Backes&Müller-focused on design

Master carpenter Karl-Heinz Thesen in his showroom.
Master Carpenter Karl-Heinz Thesen designed the BMIce.

 

He produces the BMPrime series, had key influence on the BMLine 100 design and designed the BMIce: Master carpenter Karl-Heinz Thesen is a designer through and through.

The first thing one notices about him are his ice-grey eyes. They light up the room. Otherwise Karl-Heinz Thesen is the more understated type. Always elegant, but discreet. Never loud, yet still predominant. After graduating from high school he started studying engineering, but soon realised that the contents were too theoretical for him. He wanted to design, be creative. His choice then fell on an apprenticeship in carpentry.

After finishing his education Karl-Heinz Thesen went into business with another carpenter. The two founded a furniture-making business near Trier that grew quickly. Seven years after being founded, exhibition rooms in Luxemburg were added. In 2012 Thesen, in the meantime the only manager of “Unikat Interior” with its showroom in Luxemburg, moved into a larger space in Potaschberg near Grevenmacher in the Moselle region of Luxemburg. Although he is not an architect, by 2006 he had begun planning and realising complete and always high-quality interior architecture for private clients over and above building furniture. In the meantime he employs over 30 people including two interior architects.

Thesen says the craziest thing he ever designed was a billiard table made of highly polished steel with slate slabs. “Nevertheless the most beautiful object was the Ice” he adds. What he means is the precursor to the Backes&Müller BMIce 802, which came onto the market in 2011 and looks like it was carved out of an ice-block. “The creation of Ice, conceived as a small series, was outstanding for me; a quiet, cool, long-lived product.” The BMIce is by no means the first product that Karl-Heinz Thesen designed for the high-end forge in Saarbrucken. He is one of two Backes&Müller carpenters alongside Andreas Hanß. Unikat got into the loudspeaker business with the BMPrime series. A further milestone was the collaboration with the loudspeaker giant on the design and construction of the BMLine 100.

In terms of their demands on loudspeaker designs, the carpenter refers to his customers as extremely different. “This ranges from modest to linear right up to playful.” The essential starting point however, is always the spatial feeling, the image that the loudspeaker epitomizes. “For me personally a loudspeaker should make a statement without appearing to be obtrusive. Hence like the BMIce 802 it steps back, but when one looks at it, it radiates a special charisma.” This was also an objective in the design of the BMLine 100. “Similarly to the custom-made design of the billiard table the contours disappear, the room dissolves itself in the mirrored steel of the cabinet. The focus lies on the central column elements in red.

 

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Piano laquer from Backes&Müller

Andreas Hanß in his workshop.
Andreas Hanß is a master craftsman of piano finish methodology.

Those seeking a really classy finish often choose piano lacquer. Andeas Hanß is one of the very few craftsmen in Germany who master this elaborate technique effortlessly.

Wood is everywhere. Boards of wood, pieces of wood with sawn out pieces, wood forms and other similar examples that recognisably could all fit together and create a loudspeaker cabinet. Humming away, a CNC machine runs back and forth on its tracks whilst milling clean and exact holes in a board that were computer programmed down to a tenth of a millimetre. We are in the carpentry workshop of Andreas Hanß, one of the two workshops which build Backes&Müller loudspeaker cabinets.

The master carpenter stands at a workbench devoting his attention to buffing a piece of wood with a polisher. Andreas works the surface of the word with the machine over and over again. Already one can see ones reflection in the surface, but Andreas is not entirely satisfied yet. Repeatedly he applies black polish from a bottle to the wood and after working the milky emulsion into the surface with a cloth, he runs the polishing machine back and forth over the surface again.

A lot of time and effort has transpired until the lacquer reaches this state. The beginning of the work is preceded by umpteen “spray passes” as they are known in the trade. Liquid polyester is mixed and sprayed “around 0.3 mm thick per pass“, Andreas explains. Five or six layers are sprayed on each other with approx. 20 minutes drying time in between. This process is known as “wet on wet”. After this, the base course layer is complete. Now it must dry, a minimum of three days. Since the wood absorbs the lacquer at different rates, the lacquer develops a restless surface which Andreas has to sand down until it’s absolutely flat. Then the next coating of lacquer follows; another five or six layers - again wet on wet - and another three days to dry.

Last but not least, in up to 12 processes the wood surface is sanded and polished with ever finer sand paper until it shines the way it should. Only at the end of this process is polish applied to the surface as it contains a certain acidity that chemically supports the finishing process. “High gloss is achieved with nine nanometres and that is only possible with the emulsion” explains our expert carpenter.

All in all, it amounts to over 20 work processes. Work processes where something can go wrong, where attention to detail must be extremely diligent: “Errors made at the beginning may only be apparent at the end” Andreas explains, “These could be dust inclusions or air cells.” What happens then? “Then we go back to the beginning and start all over” our expert explains with a smile.

He has been working on this special finish since 1988. With the piano lacquer technique, he enjoys a high level of exclusivity, at least in our part of the world. “Piano lacquer has almost all but disappeared from the market in Germany” he explains. “For many carpenters the technique demands far too much time”. Why does he still cultivate these skills? “Because it is still something very special and our customers appreciate it” Andreas explains and we take him at his word as a smile lights up his whole face.

Lacquer from India and China 

The word lacquer or lack originates from south-east Asia and was found the first time a few thousand years before the birth of Christ. One trail leads to India. In Sanskrit, the old Indian word “laksha” means “hundred-thousand”. What was meant was the number of laccifer lacca insects that were necessary to produce enough shellac from their sap-like secretion to treat wood surfaces and simultaneously to protect them. The sap-like secretion was removed from the branches of the trees by the application of heat. A second trail leads to China. There, at the Imperial Court to be more exact, valuable items were being treated with a high gloss at around the same period of time. The raw material there was supplied by the milk-like sap from the bark of the lacquer tree. The production of lacquer only arrived in Europe during the middle ages. It took until the industrial revolution before the process had established itself worldwide.

 

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