studio burofamos portrait of designers in their studio

Appreciative Inquiry: Studio Visit with Büro Famos

For this appreciative Inquiry I sat down with Hanna Litwin and Romin Heide, the designers behind Büro Famos, the prolific product design studio, based in Berlin-Lichtenberg. I knew talking to them was going to be a treat because of their experience teaching as well as the calm and grounded feeling I get when in their presence. Their work spans mediums, glass, ceramics, and textiles to name a few, but their forms are always unpretentious, functional and somehow soft. The ‘hand’ of the maker never feels too far from the result. This one is a little longer than other interviews, but I hope you’ll stick around until the end.  

Vivian: what's your native language?

Hanna: German

Romin: Same for me.

Vivian: What are you working on right now?

Hanna: Nothing!

Romin: It's not really true, but…

Hanna: it feels a bit like it <laughs>,

Romin: We had a big project going over the summer, which finished end August, then we had one month off, we've been here and there. We’ve been doing a little bit of traveling, studying, seeing other influences etc, and now we are back. There's always a lot of stuff that is in development, but as we work for companies on a royalty basis, there's always communication and there's some projects that are, it's how you say, in the pipeline that will like be in the market next year probably.

Büro Famos studio window

(Büro Famos studio window photo curtesy of Büro Famos)


Vivian: And you're also making products just under your own name and not in, not licensed right? Or all of your products licensed?

Hanna: We only have one product, which we more or less sell ourselves: a hurricane glass lantern. We have some shops in Berlin which sell them, but most of the time the glass maker Cornelius Réer who is producing it is in charge of selling it. 

Romin: This product dates from  the beginning of the studio. We tried it with this product; to do our own additions and sell our own products, but somehow , it didn't feel like, our natural field. It worked better for us to create designs and get in touch with people who can do the production or who can do the manufacturing. And then of course also, bring them to the market and do all that's linked to that. We think it's like a whole other job beyond the design studio to have a label. And with the experience we had from this small product, I think we found out that that's not really the things that we click with so much. Like selling and marketing part, we are more into making new things. <Laugh>

Hanna: Yes, I think this came with this product, and we realised that if you really want to sell something, you have to sell it. <Laugh> as funny as it, or as weird as it sounds, your business is not making new stuff, your business is to get people to buy what you have, and only if this is running, then you can think of doing something like a new product.

Romin: Yeah and all the things that come with it, with online shops and shipping and returns, and especially with glass products, shipping glass… I think you know what we are talking about.

Vivian: Absolutely. It's the not fun part. <Laugh>. 

Hanna: Yes.

(Photo curtesy of Büro Famos)

Vivian: When you are designing a new product, are you starting with a prompt that's been given to you? Or do you search out your own problem to solve and then you find the person who wants to license the product?

Hanna: With both more or less. Sometimes there is the case that someone says, Okay, we would like you to design “huh, huh, huh” <laughs> and we are happy to do this. We like this situation because then we can do something together from the beginning. Like when they have an idea of what they need and we have [another] idea. We are looking from the outside, seeing the company and seeing it differently than the ones who are working in the company. This is often a good cooperation when making a product. 

And on the other hand, we also have some ideas which we try to put into a the form of a product, or we see a need of which we have in private, or a material which we would like to work with. But then the non-fun part comes, <laugh>, finding a company who wants to [produce it]. A company that sees that it fits into their range more or less. 

Arcs Vases Family Design process

(Arcs Vases Family Design process photo curtesy of Büro Famos)

Since covid, it is really getting harder because what you also said, everything is getting more expensive and we experience more or less that small companies really struggle. A lot of companies want to produce in Europe now, and so every factory has so much to do that they wont do a thousand pieces or 500 pieces for a smaller company, they say, okay, if you can make it 10,000 pieces, I can think about. They have so much to do that they don't care about small contracts.

Vivian: What is your strategy then? Where do you think is the future for you in what you want to Design? 

Romin: With our biggest furniture customer Bolia, we have this situation that then they will come and say we know how you work. We know that, we get along and we know that you are reliable. And you have established this relationship, and then they might ask you directly for something in the future. This is what we are really happy about right now, and maybe also a bit lucky that this situation is there for us now, that this happens from time to time.

