Down to the final polish

Interview with furniture designer Stefan Knopp

©Stefan Knopp

When asked about his works, Stefan Knopp likes to point out: “The design is given by nature. I only make visible what’s already there.” His extraordinary tables, which are usually made from a single piece of wood, are not just the centrepiece of many private homes – companies and galleries in the USA also love the special pieces from Obertrum am See. In his interview Knopp explains how every knothole tells a story, how the technique of flaming creates a unique look and why so many want to go back to the roots.

L.L. / You used to work in management, in a large corporation. Today you make exclusive wooden tables. How did that happen?

S.K. / My management career really was only very short. I’ve always wanted to do something artistic but when I was a teen I was discouraged from going in that direction. Which is how I ended up a trainee in a large German company – where I quickly noticed that that really wasn’t the right thing for me. My system simply wasn’t compatible with a large corporation (laughs).

Later I started as an unskilled worker in a classic Viennese carpenter’s workshop in a basement where only chipboard panels were used. After that I did a one-year training to become a carpenter in Styria, I did my journeyman’s certificate and my master’s certificate and immediately started to work free-lance – back then I was 25 years old.

©Stefan Knopp
©Stefan Knopp

L.L. / Each of your tables is unique and tells its own story. Why do you find the different types of wood so fascinating?

S.K. / Back when I had to make my journeyman’s piece, I made a cupboard – from wood that nobody else wanted because it was seen as flawed because of its knotholes. I had always been fascinated by solid wood and that fascination motivated me to stick with it. And because every part of the wood is utilised my way of working is not only sustainable, it also lets you see how the trunk is a grown, it’s a materialised biography of the tree. It lets you deduce so much. The flaws, the cracks, the edges, and injuries are all things we experience in our lives, too. The term “brother tree” may sound corny, but for me it’s true.

When my customers look at raw, unfinished pieces, there’s always that magical moment when they decide on a type of finish for the surface. It really like that! That way it does not just become part of the new owner’s story – it’s more like there’s a dialogue between the history of the tree and that of its owner.

L.L. / You use an ancient technique: flaming. What is that, exactly?

S.K. / Flaming is a technique that dates back to the Stone Age, back then the tips of spears were flamed to make them harder. The fire burns the top layer which is then scrubbed off. Underneath there’s a dark layer which, because of certain oils, has a deep black colour. And depending on how long I scrub, the brown tone of the wood will reappear. The fire helps bring out specific facets and underline certain characteristics.

Aside from that there are water techniques where the wood is washed. And then natural products like oil and wax are added. Recently I also started working with metal which means I directly polish gold and silver pigments into the wood – also a very old technique.

As far as the table legs go there are many options – from simple to opulent. The focus always lies on the tabletop though, which is why I think the legs should simply be there to carry it.

©Stefan Knopp
©Stefan Knopp

L.L. / Irregularities like cracks are often seen as flaws, in your works they are what make the table a unique piece. Would you say that in our fast-paced and streamlined times they satisfy a longing for something authentic and natural?

S.K. / Absolutely! Nowadays we are often overloaded, and everything happens incredibly quickly. Of course, technical surfaces have their place, but I also feel like people have a desire for emotional surfaces. They make you feel at home and safe. I feel like it’s my mission to give people something that will remind them of their origins. I always say: “When your hands can feel what your eyes see you heart will tell you where it’s from”.

Nowadays my tables are often copied, but the history behind them simply can’t be copied. And the clients feel that, too. I once got amazing feedback on a table from a lawyer: “All the really tricky negotiations and talks only take place at this table.” That was beautiful!

L.L. / You have clients all over the world. Why is Salzburg still the perfect place for your showroom?

S.K. / That was coincidence, really. People came to me and asked me to open a showroom. And for me it now is a kind of playground where I can exhibit new things. That’s really great fun. Many clients come directly to my workshop, but in Salzburg they see the tables in a perfect atmosphere. Other specific activities and partners like fairs, exhibitions, and architects but also the cooperation with a German furniture producer who is the only retailer for my tables in Germany, are ways to get my tables out there and into the public.

©Stefan Knopp
©Stefan Knopp

Stefan Knopp

Back when he was a young carpenter Stefan Knopp was always fascinated by the pieces of wood that nobody else wanted to work with. He saw knotholes, cracks, and injuries of a tree as possibilities of carrying on the tree’s story. Today Stefan Knopp still makes unique pieces of furniture from single pieces of wood that get to show their individual character after being treated with fire, water, and metals.

Stefan Knopp's Wordrap

I most enjoy working with…

wood that has a strong character, that is unique, and flawed.

Job or calling?

Compulsory and freestyle part!

When a table has a scratch, I recommend…

Wabi-Sabi. Aging in dignity. It’s the signs of use that give the table added value.

Artist or craftsman?

Art is based on know-how.

This is where I find inspiration in Salzburg:

in the forests.