Taking a break from fast-paced architecture work designing high rises made space for developing his craft – creating with concrete and other materials, full-time.
In 2014, after a few years working as an architect at prestigious firms, Jonas shifted his attention from large, flashy projects toward his love of exploring materials and crafting with his hands. Through experiments in his father’s workspace, his small concrete molds of cubic lamps and vases began getting attention even early on. As if overnight, a demand for much larger interior design projects grew. Soon after, he started Accidental Concrete, his own studio, and quickly made this his full-time profession.
How do you describe what you do for work?
I’m a spatial designer. Interior spaces. My background is architecture. I spent a couple of years designing high rises in China, and I got fed up with it, so I started working for myself, really going into materials, going into little objects. Putting the computer aside and just…going for it.
Now I’m working with a little team on interior designs and custom objects like kitchens, bathtubs, furniture made from a lot of concrete, wood, and all kinds of materials.
…I started to work in the mold shop after work…I started to build little molds from foam, take them home, pour concrete in it, and make lamps.
When did you start working independently?
I came back from Holland in 2013. And then I kept working in Berlin for a firm for another half year, which was actually the worst experience I’ve had with working in firms, and it almost made me depressed somehow. So I decided to quit.
I didn’t want to look for – and I didn’t find – another position immediately. I started to bridge some time to work for myself, to do little experiments with concrete. And out of that, I got some people being interested in my work, so I got the opportunity to do some little custom pieces, and sell them. Then the question came up for me: whether I should just stay in that business – keep going and see where I end up. Or find another position at an office again. I decided to keep going.
Had you been working with concrete in your professional work before?
We built our architecture graduation models partly from concrete. That was the first time I ever worked with concrete.
Later on in Holland, out of a bored situation, I started to work in the mold shop after work – the mold shop at the office. I started to build little molds from foam, take them home, pour concrete in it, and make lamps.
I started with two or three little lamps. And they turned out quite nicely, actually. The first ones were cubic lamps, very simple, and another from an old lamp glass I found in a €1 shop. That was still in Holland while working.
…and then I got a request from the same office, for doing two huge sinks for the Adidas Runbase. Piece by piece, it simply grew.
How long were you experimenting and playing around before people started asking for custom work?
A couple of months. After a while, I started talking to certain people, they went, “Ahh, interesting,” and then I got a request for some kitchen counters, and suddenly small concrete pieces turned into a 3.5 meter long board. I was like, “oouff I don’t know how to do that, but let’s try it.”
Out of that, there was another kitchen thing, and then I got a request from the same office, for doing two huge sinks for the Adidas Runbase. Piece by piece, it simply grew.
Then the boyfriend of a friend of mine – an architect – was doing a private house and he heard I was working with concrete. He sent me a request for doing a bathtub.
I said no at the beginning. It was impossible for me to do it alone, I was really afraid of it. But a year later, he asked again. The building process of the house had gotten delayed. By then, I was working with two friends, so I was asking them, “Do you feel confident enough to just try it?” They said yes.
I didn’t see a failure in it… I made tons of mistakes in the beginning.
Where did you first start working?
My dad is an artist. He has a studio in Schöneberg. And that’s where I started to do some of my first experiments.
He was there as well. After a while, it got a bit annoying because he was more interested in the work I did than what he did. And if something was going wrong, it was immediately a problem.
But for me it was a step of an experience. I didn’t see a failure in it, but more…okay, now I know how to do it better. If you see it as a failure or a mistake, I made tons of mistakes in the beginning. I had tons of failures because of not knowing how to do it the best way. But you find the way by dead end streets.
What impact has your location had on your ability to grow this work?
Berlin has made it kind of easy for me. There’s a huge network of online platforms, magazine platforms, and I got a couple of interview requests. By people reading that, of course you extend the network, and there’s more and more people seeing what you do and getting interested in it. That helped a lot. Especially in the beginning.
Making sure to charge the right amount of money is a long process – to find a balance between what you can charge…and what is your product worth.
What does a typical day look like – what did you do on Friday?
In the morning, I had a meeting on site – the recent construction site – dealing with some typical problems, and deciding on the color of the floor that we get in there.
After that, we went to one of their other places – bakery places – to check what kind of cutting board they had, check what material we need to use and how we need to build it.
