The only thing that matters: freedom
A discussion about Cubit ’s background, status and vision
Let’s be honest: August 2014 wasn’t exactly the best month. But all of a sudden, everything got a great deal brighter when some glimmering sunshine burst straight through the Cubit showroom window in between two downpours. After winning over consumers with its shelf combinations, Cubit had decided to launch the modular sofa. This certainly paints a pretty picture of the exciting history that the label for modular furniture can look back on.
t was precisely this that Thomas Hornstein, Head of Communications, captured shortly before the Cubit sofa was launched while talking to founders Minou Farkhondeh and Thomas Reichel as well as Head of Design Olaf Schroeder.
Are you sitting comfortably? Has everyone picked their favorite sofa?
TR: (laughing): That’s not exactly hard to do when there’s this much choice.
Very true, very true. But more about that later. Minou and Thomas, why exactly did you develop the Cubit shelf?
MF Initially, it was a personal experience. Then, we simply knew that we wanted a shelf that focuses on its contents. In other words, something that both respects people’s individual needs and possession of particular items and turns that respect into a real solution. In the past, we were unable to find anything like that on the market.
TR Today, the Cubit shelf really is a fantastic addition to the furniture market. And its success provides clear proof that there genuinely was a gap in the market.
Could you perhaps briefly explain how the shelf works?
TR A shelf is assembled from individual modules. They can all be the same or completely different – to suit your personal needs and tastes. Every module has a circumferential groove, where the connector board is inserted into. This means that modules can be stacked and installed side-by-side without the need of tools. The connector is essential.
OS That sounds fairly simple. Thomas told me that it took about a year to develop the tongue and groove principle alone. As a seasoned product designer, I can confirm that what sometimes looks like the simplest solution can demand a great deal of time and effort.
» Our inspiration was the contents – the CDs, DVDs, books, Reclam booklets, atlases and so on. We wanted them to fit into the respective modules perfectly with regard to their height, width and depth.«
What was there before the Cubit shelf?
TR In April 2006, we founded Mymito GmbH with a view to developing designer furniture systems. To build up our expertise, we bought furniture from various manufacturers and then sold it locally in Düsseldorf and via the online shop. This was an important phase. We learned a great deal about what producers and dealers should and shouldn’t do. Fast-forward to January 2007 and the Cubit shelf was already the center of our world. Once we realized the sheer extent of the project, we stopped selling all that other furniture and placed all our eggs in one basket – (laughing) to use the common phrase. In the end, it turned out to be the right decision!
Was there something or someone that inspired you?
MF Not really. Our inspiration was the contents – the CDs, DVDs, books, Reclam booklets, atlases and so on. We wanted them to fit into the respective modules perfectly with regard to their height, width and depth. Incidentally, the system’s numerous depths are what make the shelf so special and unique in the eyes of many.
TR And if I may add something to that: I wasn’t familiar with the Montana shelving system, for instance, until several years after our launch. Over the past few years, plenty of people have been absolutely convinced that it was Montana that inspired us. But actually, a multitude of Montana innovations came about after we’d made our move.
When did you have your first serious discussion about Cubit – about your idea?
TR It was back in January 2007. Those euphoric discussions gave rise to many an important idea and approach. We then went on to draw up a crazy business plan with ridiculous quantities. But we were convinced that this product would meet its unique selling point.
Did you encounter any obstacles along the way?
TR You bet! There were structural problems and inflexible German producers who didn’t believe in our concept. So we started our production operations in China. To be quite frank, it was all rather unpleasant to say the least. We didn’t have enough money to advertise the right way… We faced a great many obstacles. But it’s all good. After all, we never stop learning.
How long was it until you had the first shelf in front of you – from the initial idea, to a drawing, then the initial prototype, and finally to the first finished module?
MF Like we’ve already said, we really started considering the matter in January 2007. Our first test production was available in December 2007. But we still had to iron out the exact details. We were far better prepared for the launch of cubit-shop.com in October 2008. But just one month after going live, we had to terminate our previously mentioned cooperation with the Chinese producer. We’ve been manufacturing in Europe ever since then.
TR It’s fantastic to have the production site nearby and to be able to discuss matters face-to-face without suffering the effects of jetlag!
What are your principles?
