Kelly Tivnan is the one woman powerhouse behind pastperfekt. Making lamps, furniture, home accessories, jewelry, costumes, set design, and the list goes on. We are a big fan of Kelly’s work, not only because her aesthetic is deeply rooted in the particular and handmade; Never repeating one piece, she is true to her materials and herself. She is quite demanding of her finished product, when the details don’t turn out the way she wanted, she goes back to the drawing table to make it her own. She chooses materials with a story, upcycling pieces of wood, metal and glass, appropriating pieces with a certain function, and turning them into new marvels. She can’t say no to a proposed project and we can’t say no to her pieces.
Last time we interviewed you, you had a partner, and now you work by yourself. How has this transition manifested itself into your work?
It’s been very challenging, I mean I’ve always been in control of the aesthetic of my pieces. As far as design and building goes, I have been lucky to find people to help transform my ideas into a 3D landscape when needed .
How did you start building kitchens and working in a bigger scale. Is it difficult to source materials considering that they are found or discarded pieces?
Everything I make is an extension of something quite beautiful that happens in the confluence of my materials and the demands of my clients. Everyone needs a kitchen, but it’s nice when I can build an environment in which people are comfortable, host more, make more elaborate meals and expand their time. It’s the same with light; Everyone needs light, but good light can change the way you work and interact with the space you are in. To me it’s important, whether it be my lamps or my kitchens, that the people who own or live in the space gain a renewed interest because of my work. I’ve been getting a lot of word-of-mouth [promotion] from the kitchens and sound-studio spaces I’ve built, which has been great. When I made the counter for Sauvage [Paleo restaurant on Pflügerstraße in Neukölln, Berlin], it perked another client’s interest, since that it has snowballed.
Going back to the materials, for two kitchens that I built, the countertops were made from floor boards that dated back to 1886, that were from the very house where we are in right now. With these materials there’s a history and character which makes them beautiful. The bigger spaces happen in a natural progression depending on my finds. Everything and everyone is connected, I’m a big believer in that. Without the kitchens I wouldn’t have made the music studios, and so on…
Everything I make is an extension of something quite beautiful that happens in the confluence of my materials and the demands of my clients.
Everything and everyone is connected, I’m a big believer in that. Without the kitchens I wouldn’t have made the music studios, and so on…
You have a special bond with your clients and customers — you consider them as individuals and often friends. Do you think that by growing, having your work featured in stores, and online where you don’t have direct contact with your customers will change your relationship?
I really like knowing where my work “lives”. It’s going to be really hard to let go of that for sure, but I know it’s happening. Especially with online sales, I don’t know where they go or who takes care of my pieces. I do make a handmade card, and package it in my own way so that it remains personal. And some people take pictures once a lamp has settled into its place and send them to me, which I really love. It’s also great when people that know me support my work. That’s where I got lucky, that people close to me were actually interested in my work. You discover your worth through that.
How do you bring your ideas into a 3D realm?
I can’t define anything that I do. I definitely know what I would like to have as an outcome. However, I’m intuitive with my practices, my environment is always influencing me, and that involves the people in it as well. For clients, there’s always compromises. In the end they need to live or work in the space I create, and it needs to be something that they’ll enjoy. We troubleshoot a lot. Most of them trust me and allow me to do what I see best… luckily [laughs].
I always start with one thing, the gem or the heart of each piece, as the beginning of the story. For instance, the glass orb that will form the head of a lamp or the wood for the countertop. Everything else trickles down from that one element. There is always a focal point, and that inspires me. The materials start everything.
You are concerned with the provenance of the materials, it’s an informed decision to work with recycled pieces.
I really care about where things come from and how people relate to them. I want to leave the smallest footprint, and in general, I try to live as guilt-free as I possibly can. That being said, there are endless things that we take for granted.
I like repurposing and breathing new life to something that has been forgotten. To think up a newness for what a certain thing can become is a great challenge. Causing less waste, while creating something nice for someone, brings a beautiful harmony to me, and the way I work.
I always start with one thing, the gem or the heart of each piece, as the beginning of the story. […] Everything else trickles down from that one element. There is always a focal point, and that inspires me. The materials start everything.
During your building process you seem to leave room for some mistakes or imperfections to shape the work.
Mistakes are bothersome, but then you go with them and let them inform the next step. Building is like life, you often stumble on something and pick your shit back up and keep going, but maybe in a different direction. I embrace these mistakes and they are a nice part to the whole process. No matter how many years of experience I have with wood, glass or metal, I can’t always see the outcome. I’m learning all the time.
All of your smaller creations are named and most are a part of a family. Could you explain how that comes about, and also elaborate on your ‘new girls’.
