If fitness really is a lifestyle (as we’re told it should be), we ought to have equipment that integrates seamlessly into our lives. With their luxury fitness brand kenkō, German designers Andreas Bachmann and Fritz Grospietsch have answered this call, creating refined products from polished natural materials that blur the lines between gym equipment and art. After meeting at design school in Darmstadt, Germany, Andreas and Fritz teamed up for their furniture store Galerie Bachmann. In 2016, they combined their shared passions for aesthetics and athletics by creating kenkō.
With a studio in the north-eastern German state of Brandenburg and a showroom in the centre of nearby Berlin, these two disciplines of kenkō coalesce in Andreas and Fritz’s creations. kenkō features things of nature, extensions of our own biology and continuations of our natural movements, as well as man-made design objects, intentional works of art to be hung on the wall or acting as setpieces for interiors. Taking functional design seriously, a set by kenkō is made to adorn your home and complement your lifestyle, ensuring that personal fitness, health and wellness is no trend or fad, but a vital and permanent fixture.
Tell us about your respective backgrounds before kenkō and what led you to focus on fitness and wellness products together.
Fritz and I are both very into design and studied at the same university of design in Darmstadt, Germany. Even then, we shared a similar design approach that is still present in our minds today. In most cases, we agree on the overall aesthetic of kenkō.
Interestingly, we met while playing table tennis in the foyer of the university and decided to found a design studio at some point. Both of us are very active in sports: Fritz plays field hockey in the second national league, I devote myself to athletics.
Furthermore, about 10 years ago we built up a furniture store for high-quality Scandinavian design classics, which can still be found under the name Galerie Bachmann. This, our design studies, and our passion for sports is ultimately the symbiosis that makes up kenkō.
As ‘kenkō’ means ‘health’ in Japanese, what influence has Japan or Japanese culture had on your work?
We’d like to emphasise that kenkō is the perfect combination of both Japanese and German mindsets and approaches. Our name kenkō not only reflects the Japanese word for ‘health’, but also introduces the meaning of minimalism which is fully depicted in our designs, and that’s where the Japanese culture is reflected in our work.
That being said, kenkō is a beautiful combination of Japanese minimalist craftsmanship and German precision.
To what extent does your connection to Berlin (the site of the kenkō studio) motivate your ideas or designs? Are there other landscapes you’ve been particularly inspired by?
Honestly speaking, our ideas and designs aren’t driven or limited by a particular site or location. As designers, yes, inspiration strikes all the time but it comes to us from different sectors of daily life, from every angle… And it’s an ongoing process.
What’s the process for selecting the natural materials for your products, and how do you maintain such high-quality standards?
We mainly work with wood (walnut & maple) as each wood has its own story to tell. They all have their own texture, colour and presence! Our priority while working with wood is to make sure that our walnut and maple wood, which has spent its lifetimes on its own blessing the earth, gets another life in our designs, keeping their elegance, presence and uniqueness intact. That encourages us to maintain and be on top of our high-quality standards.
Why is the aesthetic component of fitness equipment important? What benefits have you found it to have?
It’s important for us to embrace and maintain the presence of aesthetics in our fitness equipment because we want it to complement our lifestyles, which consist of our homes, interiors and objects we use in our daily lives. This may differ from person to person, but to us, it’s a matter of the quality and uniqueness of our products complimenting our surroundings and becoming a valuable part of our lives.
Do you think the circumstances of the past year have permanently altered the way people choose to exercise? Is at-home exercise only a current necessity or something that’s here to stay – and what does this mean for your business?
We believe that home-based exercises are organically embedded in human lives and existence, but over the course of time, we’ve slightly drifted away from this.
Unfortunately, the past year’s pandemic circumstances have been very damaging, yet somehow they have taught us to look at life a bit differently. The results from workouts or exercises done at home are just as beneficial as anywhere else, so people chose to stay healthy and fit while staying home. And yes, businesses such as ours attracted attention and people became more understanding of them. People welcomed our products into their lives and that’s truly encouraging. The question of whether this lifestyle continues or not is very subjective, as we must do what makes us (as individuals) happy.