TR For one, we don’t want to copy anybody. We don’t browse through “Schöner Wohnen” magazine and think about which product could be ready for mainstream. Quite the contrary, in fact. In the long term, we want to be even more experimental and unusual. And second, we’ve been nurturing close partnerships with producers and suppliers for a number of years now.
And now, here we are sitting on the Cubit sofa. Was this piece of furniture the logical next step or did you envisage something completely different?
TR It would have been more obvious to work on a cabinet system. We have the production network to manufacture other cabinet furnishings – that could have been done without any undue expense or effort. But the most obvious solution isn’t always the most fun. The bigger the challenge, the more energy goes into the project. It was very exciting for us to delve deeper into the upholstered furniture segment. But we were also sad to see how run-down this segment had become and how many veteran sofa manufacturers are either bankrupt by now or have relocated their production operations to Romania, Bulgaria and so on. All that’s usually left in Germany is the management team. And where will this lead to in the long term? I firmly believe that we can re-industrialize Germany and that more and more companies will give Germany as a production location another chance.
Olaf, when did you join the team?
OS In January 2010. Thomas discovered my modular “growing table” at IMM. It’s a piece of furniture for kids that grows with them. And I’d already created “brick” too. It’s also a modular shelving system that can be assembled without the need to use any tools. But it looked completely different from Cubit, though. Anyway, Thomas was fairly taken by it. We instantly hit it off – both on a personal and a professional level. A year down the line, I got a call and we started working on the sofa project. It was an exciting challenge for me. In preparation for my studies, I had spent several months working in Vitsoe workshops. Vitsoe is the producer of Dieter Rams furniture designs. Eventually, things come full circle
How would you define the idea of the sofa?
OS The sofa isn’t a stand-alone solution. It fits right into the Cubit world of furnishings. It’s timeless, linear and casual – that’s how I’d describe the design. It should be easy to configure so that moving or rearranging it isn’t going to be a problem. As with the shelf, the connector is the key, so to speak. The lightweight wooden elements are inserted into the seat, and the backrest and armrests onto that. Voilà – that’s you done! In addition, the sofa should be able to grow and adapt to new living situations. I think we’ve definitely achieved this with the modular system.
MF Yes, absolutely. During the product development phase, I enjoyed choosing the fabrics together with Olaf. I’m a born interior designer and we complemented each other perfectly. The wonderfully changeable shapes, which Olaf has created a foundation for, really do bring out the fabrics.
TR And this is where the quality-conscious businessman comes in! We love colors and great surfaces – and that really does shine through, I believe. Because we often encountered problems with inadequate materials during our earlier years, we have become much more strict in this regard. If we really wanted to, we could purchase fabrics for a very low price indeed – EUR 5 to 10 per running meter. But this certainly doesn’t make sense for us – whether we’re looking at the matter from a quality perspective or an ideological standpoint. Our fabrics cost EUR 27 per running meter on average. It’s a worthwhile investment in many ways. We’re guaranteed happy customers, a consistent product image and sustainability.
That’s a good keyword! How important is sustainability to you?
TR We are constantly optimizing. For the shelving system, for instance, we’re currently working on concepts that could in future allow us to pick and ship orders directly from the production site. That way, we avoid any unnecessary transportation by truck. With regard to the sofa, our entire production process is now focused on the Ruhr district and East Westphalia. Some of our fabrics come from the Netherlands or Italy, but the lion’s share of the value is added in North Rhine-Westphalia. And that’s something that we’re very proud of!
»Cubit offers customers the chance to be creative themselves«
What is the essential factor that you believe you give your products?
MF Time. We consider matters for a long time and discard a multitude of ideas until we’re absolutely certain...
OS And Cubit offers customers the chance to be creative themselves – within a wide, albeit defined, framework.
Time, framework... Where do you see Cubit in the next five or ten years?
TR We don’t make five or ten-year plans anymore, since things turn out differently most of the time anyway. But in principle, we want to continue developing and design exciting products. But it’s entirely possible that the sofa will dominate matters for the next two or three years. We already have several ideas in the pipeline as regards expanding the sofa...
Minou and Thomas, when you look around your own four walls, what do you think the next Cubit product will be?
TR We are already working on the next product line. But we’re not going to let the cat out of the bag. What I can tell you is that it’ll be – modular!
MF Up until then, we’ll keep rearranging the shelf and sofa...
If you had to describe the key feature in one word, what would it be?