Jan Jacob Borstlap, Anke Bernotat

Bernotat&Co – a portrait

Jan Jacob Borstlap, Anke Bernotat

Text by Federica Marie Carenini
Photo by Daphne Kuilman

When a carpenter and exhibition designer meet


Bernotat&Co incorporates aspects of everyday life into unforeseen, practical objects. Nature, poetry, science, and technology become inspiring elements for the creation of products that are surprising because of their shape and functionality.

Bernotat&Co is a design studio owned by Anke Bernotat and Jan Jacob Borstlap. The studio was originally established by Anke in 2007 and focused mainly on product design. In 2011, Jan Jacob joined Bernotat&Co, bringing with him experience and knowledge as an exhibition designer. Their fruitful collaboration resulted in a studio that focuses on product design, exhibition design, and on the wide range of creative possibilities between the two.

The synergy between Anke and Jan Jacob flows from the difference in personal qualities and working skills. Because of her past education as a Schreiner carpenter in German – , Anke has an eye for detail and knowledge of artisanship. Moreover, as an industrial designer her style is more minimalistic than Jan Jacob’s. He believes one of her qualities is being able to sketch simple forms, which, when realised, turn out to have a great deal of quality, as well as hidden humour. On the other hand, as an exhibition designer, Jan Jacob is keener to portray content and tell stories. ‘Structure and clearness are his strong points’, Anke adds. By working on the same project from different viewpoints, both are able to enjoy the space needed for their own ambitions and talent.

Jan Jacob Borstlap, Anke Bernotat

Jan Jacob Borstlap, Anke Bernotat

The blending of private and working life can be a difficult issue to deal with. Even if it would be great to clearly separate the two things, it does not always work in reality. However, the couple has been able to deal with this difficulty so far. ‘We are pragmatical about it.’ Explains Anke. ‘When ideas come spontaneously, we let them rise and discuss them, weekend or not.’

Chair Wear is a good example of their way of working. This first result of their successful collaboration was showcased at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 2012. Chair Wear was the outcome of fascinating and innovative experimentation with different textiles and, more importantly, a statement on the countless number of new chairs launched in Milan every year. The idea behind the exhibition was ‘Why buy a new chair when you can dress up the one you have?’ And this concept was surprising.

The Chair Wear project also emphasizes the studio’s use of irony and paradoxes, which allow the duo to picture unique concepts that are translated into unexpected yet functional objects. Both Anke and Jan Jacob believe inspiration can come from anywhere – nature, art, science, technology, and daily life. The aim of Bernotat&Co is to pursue further possibilities and innovations in product creation – for instance, what can be done with a particular material?

Collaboration is very important to Bernotat&Co. That is why Co not only stands for company; it mainly stands for the collaboration between Anke and Jan Jacob, and the people they work with – manufacturers, clients, and specialists. The design studio, therefore, wants to involve these parties in the creative process. By initiating a dialogue, it is possible to understand the customer’s requests and to picture the products they need. A wide-open mind is, therefore, a valuable and distinctive feature.

A remarkable example of successful collaboration is the Triennial Chair Family project, which was launched last January. The Triennial chair – initially designed by Anke – has a separate cushion for the back, making it possible to upholster it with endless fabric combinations. Because of its success, Gispen commissioned Bernotat&Co to develop the initial model into a complete family of chairs. As a result of this collaboration, Bernotat&Co was able to surprise Gispen with additional ideas for chair models that had not been asked for, but that were immediately received with great enthusiasm.

The studio’s products can be seen at Milan’s Salone del Mobile every year. However, Bernotat&Co does not display its own products with the same frequency. ‘We do not create new objects only in order to showcase them at the Salone. Our goal is to design products for which there is an intrinsic need’, they explain. In addition, the couple just bought a very distinct house in Germany. ‘It is a dream house. For the moment, we want to focus on its construction, which is a delighting project!’

When it comes to talk of the future, both Anke and Jan Jacob underline the necessity for sustainable solutions. ‘In the last century, industrial culture has been innovation-hungry and, as a result, the old is considered worthless and useless’, Jan Jacob explains. ‘These old and discarded solutions can be very interesting to put to use again. They often consume less energy than new solutions.’ One important objective of Bernotat&Co is to adapt these older, forgotten solutions to the needs of our time and endeavour to make them relevant for the future, using the best of both the old and the new.


This article was published in The Dots #14 and distributed during the Milan Design Week 2017. Find the complete magazine here.

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