If you’ve used the internet regularly in the past five years it’s more than likely you’ve come across the stunning interiors and portraits of Freunde von Freunden. The international interview magazine has been showcasing the homes and lives of inspirational creatives since 2009, giving us a unique viewpoint of cities across the globe and their diverse inhabitants.
As boundaries are skewed and classifications pulverised in the digital world we live in, it’s almost impossible to label exactly what Freunde von Freunden is. It’s not a magazine in the traditional sense, it’s not a blog either, it’s something totally removed from any preconceived frameworks. And that’s what makes it exciting, it has the ability to morph into exactly what it wants to be. Frederik Frede, one of the co-founders of Freunde von Freunden know this, and is determined to constantly evolve what has become one of the most respected and referenced websites in recent times. ‘We have an inner urge to talk about what we care about,’ He tells me over Skype.
In Melbourne I’m winding down with a glass of wine but for Frede the chaotically busy day is just about to begin. ‘I’m still at home in Berlin, I should be at the office right now. We’re leaving to Amsterdam on Friday and India on Sunday for production so we’re preparing all that stuff.’ The FvF team now consists of 10 people. A full time editorial team, sales, bookkeeping, accountant, project management, graphic designer and two photo editors. ‘In the beginning it was just Timmy, Torsten and me.’ In 2006 Frede and Torsten Bergler founded design agency NoMoreSleep but after losing two major accounts in 2009 following the global crisis the pair decided to immerse themselves in other projects. ‘We wanted to do something for ourselves. We looked at what was happening with fashion blogs and interiors, the changes in those digital environments and storytelling online...Facebook was popping up in Germany in 2009 too, we were pretty sure people would show their homes on a website.’ Evidently they were right. FvF now boasts an ever expanding global following, a video production arm, multiple books, collaborations with various brands AND they’ve managed to do it with the ‘Ad-free model of Monocle.’ I ask Frede what he thinks it is about looking into the homes and lives of others that people find so interesting. ‘There’s various reasons.’ He says. ‘Personality is very much reflected in interiors and homes, and what people put into their environment...If you know someone personally and you’ve never been to their house you want to go and see how they live...We have a German expression: "Show me how you live and I’ll tell you who you are."’ People responded well from the beginning he tells me, ‘We even got feedback that we put a different face on Berlin. They’d never seen so many people smiling in pictures. Berlin’s not Australia you know…you’ve been to Berlin, it can be very rough and harsh — German, you know?’
Frede grew up in southern Germany, very close to the Lake of Constance. ‘In the backdrop you have the Alps, a really nice lake, beautiful nature and the environment is clean. It’s what everybody has in mind when they think of Germany. Except the leather pants…’ It was a safe upbringing he tells me. Spending time snowboarding, skating, listening to music and hanging with his friends in the outdoors I get the impression that freedom was encouraged in this picturesque German town. I ask Frede if he thinks this freedom translates to what he finds himself doing now. ‘I’ve always had my own path, and my own head. The approach with FvF is different to what agency’s usually do. I’ve always been interested in what’s happening outside of my little town and outside of Germany, what the international standard is.’ Berlin is now home for Frede. A city of low rents, great music, lots of creative people and burgeoning start-up culture, what does the city mean to him though? ‘Freedom. You mentioned it earlier. When I came to Berlin in 2002 you could do what you wanted. You could start a project like FvF because it was digital. We didn't have to pay for printing, we could do it on the side, work with creative friends and not lose any money. A lot of Berlin projects began like that.’
Over the past five years a lot of changes have happened. NoMoreSleep was sold in 2010, being ‘resurrected’ a year later as MoreSleep. Now Frede tries to divide his time evenly between the two, which is hard, ‘With FvF there’s more new ground, testing and a lot of communication which needs more attention sometimes.’ In addition to their own content FvF collaborates with brands like Mont Blanc and Vitra and publications such as Zeit and even Drop. Embracing these creative collaborations is one of the things that sets Frede and the FvF team apart from the rest. ‘We say on the MoreSleep site: "We don’t do one night stands." If you have a really good collaborative relationship with your client that’s the best seeding ground for ideas.’ He tells me about the whole informal/formal thing. ‘We have two ways of approaching people, you can be very polite or communicate how you would with your friends and family. We prefer the informal approach, it reduces a lot of bullshit and miscommunication. It also involves more trust and collaborative thinking which brings you further.’ A point that really resonates. Too often barriers are kept up and restrictions imposed on how we communicate with each other, especially in the creative industries. Formality getting in the way of progress. Which brings us back to freedom, ‘Creativity flows more easily in a free environment. If you’re being suppressed, depression eats creativity.’
I’m curious as to what Frede does in his spare time, which I imagine is quite limited these days with all the projects he’s involved in. ‘I try to spend as much time as possible with my girlfriend and the family. Or meeting new people.’ Frede is also still passionately interested in sports, he’s an avid road biker, swimmer and surfs whenever he gets the chance. Not in Germany I assume.
The FvF team is currently gearing up for a website relaunch, ‘We’re going to focus more on inspiration and creativity.’ He tells me. ‘We will still do home stories but the content will become more diverse. We kind of have to break out of this "just about the interiors of creatives" viewpoint.’ The next couple of weeks will also see the introduction of an online store stocking a curated selection of objects and some exciting collaborations, ‘It’s all the stuff we would love to have in our own home.’ In terms of the future in a broader context though, Frede is excited. ‘The opportunities and changes, the whole digital revolution, we’ve just started. Everything we’ve seen so far hasn't even scratched the surface. There's going to be a lot of changes both good and bad, but I’m looking forward to the good stuff. Artificial intelligence, healthcare, transportation, mobility, it’s going to be really interesting.’
The future will be interesting indeed. I’ve been keeping an eye on Freunde von Freunden since about 2010, "borrowing" images for my blog, listening and contributing to their mix series and being constantly inspired by the stories and lives of their subjects. Watching FvonF evolve is how I imagine parents feel when watching their children grow up. You have no idea where they’re going to go or what they’re going to do but everything they create is beautiful and they can do no wrong in your eyes. Their future is a malleable one, changing constantly. They play, experiment, grow and at the end of the day discover who they truly are. With changes in digital trends and technologies I’m certain there’s a lot to come from Frede and the FvF camp and I am excited to see what’s next.
This story was originally published as part of our ongoing interview series exploring the work and lives of inspiring creatives.
Photography: Christoph Mack
Words: Nick Smith