At the entrance to Volker Haug Studio in Brunswick East is a large, multi-coloured lighting installation. So vastly different is it from the minimalist work associated with the studio today that one would be forgiven for assuming the piece was created by someone else. In actual fact, it is one of Volker’s earliest works and offers a window into his evolution as a designer and, ultimately, the success of the studio.
Volker expresses a steadfast attitude when it comes to his work, as well as an inherent belief that we each hold the power to our own accomplishments. Given this approach, his success is unsurprising. However, the road from his native Germany to heading up his internationally-celebrated lighting studio in Melbourne was a little divergent. There was never any doubt in his mind that he would work with lighting – he “always tinkered with lights” and made his first collection at the age of 10 at a friend’s workshop in the Czech Republic – however, a career as a designer always seemed unattainable. After an extensive period of travel and stints in landscape design and hairdressing, Volker settled in Melbourne and the opportunity to work under Australian lighting designer Geoffrey Mance finally set the course. Armed with an unrelenting determination and decades of ideas, a slew of exhibitions and commissions followed.
Some 17 years later, Volker Haug Studio is renowned for its sophisticated approach to lighting, one that balances robustness with fragility through an understanding of the relationship between lighting and interiority. Heavily influenced by the “playful ingenuity of Ingo Maurer” and consistently seeking to impart quirk and character into his designs, Volker’s work will always portray an unencumbered ethereality. However, some sage advice from Maurer “prompted a pivot towards more refined materials and an emphasis on material exploration, while holding true to the quirky ethos and original intent of the design,” Volker recalls. This, alongside many years of collaboration and experimentation, informs much of the studio’s work today. “Aesthetically, we’re known for our line-work, solidity of form and the character of our pieces, and we try to hide the complexity of the designs,” he says. Rather than being obviously loud or zany, “each piece aims to convey a sense of whimsy while remaining grounded by the principles of balance and proportion.”
Volker sees great value in surrounding himself with people who bring a fresh perspective or new skills. Collaboration is more than a notion to embrace creatively, it is a mindset – a tune to which he moves personally and professionally – instilled from a young age and from a variety of influences. “I’m a very open person,” Volker says. “I thrive off people, therefore collaboration with others is a natural thing for me.” He attributes some of this openness to his parents’ work in socially and community-minded professions, but also to a period he spent living in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. “I recall it being an intense and transformative time, both personally and politically, as a city that was segregated suddenly opened up and with it, people’s thinking expanded,” he reflects.
This attitude of openness and connection defines Volker Haug Studio. The team is perhaps best described as a family rather than a collection of colleagues. Volker is unpretentious about his work and the first to stress that it takes a team to thrive in this industry. “[Collaboration] leads to intriguing and surprising outcomes,” he says. “People are the best resource and, in our work, designing as a collective unit leads to better resolutions.” With a longstanding commitment to manufacturing locally, the Brunswick East studio and workshop is a hive of activity. The sense that the door is always open to visitors and clients fills the large warehouse space; skilled artisans busy themselves in the light-filled workshop and members of the studio engage with familiarity and ease.
Currently, the studio is curating After Hours 2022 – an exhibition presented as part of Melbourne Design Week, showcasing the side projects of a selection of Australian designers and studios including Kennedy Nolan, Khai Liew, Michael Gittings Studio, Edition Office and YSG. There is also a new collection of lighting slated for release at Salone del Mobile this year. Working closely with the Australian architecture and design community in specifying and customising lighting for both residential and commercial projects is a role the studio relishes. “Because we make each order by hand, customisation – even for single fittings – is possible,” Volker says, adding, “each piece is made to the unique specification, finish and configuration of the space that it’s intended for, so it sits seamlessly within the interior.” As he admits, the finished product must be a reflection of the studio, however, this process has allowed for many rich moments of contemplation and discovery.
Volker’s agility has resulted in a practice shaped by people, places and things. He embraces the evolution of his work and is ready to be challenged and inspired by those around him. While the studio may have reached a point of resolve, Volker’s good-humoured and curious nature means there will always be new territory to explore.