Back to overview

Dornbracht Conversations 8: Are interior trends over? A conversation with Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu from Neri&Hu (Shanghai), and Rafael de Cárdenas from Architecture at Large (New York)

The essentials at a glance:

“Are interior trends over?” – This was the question posed by Dornbracht in the invitations to the eighth event in the "Dornbracht Conversations” series in Berlin. Wanting to reinforce cultural influences in the bathroom, the Iserlohn-based company Dornbracht started encouraging communication between independent viewpoints in art, music, architecture and design in 1996. Since that time, the “Culture Projects” have sponsored numerous exhibitions and projects – not just as an important source of inspiration for long-lasting designs, but also with the intention of seeing the world in a different light.


“Dornbracht Conversations” have been providing a platform for public discourse between the different disciplines in this context since 2008. Guesting at the eighth event on 16 November 2017 were Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu from Neri&Hu (Shanghai), and Rafael de Cárdenas from Architecture at Large (New York). The subject up for debate in the creative hotspot of Berlin-Kreuzberg was “Are interior trends over?”, with Dezeen Editor-in-Chief Marcus Fairs discussing with the architects whether trends or styles can continue to survive in the digitalised and globalised world of today. The venue for the event was the new FvF Friends Space, the open and modular architectural concept of which was the perfect setting for the theme of the evening.


The starting point for the conversation was the transitional style interior design trend, which Dornbracht is examining in the context of the new Vaia fittings’ series. Created for Dornbracht by Sieger Design, Vaia reconciles classical and progressive style elements, explained Brand Director Holger Struck in the prelude to the discussions. Vaia is therefore equally at home in traditional and modern bathroom architectures – as well as those that combine the elements of different style worlds, in keeping with the transitional style. What could a bathroom look like if it takes up the transitional style, and simultaneously expands on it? To answer this question, Dornbracht had commissioned the architects Rafael de Cárdenas and Neri&Hu to each create a suitable environment for Vaia.


When asked whether the architects would assign a specific style to their own work, Rossana Hu replied: “We like to think that we have gone beyond having to fit into fixed categories.” Nowadays, architects and designers do not want to restrict themselves to a specific style, although it is possible that the broad spectrum in which they do their work could become an original new style. Lyndon Neri assumes that the cultural background of an individual could at the very least be an unconscious factor linking different styles and cultures. He comes from China, grew up in the Philippines and studied architecture in the USA. Neri argues that he finds the theme of transition interesting as an intermediate state for his architectural work, both in terms of where and when. In their projects, Neri&Hu were often breathing new life into the story, to take it into the future, explained Rossana Hu, drawing on examples such as the New Shanghai Theatre conversion project that was completed last year.



The idea for the environment for the fittings’ series came in a project that Neri&Hu were already working on: “House for an Introvert, House for an Extrovert”. Dornbracht recreated the bathroom design true to scale: a marble wall with a golden washstand, with two circular mirrors hanging from the ceiling above it, was placed in front of raw concrete. A visualisation showed a pool opposite the ensemble, with an arched concrete ceiling opening upwards to the sky. Lyndon Neri explained the concept by saying that the fictional space embodies a permanent transition between indoors and outdoors, between wet and dry. “There is always some introversion that remains extrovert, and some extroversion introvert.”


Given the formal reference of the concrete moulding to the work of Le Corbusier, Marcus Fairs asked whether the pair would be unconsciously following any heroes. It was Lyndon Neri’s opinion that style in general is less interesting than creative concepts. For example, they were impressed by Valerio Olgiati’s spatial qualities and Carlo Scarpa’s details. The designs of Neri&Hu would not consider opinions, but always spatial experiences, as that corresponded to the “traditional architects” in them.


Rafael de Cárdenas’ project report for Dornbracht, on the other hand, mentioned that he initially used models to approach the design task. These included the image of a restaurant, designed to seem as familiar as possible to visitors. Cárdenas also brought together elements which he thought “everyone must have seen somewhere or other”. “I don’t live in a vacuum”, explained the New Yorker. He doesn’t have any books at home, just magazines, because he would rather examine a culture through the lens of its time. He got the references for many of his works from the films of the eighties that had influenced him when he was young. On the transitional style theme, he designed a space configuration for Dornbracht that was based on an s-shaped floor plan. Archways littered the architectural design like a leitmotif, and formed the basis for a game with the lines of sight.


