When writing about colour is your occupation for years on end, you get to have a pretty honed eye for which individuals are carving a unique path using colour. We put German-based Iranian designer Farah Ebrahimi in this category of individualism – she’s the colour expert and art director for furniture brand e15 and its sister architectural practice, which bears the same name as her partner and husband, Philipp Mainzer.
In her career at both brands, she’s been responsible for making certain colours and sometimes unexpected or traditional ideas – such as tartan – feel thoroughly contemporary. Having followed her inspiring travels and day-to-day musings on Instagram, we asked if she could share the mood boards and ideas behind some of her interiors stories. Below she talks us through how she arrived at the decisions and palettes for Berlin’s vibrant Jewish deli Louis Pretty, the sleek Aesop shop in Frankfurt plus a handful of e15’s beautiful pared down furniture collections. But first, we wanted to get her steer on what inspires her in a more general way…
You have a very particular but eclectic eye (e.g the surprising tartan of a few years ago) – do you have a particular approach to ideas and inspiration?
“I start with a feeling or desire for another way. Some years ago when we introduced pattern to the e15 collection, I chose tartans. At the time, the bright and vibrant tartans with a punk edge were a courageous statement in furniture. But we also saw it from another perspective. Tartans are historic patterns based on mathematical grids; they are not just decorative patterns. They have a meaning; there is logic behind them. I love tartans, and am happy that they are a part of e15’s DNA by now.”
Do you visit a lot of cultural places to gain visual fodder – what have you found inspiring in recent times?
Does your background and culture play any role in your attitude and approach to colour and design?
“Very much so, also being courageous and consistent is important to me.”
How does working with Philipp work – are your roles clearly defined or intertwined?
“My role is art direction for the brand; this entails product development, presentation, communication and the overall creative statement of the brand. Philipp and I are great partners in all this, we also work with a great team. My work routine moves through different stages of the creative process, I am vigilant in maintaining a consistent and refreshing link to the DNA of e15 and its overall stance as a unique, artistic, courageous brand that inspires life and real living needs.”
Are you ever at odds with each other over decisions?
“We are rarely at odds, however to be at odds at times is a valuable aspect in defining our vision and process. We have distinct but similar interests. I am always curious to understand why Philipp likes a certain thing. We approach things from our own perspectives but we find common ground because we both appreciate simplicity, quality, humour and eclecticism in products. What also binds us is that we like logic.”
With furniture, do you try things out in your own home?
“Yes, it is absolutely important to experience the products.”
“Louis Pretty was briefed as a Jewish deli with an edge in Kreuzberg, Berlin. The starting point for colour was a swatch of Bazooka pink from the Raf Simons Kvadrat collection, Palm Springs Modernism along with David Hockney’s painting ‘A Bigger Splash’, which felt like an original contrast for the project and its location. Striking a balance with a minimum mix of materials and colours is a great way to start when putting the palette of materials and colours together. The burnt orange wall colour – Farrow & Ball’s Charlotte’s Locks – was the last, but decisive factor in capturing the unique character of the deli and the pioneering spirit of its owners.”
“I wasn’t worried about using such a strong orange because it is used effectively and it adds a significant context to the space (I call that shade ‘YSL orange’). Bazooka pink upholstered seating is set against the orange and the striking combination of Italian laminate table tops that give the illusion of a swimming pool surface. A special edition of the e15 dining chair HOUDINI treated with teak stain references modernist tones and harmonises with the entire space.”
Aesop shop, Frankfurt
“Aesop provided a comprehensive yet open brief to us – the brand is very clear about its requirements, however is also inspired by the process and sensitive to the local culture. The colour palette came from a choice of three that we created, all inspired by different aspects of Frankfurt’s culture and architecture, the other two were also very strong. Initially we researched many Aesop spaces, however we found it easy to switch off what has come before, as our inspiration was Frankfurt and its Modernist roots.”
“The green of the Black Forest and solid wood craftsmanship was a strong inspiration, as well as the traditional Frankfurt clay used for apple wine, pure materials such as unpolished brass and the handmade tiles of the floor. We used a Farrow & Ball Blue Gray for walls, powder-coated steel backlit shelves in forest green, solid European walnut used by local master craftsmen to build the customised, monolithic sink and testing area, distinctly arranged matt grey floor tiles that refer to sand grey and salt-glazed stoneware ceramic typical for the Frankfurt region. Natural woven leather details come from the Ferdinand Kramer furniture which gains a rich patina over time, Wired glass that’s typical of Frankfurt’s Modernist past – in particular the “New Frankfurt” housing program. Finally, ‘Mohair’ fabric, a luxurious and durable velvet woven by one of the oldest factories in Germany, is used for the Weissenhof armchair in Cypress green.”
Recent e15 furniture collections
“With furniture, the design process is much slower than with interiors as we carefully aim to build a consistent and progressive collection. Refining ideas in design and defining intriguing contrasts in my work is what interests me; culture, politics and art play a big role in my creative process. Each material carries the basis of the past but also the future, brimmed with fresh possibilities and intriguing contrasts to come. Oak is a primary material for e15, we enjoy visualising it through different cultural lenses that hold personal meaning for me. Oak in its purest form, brass, natural leather, coloured glass and simple weaves speckled with bright colours express this sensibility. Materials in the above collage I made include: European oiled oak, glass that is solid and coloured dark blue, polished brass, our HAUS paper weight, oiled walnut, some of our fabrics – Fabric Brasilia, Fabric Coda, natural leather and an antique brass tray from Iran. The photos in the collage are of Palevsky House by Craig Ellwood in Palm Springs, United States and the mirror ceiling and interior detailing from Golestan Palace in Tehran, Iran.”