Designing time with Norm Architects
Norm Architects has recently redesigned and revitalized the beautiful Labofa Heritage office chairs in our collection, and they get a lot of admiration, so we decided to do a piece on this wonderful Danish design studio that keeps insisting on striving for aesthetic excellence beyond present trends.
“Black. White. Grey. Nude. Repeat.” This canonical quote is widely acknowledged among trend spotters when discussing the repetitive nature of fashion. We see styles taking form on the back of former trends, stealing, reusing, and repurposing the ideas of old, rather than exploring something new.
Yet, some designs manage to elegantly transcend beyond the current trends and, over time, become timeless pieces that help us understand the past, present, and the future, as they give shape and function to our lives. But what makes these designs different from the many trivial and monotonous pieces, flooding the marketplace, and how are these unique pieces conceived?
Norm Architects’ office is located on a quaint cobblestone street, named after a 15th-century councilman, evoking a sense of nostalgia from a bygone time in the old city. I am greeted in the door by the smiling Katrine Goldstein, CEO of Norm Architects, and we are soon joined by Co-Founder, Kasper Rønn.
Their office is occupied by hip designers and architects, all immersed in their work in the bright and elegant open office space. Here, we sit down at a table with cups of coffee, and I get ready to ask them my questions.
Katrine is a natural people’s person and looks at me inquisitively with lively eyes, full of presence and playfulness, as she ponders for a moment before engaging my questions.
Katrine, Kasper, and their four partners, Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, Linda Korndal, Peter Eland, and Frederik Werner, are each very well-versed in the architecture and design world, and they have embarked on an ambitious and uncompromising journey to put forth worthy designs that will seamlessly converge your ideas of serenity and exploration. And the team members they have gathered around them all have a very high level of autonomy to investigate the space between form and beauty, as they relate to function.
The work they do is not guided by a single master chef running the kitchen, but rather an entity of specialized individuals, working alone or in pods to facilitate flow and creativity within a very consistent style and design language. A daunting feat, as creative exploration often takes you to places far from known shores.
Why does this work so well for Norm Architects?
To better understand this, we have to go back to the founding days. When Jonas and Kasper started the company in 2008, the fashion of the time was driven by a long period of fleeting trends, defined by colorful and crazy expressions, which, to Jonas and Kasper, seemed transient and lost for context.
As graduates from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, they were classically trained and brought up with modernism, making them firm believers in things needing to be beautiful in relation to their function.
They both believed in going back to the architectural norms and really apprehending intrinsic values to find balance between form and function in a world that is constantly evolving and craving change. On top of that, they wanted to build harmonious products in natural materials, which would become even more beautiful with time and wear.
Today, this ambitious and philosophical journey has taken them from a duo to a highly sought-after global design studio, driven by the same overarching quest for the sublime and creative, which in the most voguish fashion has led them to co-create several modern design classics, working for customers like Menu, Reform, Labofa, Fogia, Design Within Reach, Karimoku, Ariake, and many more.
As we discuss some of their projects, I can’t help but wonder how they keep their consistency or distinct fingerprint across their identity, brand, and products, when customers must be pulling them in different directions all the time.
Kasper explains that Norm Architect’s design vision and integrity also involves saying no to as many as ⅓ of the customers that reach out to them, as they value being the right fit for their clients and their projects. This does not mean that they are difficult to work with, on the contrary, they take a lot of care in the dialogue and curation to create winning partnerships, which is why turning away some contracts to focus energy on where they can really create something amazing, is a price they are willing to pay.
Katrine: “Our approach to hiring isn’t much different. We look to hire talents that have an eye for our style, which is either there or it isn’t, and if it is, it’s about setting them free to explore the boundaries of the norms in an ever-changing world, like curious children in a world without grownups.”
As they explain their non-hierarchical management style, it becomes clear that their success is embedded with their autonomous work environment, encouraging freedom, while breeding responsibility and ownership. This is something that is much easier said than done, but to Katrine and Kasper, it is more a question of coherence at a fundamental level, which offers a natural order and balance, while leaving room for exploration:
Katrine: “We give our employees a lot of autonomy to do their own thing, and this is easy, because we are a very fundamentally aligned professionally — we are all deeply rooted around the same design aesthetics — we may bring different perspectives, but we always come together in the result as one entity”.
Another unique factor that emerges, is their partner dynamics. Katrine and Kasper describe their partners with humor and admiration:
“Jonas is a total aesthetic — a stubborn creative integrity! Kasper is a rare shape-giver and a great sparring partner! Katrine is our facilitator — she opens up the space for us all and is just super fun! Linda is our philosopher, theoretical and uncompromising. Peter is so delightful and well-experienced, and he always makes our customers feel heard and at ease. Frederik should be wearing tweed and smoking a pipe — he has style and drive, and he is just born creative and curious!”
This blend of characters with their multinational employees, striving for balance between legacy and future, between form and function, as individuals and as a company, could make the world of Norm Architects seem hard to nail down, but really Norm as an entity is bound together by its strong sense of style, integrity, direction, and openness to explore, which gets the creative juices flowing.
In a world, in which compromise is unavoidable when it comes to wowing and satisfying your customers, and particularly in the design world, Norm Architects has found a way to honor the norm, while bending it at the same time. An exercise they seem to do with ease and lightheartedness, as they enjoy their work and each other.
Photography by Karstensen Fotografi/Ourcreativeplace