Bolia Design by Büro Famos

(Büro Famos design process for Bolia Photo curtesy of Büro Famos)

In the past, we have always done projects that do not have the first focus on the market, Or how do you say that, that are not, can you say commercial? … For example, in 2019 we've done a residency in Scotland. Where we had a month in a glass studio, which is a really long time compared to what we've done in glass before. Glass is now getting crazy expensive with the gas price, but it's always been expensive… so you have to really know what you want do.

We had this long period due to the residency where we really could experiment with techniques and develop two series that went into the Grassimuseum, in Leipzig, which are like a more art-oriented line of work. And this is also something that we, in the situation we have now, we want, or we feel that we need to do this another time. We want to make work motivated from this kind of process.

Hanna: What came to my mind was that we have a client, TON in the Czech Republic, they’re doing bentwood furniture, and they have their own factory. They're producing everything themselves. And this is in this time, I think really it was always good, but now it's even better for them.

TON Logs designed by Büro Famos

(Logs for TON designed by Büro Famos Photo curtesy of Büro Famos)

Romin: Yeah, they harvest their own wood, then they dry it for years and make the raw pieces from them. They have the whole process in one factory… We have made a hook or small wardrobe hook for them.

Hanna: They're doing this small piece using off cuts of the chairs because sometimes it happens that it breaks. And they wait until they have enough [off cut] pieces so they can make these wardrobe hooks. So it's really cool. They also use the packaging from the chairs and laser cut it into the boxes. 

Logs for TON design by Büro Famos

(Logs for TON design by Büro Famos photo curtesy of Büro Famos)

Vivian: I wanted to ask you about style. It's something that I think is very poorly taught when teachers or classes or coaches are encouraging artists or creative people to find a niche, make a space for themselves in a market, or make a name for themselves.

How would you explain the common thread that pulls your work together? is that something that you think about when you're making, or is it something that you think is an important part of your image or the way that your clients understand your work?

Romin: There are people out there who work this way and they've somehow found their style and then they keep on repeating it. I think in every field of art there is this element of repetition, which is also important to be recognizable, but if it gets too repetitive and it doesn't change, or evolve, it also gets boring sometimes. This is something that, and I think, if we look back at what we did, you can certainly see links between the products, which can be the ways we use shapes, or simply concepts of… I don't know, simplicity… or of products that can be used in different kinds of ways or integrate into the owners life in different kinds of ways. It took us quite a while to find models of how we work together as a team in the studio, and how our different views come together. And then these things came from that. 

This year we had a big teaching assignment at a science school, and we thought about this because we taught the students in their first year, and this question came up of course. Also, well, how do you put people on a path? And I think it's about trying out a lot of things, and then you can find out for yourself as a creative person, if that’s for you or if it's not, and if it's for you you might do it again. <Laugh>

Hanna: I think what helps is questioning everything when we do something. If you draw something or have an idea and make a mockup or a model or something by hand, then you intuitively do things. And when you have the model, then we start thinking, Okay, why did we do this like this? Or is it round? Or is it round because we wanted round? Is it round because I just did it like this, because I saw something that is like this? As a designer… you see so many things and you have so many things in your head and you just, or for me, we use shapes we’ve seen and then we have to decide if this is really the right one.

Büro Famos Conference room

(Photo curtesy of Büro Famos)

Romin: Also the question of style that would be a question maybe back to you... Do you see style from, or mostly from, an aesthetic point of view, or is it like the whole way you approach your work? how would you define that?

Vivian: I think there can be two things, right? It can be the ethos and the principle, like, I design with core principles of… everything has to be 80% recycled or natural material.

But then I also really like curves. I really like things that are soft and round, and it's a little less functional than something with sharp corners. And so that there's like two different kinds of things. I think both of those are styles. 

Is finding your personal style something that just requires time, and with time you're able to look back and like piece things together? Or is it something that can be much more intentional?

