Once upon a time Bernd Gruber was the youngest Austrian to finish his carpentry apprenticeship and become a master carpenter, today his company is one of the most renowned addresses for stylish interior design. The basis for his success was his father’s carpentry which he took over in 1992 and then, step by step and with plenty of intuition, he transformed it from a crafts business into an interior design firm that provides complete furnishings. Bernd Gruber spoke to La Loupe about the challenges of architecture and his strong connection with his home, Kitzbühel.
L.L. / Mr Gruber, when you were a teenager your dream was to become a journalist. Do you prefer answering questions today or would you like to know what it’s like ‘on the other side’?
B.G. / In my everyday life I am constantly confronted with questions and answers, only few of them in connection with the media, of course. I’m glad I’ve long found my path away from my teenage dream.
However, I still am very much interested in good journalism. What I notice in this context today is that in times of the internet free opinion is becoming increasingly rare. The way people work has changed as a result of the internet’s rise, which is a positive thing, too, because it gives you the chance to research incredible amounts of information on specific topics. At the same time the change also means that one’s own opinion has become increasingly subdued.
In this context I imagine it must be fascinating and challenging to counteract this trend.
L.L. / In 1992 you took over your father’s carpentry and restructured it. Today Bernd Gruber is one of Austria’s most exclusive interior design companies. Why was Kitzbühel the perfect location for it?
B.G. / We come from surroundings where the opportunities we had were very different. Back in the day we used to have to convince prospective customers that high quality cannot possibly come at a low price.
I was never interested in taking on jobs where my income was paramount. I’ve always been too ambitious for that and today I really am glad I only ever focused on quality. It’s this line of thought that made establishing Bernd Gruber in Kitzbühel possible in the first place.
In today’s business world, it is advantageous to be near one’s customers. And Kitzbühel is not a place you have to explain to your customers, it’s self-explanatory. Meanwhile our company does a lot of business internationally and Kitzbühel is the perfect starting point for this.
Aside from this the region is also home to many high-quality companies that are necessary to produce big projects in the quality that we intend. As architects and interior designers, we are responsible for a project as a whole. Which means that for us it’s a great advantage to be able to use companies that guarantee quality from the start because of their own professionalism.
L.L. / You are responsible for the interior design of numerous houses in and around Kitzbühel. What distinguishes your interior architecture?
B.G. / The fact that the people who have been building their homes in Kitzbühel for many years are very demanding has led to a continuous increase in quality consciousness in the region. Which means that many building owners today know that without good interior design there can be no consistent design and no consistent quality. We have managed to adapt our interior design department to these high demands. And in order to do this we got architects and designers who have meticulously studied their métier. Many of them also have international experience and bring amazing know-how and spirit.
L.L. / Every project is different but your characteristic style is always recognisable. What are the biggest challenges when it comes to making interior design in the Alpine region?
B.G. / An architect’s or an interior designer’s signature style is the result of his approach and creativity. It can be read like DNA and only seasoned observers will always be able to recognise it.
It is always difficult to introduce new thoughts in one’s concepts – that really can be quite challenging. Creativity isn’t always on call and so the challenge for me is to actually take the time to be creative. Aside from that I see big problems when it comes to convincing one’s clients and the companies that put the ideas into practise of the fact that new paths require different approaches and ideas that are outside the norm don’t always have to be subject to critical scrutiny right away.
When you work in a creative industry but all you do is focus on what’s well-tried and safe you’re always going to be stuck in mediocrity.
L.L. / The legendary sports town is blessed with soft grassy hills, craggy mountains and the Schwarzsee lake’s vast waters. What influence does the unique natural backdrop have on your creative process?
B.G. / I’m sure that the surroundings we grow up in have a strong influence on us. Personally, I can say that the region has had a strong influence on me. I am very down-to earth and am always drawn back to my roots. Of course, I need to keep expanding my horizon for my work which is why I frequently spend time outside of Kitzbühel, too.
But still, my home gives me everything I need and I spend the bigger part of my time here. The surroundings give me strength and make me feel sheltered.
L.L. / What materials are particularly popular in projects in Kitzbühel’s Alps?
B.G. / Kitzbühel is known for its traditional building style, consequently we work a lot with materials that are somehow connected to that concept of tradition. I think that in the past decades too much work was done in this direction, though. If you look at the term tradition it’s also about passing things on, not so much about holding on to them. So, while I am definitely in favour of using local materials I will not limit my work to old wood and natural rock.
L.L. / At Bernd Gruber old oak, rock and fir meet aluminium and concrete. How do you manage to combine traditional elements with modern design? What rules apply here?
B.G. / I generally don’t follow any rules here. Tradition and modernity are terms you hear a lot and their meanings are somewhat superficial. I think it’s important to master challenges, walk new paths and not only hold on to what’s already there and what’s tradition.
In this context we consciously try to create something new that we take and respectfully add to the traditional.
L.L. / Your workshops are located in Stuhlfelden, in the Pinzgau Alps, the studio is in Aurach near Kitzbühel. Why is it important to you that both craft and design processes take place in the region?
B.G. / As I mentioned before, we are deeply rooted in the region. The region still produces extraordinary craftsmanship. But in many places you can feel a strong tendency to the contrary. We see it as our responsibility to create good and well-paid jobs in our region. Meanwhile we do so with a lot of commitment and we go back to our inner values that we’ve decided on and put down in writing many years ago together with our staff.
When somebody visits our businesses they’ll see why we are centred in these surroundings.
L.L. / A family home in Los Angeles, a chalet in Jochberg and an apartment in Marbella – you work all over the world. What projects can we look forward to in the future?
B.G. / At the moment we’re working on our first hotel project, which, and we’re very happy about that, is actually in the region. Aside from that we’re planning several chalets and private houses in Kitzbühel, an exclusive apartment complex with five flats in Kitzbühel, two private homes in Regensburg and two luxury apartments in Munich. Projects in Luxembourg, Marbella, Ibiza, Bolzano and on the Bahamas are also on our list of future projects.
L.L. / When you finished your apprenticeship you became Austria’s youngest master carpenter. Do you miss the workshop sometimes?
B.G. / Today I love going into our workshops and talking to our workers and I love seeing how passionately and expertly they go about their work. The last time I worked in the job I actually learned was almost 30 years ago so I must say I don’t really miss my former work, aside from that I would be lost in today’s workshop. Of course, there still is traditional craftmanship but time hasn’t stood still and our workshop today is far from what it used to be 30 years ago, they do not have very much in common any more. What is beautiful though is that I still am connected to my original profession, it’s just that my tasks have changed.
Old or new buildings? Both.
The most important place in my house: Usually the one I’m in at the moment.
Contrast is … opposites.
I absolutely want to own this designer item: I’d look for absolutes in art, actually.
Loud or quiet? Neither too loud nor too quiet.
Together with his wife Ruth and creative director Philipp Hoflehner, Bernd Gruber manages the interior design company. With the new production sites in Stuhlfelden, the studio and showroom in Aurach near Kitzbühel both craftsmanship and design come from the region. Bernd Gruber’s vision: individual concepts whose beauty touches and enriches people’s lives.