along the way. Last year I was working a lot with everyday objects and furniture, and this year I worked on the interior and exterior colour and material concepts for this massive 8-storey house. Now I’m working on this jewellery project. It’s so interesting to jump between these different scales and contexts.
Well there’s this jewellery project, some lighting and an older project I’ve made changes on. The jewellery thing is interesting because the company asked some jewellery designers besides me, a product designer. So I was nervous in the beginning, but they recently told me that the jewellery designer is out! They decided to go with me because I’m using quite unusual materials and colours. They gave me an element (this ball) and I was thinking about how to fix it and also about how it sounds…about how to make it functional but beautiful too; how it will balance.
I am not afraid to asking questions. When I don’t know something, I just ask. I think being curious has really helped me. It is also so important not to be afraid to fail. When you design it’s always going to fail, something always doesn’t work…but the, you change something, and it works!