CONVERSATION

Ana Berlin

The diary of Ana Berlin, architect, design and art PR, MM Award 2023 jury member. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here

Diary of: @abc.works

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
1. Design has historically been associated with the concept of democracy and inclusiveness. Lately, however, it has increasingly been likened to a luxury good, in ‘limited editions’ and with high prices. Can we still talk about democracy and inclusion in relation to design?

Design is a very vast term that includes very different genres and ideas. Therefore, I believe there is space  for many different interpretations of design, including social, behavioural, technical, and decoration aspects, and we could go on with this list; I do believe design is associated with luxury and possibly placing itself in the domain of art, has its authority; we might also replace luxury by value, then it does sound more accessible and inclusive, doesn’t it?

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
2. Thinking about our homes, through social networks, we disseminate more and more images of them, thus transforming them into a new extension of ourselves. What is your relationship with your home?

Oh, dears, thank you for asking! The past months have been a great transition phase in my life – and all are connected to ‘home’. I moved back to Paris with my teenage daughter, keeping the agency and staff with one leg in Vienna; after about five years, I integrated the office into my home on a 180m2 turn-of-the-century Viennese building and found out – not only due to Covid – that this is my preferable state of working, of combining my private and my professional life that closely. I changed the apartment/office in Vienna for a smaller place this week to establish Paris for life and work more permanently. My home and how I live are a mirror of my personality, and I am quite connected to some pieces, the history of the buildings and the neighbourhood. This said, I am quite courageous (and quick) with change, and a nomad at heart. I sell and buy pieces easily, can imagine a ‘different life’ regularly and rearrange furniture all the time. So, every time you visit, it will look different, I promise!

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
3. Leafing through magazines, they often show houses that seem to be uninhabited, where everything is perfect, crystallised, but depersonalised. From a communication point of view, what makes an interior design appealing?

I love coffee table books on design and interior, not all of them, though… Ilse Crawford, master of her profession and former editor, is also publishing great books on her work from time to time. I have one from the nineties, and it is interesting how le gout, our taste changes, but not her attitude towards design. I like ‘warm’ materials such as wood and wool, carpets, and curtains, but also a minimalistic style – not always so easy to balance; in my current Viennese place, there is a bit too much vintage (I have a weakness for what’s called ‘Biedermeier’, ‘Empire’ in France, so first half/middle of the 19th century), so I head for more contemporary currently; Leafing through interior design books has a meditative component for the ones I like, and I don’t want to vist showrooms only, but explore someone’s life. That’s appealing to me!

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
4. You often hear mothers telling children, ‘don’t go near it, don’t touch it, it’s design!’. What do you think about that?

Damn! Therefore, it’s design and not art. And even with art, I am close enough to the production cycle to understand that pieces in the studio can be touched; they are not part of the museum’s collection yet. Design is, by definition, made to be used. And then there’s the valuable saying – what applies to design in stores – “break it, you buy it!”.

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
5. We met in Vienna at the Vienna Design Week. How has the relationship between Vienna and the world of design evolved over the years?

VDW will go into its 17th edition this year – so it is quite a long time since it was founded; we have helped with communications for VDW since 2011 and also in PR for the past twelve years bringing news and new channels basically every season. In my view, design and I would also include architecture play a much bigger role in the media, and in the awareness of society today than a decade ago; the connection to sustainability, the climate crisis, social issues become very much considered an aspect of design. On a smaller scale, VDW became something like ‘a go-to event’ for Vienna, and for the Viennese design community, there is a broad interest in the program, and the interaction with the city reflects this development.

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
6. One of the common characteristics of the projects presented at the various editions of Vienna Design Week concerns the social aspect of design, i.e. its ability to anticipate, understand and respond to the needs of communities. What is one project, in line with this characteristic, that particularly struck you?

This observation is actual for several curated sections of the festival; with a strong partner from the economy, Erste Bank, VDW established the social design format ‘Stadtarbeit’ (city work) and started this at a time when the social design was entirely new, unheard term. The festival team and its partner invite and finance projects through an open call that’s currently running (Call for Entries) and detects community behaviour and how to strengthen it for the better. This year, the motto is ‘Interventions’; last year, it was ‘Resilience’. Another format that’s worth mentioning is called Urban Food & Design, supported by the Viennese Business Agency. The projects deal with everything surrounding the question of food consumption, production and – this year – resources for food in an urban setting. Find out more here.

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
7. You work between Vienna and Paris: what are 3 unusual places in each of the 2 cities that you would suggest a design-lover visit?

In Vienna, it is Reinthaler – a restaurant close to the Viennese Opera House that has fallen out of time, always crowded and with good, traditional food, you will feel a bit like in a Thomas Bernhard play. Of course, the MAK, as Lilli Hollein is now guiding this unique applied arts museum as director (she is one of the co-founders of Vienna Design Week) (click here to read the Caleido interview to her). With little more preparation, you can sign up for a tour of the Josef Frank Villa Beer (if that does not work out, you can go to a classic from a similar time in history and have a drink at the Loos Bar, a bijou by Adolf Loos). As a third and entirely different thing, I suggest a visit to Peterskirche. A small baroque church that’s said to be the siege of Opus Dei outside of the Vatican. 

In Paris, I suggest the visit of the garden of the Petit Palais for a pause from the bustle of Champs Élysée, an afternoon at the auction house Drouot – you can just walk in and be part of a fantastic world of art & design dealers and buyers, and of bid yourself. Third, again, a very different vibe and place, but also in an exciting part of town: go and visit Station F in Paris’ 13éme arrondissement: it’s supposedly Europe’s giant Startup incubator. 

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
8. Many furniture companies are facing the challenges of the digital world, ushering in a new link between design and digital. How is this relationship evolving?

We live in times of rapid change, and as it seems – this is only the beginning. So yes, the design world and furniture companies have to face the shift in retail as we know it, as well. Humans attach to the stuff that surrounds them for all kinds of reasons – may it be functional, sentimental, or status reasons – so many motivations why we buy things or want to own them. The platforms change from fairs and stores to the online world in parts, but evoking desire and, therefore, demand stays the bottom line. On the how to create that, we work on in our businesses every day.

9. Part of your work involves scouting for new talent: designers, artists and architects. What attracts you most? What are the characteristics that make the difference nowadays? Also, as a MM Award judge, what characteristics will you look for in the projects of the candidates?

I come from the world of communication, so I tend to watch out for projects that evoke a different, new way of looking at the world. To something that creates a realisation, makes me think differently or improves something in our lives. I like detail, and the object or project should carry the ability to make itself understood.

Ana Berlin
Courtesy by Ana Berlin
10. What is one object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a photo taken by you?

A Bang & Olufsen radio and amplifier from the 70ies, the one piece I took with me from the house I grew up in after my father had died. It is not the most practical item, in times when we listen to podcasts more than the radio, but it’s a natural beauty, and I always find a prominent spot for her in my space. And it still works impeccably.

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