Romin: I think it can be both of course. You can intentionally try to develop something that comes from a certain standpoint, like the ethos you described, or that comes from a certain aesthetic idea and follow that or add to that… But yeah, I think that sometimes… when you look back, you'll see the connections between designs or between the work you did. And it's super interesting to think about where this all comes from. Where the inspiration for shapes that you might use comes from… I've been recently sitting down with a student and we got into this kind of conversation, he was like, “Yeah, wow you must be reading like interior blocks and all this stuff all day long." And I said, I do not read them at all… for us, or I think I can speak for Hanna as well, it's like just being here, seeing so many things, you somehow,  put them on the shelf in your head and then someday you will take them back out. What, Hanna and I have said to the students, is that you have to be very open minded and take in a lot of influences.


Material Library from Büro Famos

(Material Library at the Büro Famos Studio)


Vivian: Do you think it's possible to be oversaturated? To see too much?

Romin: Yeah, absolutely.

Hanna: Never as easily as today, I think <laugh>

Romin: But I would say that it depends. You have to question when you are in a digital world… What is the bandwidth of reception? Like it's always through a rectangular screen. I mean, for now, maybe <laugh> …but for now it's always through a two dimensional, rectangular object. I think that that's why it gets tiring faster. Whereas in reality, where most of our inspiration comes from, you can much more easily literally turn away from it.

Vivian: How do you get to the point with your designs where you're like, Okay, this is finished, this is ready.

Romin: Deadlines help

Hanna: A lot. . <Laugh>. . . It's a good question. 

Romin: If you are working with a client, then of course, it's not only up to you to decide when it's finished, and you're not in control. With companies you're never completely in control of the outcome, that will probably hit the store in the end. And sometimes we are more, and sometimes we are less satisfied with the final outcome of the product… 

I think that sometimes it's also good to be in touch [with the client] early in the process and to start this conversation that Hanna talked about in the beginning… having this dialogue and to have their influence and to decide together, to have someone else say, No, I don't think this is finished…maybe we have to try this… And then you think about it again, Ach, right, okay, that's <frustrated sigh>. Let's go back and do another. And most of the time it's worth it if someone feels that it's not finished… even when it's on the market, it might not be finished because we find out something is not working and you have to redo it.

Your initial question was what we do if we're not happy. Well, sometimes if there's something that we thought could have been better, we were always the person who was the origin of the idea. [As that person] you are somehow way too close and way too picky. That's also something that we try to say to ourselves. But it's very good to be like that because then maybe if you want to have 100% quality, and if you achieve in the end, I don't know, I'd say something like  85% then that's very, very good.


Design process for Bolia Plover by Büro Famos

(Design process for Bolia Plover by Büro Famos photo curtesy of Büro Famos)


Vivian: One thing that I like to ask everyone in these interviews is if you have a piece of advice that you would give yourself a year ago?

Romin: I think that if I look back at the past year, there were a lot of things where, of course there are always deadlines, and  deadlines you can't postpone, but in general, there are also a lot of times that you can say, it does not matter if  some things will be finished five days later and then you may be finished in a better way and in a healthier way. This is something that we are trying to get back to now…, to be a little bit more relaxed about this, and to say, wait a minute, can I not have a nice evening and do it tomorrow? And then it will be maybe better than if I'm gonna stay here until midnight and finish it today. 

Hanna: More private time.

Vivian: Meaning not work time..?

Hanna: Yeah, due to the pandemic in the very, very beginning it was like, how long will this be that we have to be at home and are not able to go out? And how long will this all take to… Okay, we are back at work and some clients already wanted something from us again, so the world keeps on turning. But, it felt like, okay, we have to do as much, or I, for myself, have to do as much or earn as much money as I can because I don't know how this all will end up. And I know a lot of self-employed designers who have been really stressed… Everyone was like [chasing every] job because no one knows how long this will all take.  And so… being a little bit more relaxed on this, like somehow there will be a way in the end.  Don't be so stressed. 

Büro Famos


Thank you very much to Hanna and Romin for their time. To find their work visit their website here or their instagram here.

Images belong to Vivian Kvitka unless otherwise credited.

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