But what does transitional style actually mean? Has the “ism” age come to an end? Marcus Fairs asked whether perhaps it has only ever been possible to allocate a style in retrospect. This made Lyndon Neri ask whether architecture had really progressed since the start of modernism. After they had visited the works of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, with their obvious references to ancient architecture, the architects had asked themselves how far it really represented something new in their own work. Modernism had never been contemporary, argued Rafael de Cárdenas, which is why it still endured today. Neri, on the other hand, noted that new materials and technologies had made totally new spatial experiences possible in modernism. He thinks that today’s social media and digital technologies give future generations the opportunity to accomplish a new revolution in the same vein.


Returning to the present day, Marcus Fairs concluded that culture would lag behind the current technological progress. Rafael de Cárdenas agreed, and said that interior design had still not found an answer to the use of smartphones, but in his view, the question of how the home could also become “smart” was an extremely promising approach to development. “We’ve been talking about smart homes for years, but I don’t know anyone who lives in one”, noted Marcus Fairs, and asked whether this meant that our homes were not yet smart, because we perceived them as a safe retreat from the fast-moving outside world.


The question posed by Rossana Hu was “Are trends even important any more?”. They are really just a marketing instrument, and new manufacturing methods make them obsolete. Everyone always used to want the same product. Now you no longer have to be like your neighbour, because products can be custom-made in individual colours and shapes.


It was Rafael de Cárdenas’ view, however, that trends and “isms” were still around, but that in the Internet age, they were no longer dictated by the industry, but in fact came “from below”. Young people could become Instagram stars with videos from their garden, brands and magazines would only pick up the trends shown there, instead of setting them themselves. Social networks are a “cacophony of voices”, and are also somewhat daunting, as there is no control.



“Style is a taboo word”, said Rossana Hu. “We don’t use it when we are talking about design.” Marcus Fairs took up the idea and his suggestion that perhaps we could agree on “voice” instead, because it is a more personal concept, was well-received by the audience. An architect from Milan in the front row provided the concluding comment: “After all, we are talking about how we live, about matters of taste”. Taste evolves from experience. A conclusion that left many questions unanswered and made it clear that further discussion of the previously highlighted difference between trends and movements would indeed be worthwhile.





About Dornbracht
Aloys F. Dornbracht GmbH & Co. KG, with headquarters in Iserlohn, is a globally active, family-run manufacturer of high-quality designer fittings and accessories for bathroom/spa and kitchen. The Dornbracht brand claim “Culturing Life” continues the years of discussion and debate about these environments and expands the company’s fundamental design and water expertise: technological innovation to promote connectivity and comfort, and the prevention of ill health through a focus on daily well-being, will increasingly characterise the company’s future brand orientation and product development. Dornbracht is forever designing - and cultivating - life anew. A long-running cultural commitment through the Culture Projects provides Dornbracht with an ongoing source of fresh inspiration, while advancing innovation and technology leadership in bathrooms and kitchens. The intelligent, open Smart Water system makes Dornbracht one of the first to transpose the opportunities and possibilities of digitalisation to these environments. Dornbracht is part of the Dornbracht Group that, along with Alape, brings together two premium bathroom and kitchen suppliers.



More about Dornbracht online: - - - -


Dornbracht Press Office:

         Meiré und Meiré, Julia Otschik / Lisa Richter, Lichtstr. 26-28, 50825 Köln,

T. +49(0)221 57770-408 / -512, E-Mail: /


Your contact at Dornbracht:

Karen Heese-Brenner / Inga Liesenjohann / Bettina Hornemann / Anke Siebold-Laux, Köbbingser Mühle 6, 58640 Iserlohn, T. +49(0)2371 433-2118 / -2169 /  -2130 / -143. E-Mail: / / / /