ABCs of Bathroom Design with the Brothers Sieger

At Duravit's biennial conference Duravit Design Days, we had the opportunity to chat with two of Germany's hardest-working design firms, Sieger Design. The principals and brothers Michael and Christian Sieger, took over the family business from their father, a self-employed architect who first started designing for yachts and motorboats. In the 1980s Sieger Design began working first with Dornbracht, then with Duravit, giving them a virtual monopoly on German bathroom product design. The brothers are nattily dressed, and their exuberant design is evidenced by their studio's headquarters: a castle with a moat. (Sadly, we did not get to visit.)
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Sieger Design was responsible for two of Duravit's recently-unveiled bath collections, which include ceramics (toilets, washbasins), furniture (vanities, storage components) and acrylics (bathtubs). For styling purposes, all the collections have been outfitted with Hansgrohe fixtures—handy, since Hansgrohe headquarters is a 20-minute drive from Duravit's. Both are in the northern section of Germany's Black Forest (also home to the cuckoo clock, if you're curious).

For the Happy D.2 line, Sieger Design updated its Happy D. collection from 1998. Like the initial configurations, Happy D.2 has a curvy, D-shaped silhouette. The proportions have been slightly refined and the furniture now comes in a linen-fronted option, shown here on the vanity and wall storage.

On the history and trajectory of Sieger Design:

Another Sieger Design collection for Duravit, X-Large, incorporates oversized furniture components for the bathroom. A detail we especially like is the knife edge along the top of the vanity: very sleek.

Michael Sieger: Sieger Design was founded by our father Dieter in 1964. He was a self-employed architect, so our roots are in architecture. His sailing hobby led him to design yachts and motorboats, and by coincidence he started working with the company Alape, which brought him into the world bathroom design. In the middle of the 80s the field was like sleeping beauty—nobody was really thinking about this market. So his first big customer was Dornbracht, and then we started a collaboration with Duravit. With the Giorno collection, Sieger and Duravit really revolutionized the ceramic world. It was great for us to meet a team that was open-minded to doing something new."

Interiors of Schloss Harkotten, showcasing Sieger Design's furniture and tabletop pieces (right).

Christian Sieger: My brother Michael stepped into my father’s footsteps in 1991 and took over the design role, while I took over the business side. Since then, the business has grown into a full service design consultancy with a team of 45 people across different areas of consumer product design. We dominate in the bathroom sector with Dornbracht and Duravit, and on the other side is the tabletop world where we work together with various companies like WMF who created the Ritzenhoff brand, and then in consumer products from small pens to a bed for elderly people, lighting systems, floors.

Christian Sieger (left) and Michael Sieger (right); their firm's headquarters, Harkotten Castle, located in Sassenberg, Germany.

On designing for two major bath manufacturers:

CS: One difference is that Duravit is a family-owned business and the organizational structure is different from Dornbracht. When we present a new design at Duravit we are talking to, more or less, 15 people. If we do the same at Dornbracht maybe it’s 5 or 6 people and the final decision is made by Mr. Dornbracht alone. Another thing, for Dornbracht we more or less do all of the designs—all of the product is designed by our office. They've done one or two series in collaboration with other designers in the past, but it's usually just us doing the projects. So the relationship is very close, closer even than the relationship that we have with Duravit. (It's also a result of distance: Dornbracht is only a 1.5-hour drive from our place!)

On all-important face time:

Even today, when it’s not so much a matter of distance with iPhone and email, but when you work on so many projects [proximity] still makes a difference.

On updating a modern classic, like Happy D:

MS: It's a challenge, because you are tampering with a value that, in this case, has grown over the last 15 years. You are nervous and thinking, "Can we really create a successor? Will it he just as attractive as the day it was launched?"

CS: Happy D was certainly one of these products, where we created an archetype in the market, really the first one in this style. If you look to competitors now, you can find similar shapes. It's made it difficult for us to redesign our line into a contemporary style because then we...

MS: Might run into conflict with the copies. CS: And then we'd be a copy of ourselves!

On scouting trends:

CS: It's like having sixth sense. It's always interesting for me to visit fairs with Michael; he's on the creative side so he seems to have a different antenna. Two years ago when we walked through Milan, he said the next animal trend would be the butterfly. I asked why, and he said he had seen it last four or five shows. He picks it up and at the end of the day he puts it together as a new pattern or color. I’m like, does he have a third eye? How does that happen?

On being a good designer:

MS: I think that to be a designer is like being a seismograph. You have to really feel the shakes, which are something normal people don’t see or feel. A designer is always forming an answer to the demands of society which are always developing and changing. Walk through the world with open eyes and ears and you’ll see many problems you can solve.

Design inspiration:

MS: For me, the most inspiring designer was Ettore Sottsass, founder of the Memphis group. If you go on the street and ask an average person he’s probably never heard of Sottsass, but I think without Memphis, many, many things—even those by Philippe Starck—would not have been possible. We had the chance to meet him sometimes and our father has a big collection of Ettore Sottsass items.

[Editor's note: Including, we hear, a garden pavilion designed by Sottsass that is now on the grounds of the Siegers' castle, Schloss Harkotten.]

About that castle:

CS: We just moved all the private side completely out so it's now just the office and the showroom for the whole Sieger team.

MS: The whole family moved back to the city of Münster because the castle is about 40 kilometers out into the countryside. He has three girls and I have two, all betweens the ages of 10 and 15. Living in the city makes it easier for ballet and...

CS: Boyfriends, I’m discovering.

On the next generation of Sieger Design:

CS: We’re looking forward. It could be very exciting to see the third generation enter the business. We don’t just think about short-term successes and quick growth, and we see something that our daughters might enjoy as well. It will be a challenge to see if they’re willing to do so, and to see how we can split up the business among five women. It’s all about communication, and women can do that much better.


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