She may be half Danish and live in Paris, but that hasn’t hindered furniture designer Gesa Hansen from becoming the new darling of the German design scene. Born in 1981 to a Danish father and a German mother, she grew up in Arnsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia where her family’s furniture business is based, before studying at the Bauhaus University in Weimar – so the Germans can rightly claim her as their own.
At the same time, Hansen’s long-term sojourn by the Seine – which began eight years ago, and included an apprenticeship with architect Jean Nouvel and a parallel singing career with French chanteur Benjamin Biolay (their duet single La Superbe recently went platinum) – lends her just the right amount of je ne sais quoi.
Hansen never intended to be a furniture designer. Growing up in a family “where almost everybody has something to do with wood, architecture or design” she initially decided to go her own way and study graphic design at the Bauhaus University. But thanks to the multidisciplinary approach of the college, where students are encouraged to explore product design, art, visual communication and architecture, Hansen took a product design course with professor Axel Kufus, one of Germany’s key innovative designers in the 1980s, and found herself moving back to furniture. “Kufus made me document every step of the design process so that I could step back and choose maybe another direction than the one I was heading in before”, she says of her former mentor, “he always made us think in industrial production terms, made us aware of potential production problems and always pushed towards simplification of the product”.
After college Hansen went to Paris to visit a friend and lost her heart to the bright lights and cuisine of the French capital: “I love the Parisian lifestyle, to start the day slowly in the morning, to have a long lunch with other designers and to work late into the night”, she says. After a stint at Jean Nouvel’s atelier, it was her involvement with the H5 graphic studio that provided her next big influence: “They have a very simple style with great details in typography and patterns. For me Rachel Cazadamont [co-founder of H5] is the best graphic designer of our times and we are still working together today”. Recent collaborations with H5 have included a competition for the visual identity of Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation building, exhibition signage for the Musée d’Art et Decoration, Paris and a project for the Prix Hermes.
Now Hansen has her own studio in Paris and she spends most of her time in the city with her friends and her own young family. But twice a month for the past four years she has been making the trip back to her other home in Arnsberg to uphold family tradition and attend to what is now her core profession: furniture.