Challenging Scandinavian Design
isheartened by the too-slick state of Scandinavian design, Knut Bendik Humlevik launched New Works, a design house that pays tribute to natural materials and sculptural forms. Five years later, the company’s creative director still moves between the rustic and refined - now, his Copenhagen studio and a home in the Danish countryside.
What’s a typical day at the New Works office? I split my time between creative work and running the business, but my partner, Nikolaj, takes over most of what I’d consider the boring stuff, allowing me to focus on the collections. Still, the New Works team is just four people. We all have our hands in everything.
What’s a defining characteristic of your workspace? We call our office a studio because it’s where we display all of our samples. We’re not a company who hides the creative process. That’s always been part of our identity and how we work.
What motivated you to design your own pieces for the New Works collection? I have my sketchbook with me every day, so I’m always working on ideas. Sometimes I’ll pitch them to the team and collaborate with other designers, and other times I’ll design a piece myself. However, that’s become less frequent as the company has grown.
Is that frustrating? Not at all. It’s just the result of people - myself included - expecting a lot from New Works. It’s important to hold on to the philosophy that we started out with: If we design 10 pieces, three must be an experiment in collaboration with a craftsman or artist. That was easier in the early days because we just did what we thought was right and no one expected anything from us. But today we have a responsibility to grow. It’s a tough industry, and we need money to make the fun stuff.
What’s at the front of your mind when you design? Simplicity. I try to let the rawness of the materials speak, and I always try to take risks without overcomplicating things.
What frustrates you about the current state of Scandinavian design? In a way, what frustrates me is what led to the establishment of New Works. I have a lot of respect for the big players in New Nordic design, but five years ago I was struggling to understand why Scandinavian design had become so feminine. It was too polished, too colorful. I wanted New Works to be more - this isn’t the word I want to use, but I’m not sure how else to say it - masculine. Everything felt so clean, and I wanted to step away from that.
Where do you escape to at the end of the workday? I’m a romantic person who spends a lot of time in the garden. We live outside of Copenhagen in a 100-year-old house with a garden on a lake, so I spend a lot of time tending to the flowers and mowing the lawn. It’s a huge contrast from the rest of my day, but it’s a good way to meditate when I’m outside the city.What’s the most important lesson you learned about yourself through design? I’ve learned to separate the person from the designer. For a long time, I was worried that if I didn’t do something right in my work, it would affect how people saw me. But my work is not me. Despite loving each piece I’ve designed or curated, I don’t have the entire collection in my house. I don’t even have half of what I’ve designed. Doing what I love is a privilege, and I care so much about New Works - it’s my baby. At the same time, it’s also just a job. What matters most is who’s waiting for me at home.
Words MACKENZIE LEWIS KASSAB // KINFOLK Photos ANDERS SCHØNNEMANN