The stories for my families come from my finds; If I find multiple pieces of glass that are similar, they become a family. Right now, I’ve got four or five small glass bulbs that will be part of the next family and also part of a series I’m doing for Monoqi [an online design boutique based in Berlin].
As for the girls, the Elizabethan series were the first ones. Recently I made Diana, who has a bullseye looking cover for the switch. I asked my assistant, who comes from Spain, what it meant in Spanish. She said that Diana is the name of the Goddess of Archery, so that’s how I named that one. Sometimes I flip through this name book, and whatever definition fits with my creations will be the name that I chose. Naming my work also comes from the idea of a portrait, and that no one piece is the same, so I need to be able to title them with their personality in mind.
You have recently introduced hanging lights to your collection. Can you tell us about that?
I don’t make hanging lights very often because they are site specific. They are not easily transportable artifacts, and also, when I take them to markets they are not as simple to exhibit as the the smaller, standing ones. Monoqi really liked the prototype I built, and they asked for more. I’m scaling them down a bit so that they can work for any kind of ceiling height.
Causing less waste, while creating something nice for someone, brings a beautiful harmony to me, and the way I work.
How is the market trail in Berlin, since you have participated in a lot of them?
Berlin can be rough for markets, but I still really like them. I like engaging the public and it’s really exciting when people to come to my table with smiles and questions. Some are so excited and have never seen anything like my pieces before. I think people need to see my work in real life to really appreciate it. Even if they don’t buy on the spot, they still know about me, and whenever they are ready, they are more than welcome to come by the studio and choose a piece.
In the summer time I was working on a café interior, so I didn’t have time to participate in many markets. Soon, though, I will be doing Voodoo market and that is standard for me.
How do you deal with online distributers such as Monoqi and Fab, for whom the demand in quantity is greater, and the production time is shorter?
After all, I still am just one person and it seems almost impossible when approached to pull off the demands. Luckily, now I have an assistant, but it’s still mostly me doing everything. I don’t want to mass-produce and I’m okay with saying that 30 lamps is all I can do, and all that they can get. I’m dependent on specific and unreliable materials, so I can’t commit to high quantities. And because they are all unique, I can’t just make 30 of the same item.
For Monoqi, when I gave them my terms they were quite respectful, thought about it, and then we proceeded. I feel that if someone demands more than that, they have overlooked my concept, because I won’t ever mass-make my designs.
You seem to customize all of your materials…
I love customizing everything and making it look as heart- and hand-made as possible, there is no reason to hide that. It’s made by me in Berlin, it should not look manufactured. There are these characteristics that come form hammering and dyeing. The details define the story, and I like the narrative in my work. I have very high standards, and no one can do it quite like me, so I prefer and enjoy doing all the steps on my own.
I have very high standards, and no one can do it quite like me, so I prefer and enjoy doing all the steps on my own.
Another fascinating thing about the way you work is that you don’t seem to let boundaries define your scope, and you take on a huge variety of assignments…
Budget and openness affect what is possible — and working with recycled materials, which can be expensive because of their quality. I don’t like to say no or to give up. I’m up for anything! [project-wise at least]
Going back to the projects, it’s true, I have built instruments, done stop-animation projections and sewn costumes where I made glow-in-the dark thread and nail polish to go with it. Who is nuts enough to do that? [laughs] I also made jewelry for Katinka [a performing member of the band Efterklang] and we wanted the necklaces she wore to be integrated onstage to the set. For that same touring show, I helped build the fundamental parts of the stage design with Danish graphic designers Hvass + Hannibal and Berlin based architect buddies Remake/Remodel. Ideas are meant to be manifested, and to be taken as far as they can go. Also, when you need help, the world is full of amazing people who can back you up.
What are you near-future projects?
Presently there is Monoqi, for which I’m creating 30 new lamps. I have private clients, needing custom furniture, lighting, consultation and so on. And there is a new project that I’ve envisioned, integrating my friends in fashion, set design and photography. Next year I will go to Brooklyn, where I’ve been invited to manifest an interior space. I have also been asked to help create interiors at the new Berlin headquarters of Soundcloud, which is a huge project. At the moment I’m in the process of weighing what I need and can do with that, which seems endless. Oh, and of course coming up, the Holiday Markets!
Ideas are meant to be manifested, and to be taken as far as they can go. Also, when you need help, the world is full of amazing people who can back you up.
All photos by Santiago Ramirez.
Story by SemiDomesticated.
Find pastperfekt online on their website, soon in the SemiDomesticated online Boutique and at the beginning of the year, on Monoqi.
… or in person at the upcoming Voodoo Market 07.12.13, at the Shio store, and Rag And Bone Man.
And see some of Kelly’s projects at Jää äär Café + Bar, and restaurant Sauvage.