Then I went to the workshop and kept sanding and oiling the pieces of the bread shelf we are assembling right now, plus we assembled half of the first piece. That was my Friday.
What’s the hardest thing about working independently?
Oh, taxes. For sure. Responsibilities.
Making sure to charge the right amount of money is a long process – to find a balance between what you can charge for your profession on a daily basis, and what is your product worth.
Then organizing. As soon as a project grows to a certain size, you need a team, making sure everyone is working on their skill set to be efficient in your work. Trying to finish projects in time, stuff like that.
There’s always things appearing that we can’t know or control from the beginning.
If you did this over again, what would you do differently?
I would try to just be a bit more professional out of the experiences that I’ve gotten so far. Professional in terms of dealing with numbers, finances, PR.
Not taking too many projects at a time. Focus on one piece at time, because anything else is just nerve-wracking. We do custom design, so all the projects are different. There’s always things appearing that we can’t know or control from the beginning.
If you have a bigger team, then you can easily work on two or three projects at a time, but then you won’t be able to do as much work yourself anymore, because you’re mainly overseeing what other people are doing. That’s not really in my interest right now.
Recognition is something we have to work on – that’s super important in order to be able to keep working.
What do you most need more of: money, recognition, or time?
A bit of everything. Of course it’s always nice to earn a little more money. Time is priceless. And recognition is necessary.
I wouldn’t say that time is the most important aspect, but from now on, I would like rather having more time than working more and earning more.
Recognition is something we have to work on – that’s super important in order to be able to keep working.
We’ve talked before about you wanting to make more of your personal mark on Berlin. What would that mark be?
It just feels nice sometimes if people are asking about my work and I can say, “Go there and look at this, go there and look at this…this is what we did.” To leave some little traces here and there.
I would love to build a house in Berlin.
It doesn’t make too much sense to push every day because you just f*#% yourself up.
What does your rent cost?
Right now, we are pretty privileged with our workspace because we don’t really need to pay a lot for it or…basically not at all.
It’s a friend who’s renting it and it’s super cheap. It’s also not super convenient, but for now it’s okay.
The desk space we have is in a place that we do design work for sometimes…I don’t know if we ever have to pay for it actually. So it’s a bit of a luxury we have there.
Apartment – €650? Plus costs? So it’s not cheap, but for Berlin, it’s also not super expensive.
How many hours a week are you working?
We really try to keep a certain schedule, let’s say 9:30 to roughly 6. Sometimes it’s 7, sometimes it’s longer. But compared with all the responsibilities and stuff you have to think about, it’s really a good amount of working hours in terms of not overworking but also getting enough done.
It doesn’t make too much sense to push every day because you just f*#% yourself up. Physically, also, because we do a lot of physical work.
How has your attitude toward this work changed since it became your full-time living?
In the beginning, you do these sort of things as presents, for family and friends. And after a while, it’s your work, so you just don’t do these things for free anymore. You’d rather go out and look for nice presents. It took a while for people around me to accept it. My mom was always like, “But you can do something nice from concrete! Everyone likes it!” It’s like, “Yeah but I don’t want to, I usually get paid for these things.”
If I spent the whole day doing something in my profession, I don’t want to come home and spend the rest of the day doing that for private matters.
But on the other hand, you deal with things that you like the whole day, you turn things that you like into your profession. So you’ll be way more grateful and happy for what you do, and what you see at the end of the day, and what you achieve with it.
What are you missing, work-wise?
It’s a pity to me that I don’t have the time anymore to really focus on small pieces, which I would like to do again. On the other hand, if I would have gone back to a position in an office for a while, I wouldn’t have the time at all to do these sort of things.
You can never fully control the process. Thats what I like. It’s handmade.
What’s your favourite material?
I don’t have a favourite material, I like concrete a lot only because when you’re able to build a certain shape or a mold, you’re basically able to pour every possible shape in concrete. And concrete is unique in the way that it’s never the same. It always differs in its outcome. Concrete is a little weird sometimes. You can never fully control the process. Thats what I like. It’s handmade.
Photos of finished counters and stairs were provided by Jonas.
For Jonas’s work, check out his studio. In-progress interiors are also regularly shared on his Instagram.
Want to read about another hands-on maker? Try Marie Chanteur ‘s ceramics