Turning Handcrafted Furniture Production Into Performance

Raphael Volkmer calls on German tradition to create unique stools from recycled pewter, all before the customer’s eyes.

A stool is a stool is a stool, until a bit of its backstory is revealed. Then, what was impersonal and inanimate somehow becomes something else entirely. Narratives can illuminate even the most mundane objects in a new way, and Raphael Volkmer explored this concept with Pewter Transmutation, a multi-layered approach to handcrafted furniture. “Most mass-produced and consumed products hide their creation processes,” Volkmer tells Co.Design. “I focused on a project with a bigger story to tell.”


Volkmer grew up immersed in his family’s design business in the countryside outside Munich, experimenting with glass, mirrors, metals, and ceramics, and decided to further his knowledge in the field at the Free University of Bolzano in South Tirol, Italy. During his studies in product design and visual communication he came up with the idea to upcycle, with a twist.

“The inspiration came from an old German tradition of casting pewter in water on New Year’s Eve as a ritual to forecast the future,” Volkmer tells Co.Design. It wasn’t enough, however, to simply source the material from any old place and get started. Volkmer collaborated with a local antique retailer who had a surplus of pewter goods, and the pair came up with a unique, and pretty ingenious, barter system. “They would provide me the raw material, and in return I gave them the resulting objects to sell,” he explains. “So they acted like a commissioning gallery.”

The next essential element for Volkmer was sharing the logistics of the stool’s small-scale manufacturing. He planned a “performance” of its production on-site at the boutique, “to attract clients and interested people for promotion, as well as to give them insight into experimental handcrafting,” he says. The viewer then becomes, by association, part of the permutation. “It gives new value to an object–in a physical and an intellectual way.”

(H/T The Method Case)