Do you work with professional trainers, physiotherapists, or other health specialists to make sure your products can be used in a healthy and effective way?
We do not consult trainers, physiotherapists or health specialists but we do know for a fact that our fitness equipment is being used by them and suggested by them to their clients, and that’s a win for us.
Kenkō products are exemplary in both form and function. What’s the key to successfully integrating the two in design?
Especially in the design of functional objects, it is important above all to create a special feeling. There is a motto we were taught in design studies: “Form follows function”. It may be true, but if everything were like that, many things would have a machine aesthetic.
We believe that products that we use daily are only good if they radiate a positive feeling.
With your products blurring the line between art and fitness items, is there any worry they may be valued purely aesthetically, thought of more as a design piece than functional equipment?
That’s a very good question, and the answer to it is very simple indeed. Our design products are a pure combination of art, form and functionality. The people who understand art are attracted to it in that sense, the people who understand the concept of form and functionality are attracted to it likewise. It’s our mission and passion to bring those elements together, educate people and share our passion through awareness of our products, and that takes the fear and worries away.
In a world of passing fads, can sustainable design help foster sustainable wellness?
Yes, we strongly believe in it and our values are aligned with our beliefs and our responsibilities towards sustainability.
Of course, we have to ask: what are your go-to exercises or practices for mind and body?
Healthy bodies foster healthy minds. To us, mental and physical health & wellness are connected. On a personal level, we’re heavily involved with sports such as hockey, badminton, table tennis, football, swimming, jogging/running and muscle training. To exercise our minds, we choose to challenge our thoughts to be innovative in our ideas.
Can you share with us any details about current projects you have going on or new products we can be expecting soon?
Soon enough, we’ll be launching new elegant, stainless steel dumbbells, and stunning kettlebells with beautiful wood elements, excellent jump-ropes and extraordinary Yoga mats (handmade to perfection).
If you could change the world right now, what would you do?
Change the world, you say? Change always starts from within. If we decide to improve our approach towards the world around us and just learn to be more considerate, tolerant, kind, understanding, loving and caring to our fellow humans, then it’s a trickle-down effect, a chain reaction. And nothing is more rewarding than to see the change in behaviour of people around us – colleagues, family, neighbours, and so on…So, should I wish for the world to change, then I have to roll up my sleeves and start with myself!
From what or who do you draw your greatest inspiration?
Andreas: For me, it's certainly my Japanese background. My mother comes from Japan and I myself was born in Tokyo. When I was three years old, we moved to Germany. From then on, my mother organized a trip to Japan every year, so me and my brother had the gratifying opportunity to get to know Japanese culture. My grandfather was an art director and set designer. He designed many sets for big, famous Japanese movies. So I learned a lot from him, like drawing, proportions and colouring. Besides my grandfather, there are a few others who have influenced what I do. These include sculptors and designers Isamu Noguchi, Isamu Kenmochi and Danish designers Hans J. Wegner and Finn Juhl. All were great visionaries and as you can see, they all live on through their work.
Fritz: Other than inspiring designers such as Hans J. Wegner or Borge Mogensen, we draw our inspiration from nature. Sport and exercise are part of daily life for us and are a great passion and inspiration at the same time – preferably outdoors in nature, of course, where we are inspired.
How would you define your guiding principle(s)?
We are responsible individuals. Our presence should bring comfort, happiness, love for new ideas, empathy, consideration, openness, and freedom into the lives of people around us. As responsible and educated individuals, we must stand by our principles, both in our professional and personal lives.
Your work has been featured all over the world now. Name your personal favourite city. What are the top 5 spots here you’d recommend to your best friend when they are in town?
There’s nothing like home! We love, respect and value all the countries/cities where we’ve had the chance to showcase our work. But Berlin will always be special to us as our favourite city. We love our Berlin culture where people are deeply rooted in art, and where new ideas & innovations are wholeheartedly welcomed. Whoever is visiting Berlin, first and foremost they should visit:
- Our kenkō store
- New National Gallery Berlin
- Old National Gallery Berlin
- Ryotei 893 (Restaurant)
- Treptower Park