Sneak Peek at Rilla Alexander’s Studio

rilla alexander

Rilla Alexander is a member of the well known and respected art and design collective, Rinzen. The group’s posters and album covers have been exhibited at the Louvre and their large scale artwork installed in Tokyo’s Zero Gate and Copenhagen’s Hotel Fox. Today she gives Grain Edit readers a sneak peek into her studio and shares some of her favorite objects.

How do you like living in Berlin?
It’s a wonderful day to ask me! The park is exploding with colour and the streets are filled with cherry blossoms. People on the street greet our Jack Russell “Mr Tom” by name and I just discovered that you pick your own price at the second hand bookstore on the corner. But even if you had asked me on a deep dark grey day in the middle of winter I would have told you that I am fascinated by living amongst so much history – seeing the bullet holes in the buildings, knowing that the hill in the park is a actually a demolished bunker and following the path of the wall.

rilla alexander

What do you like most about your studio space?
It’s light and bright and I have a huge room where I can make as little or as much noise as I like. I listen to NPR, Australia’s Radio National and BBC while I draw – one minute I’ll be laughing out loud and the next sobbing sympathetically. This is probably all best done in private! I also like having two desks – one for drawing and one for my computer. The drawing table is next to the window so it’s the ultimate place to be.

What are some of your favorite objects in your studio?
I don’t know if Mr Tom can classify as an object but he’s quite a permanent fixture in my studio. He likes to sit on my lap and rest his head on my lightbox while I draw… when he’s had enough of that he bakes in the sun on the balcony. We visited Mexico City recently and I’m reminded of it’s energy every day when I look at the brilliantly coloured embroidery on my wall. But my most treasured items would be my books and ceramics. Oh, and anything teak.

werner klemke

Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm Collection of Grimm Brother’s fairytales – c1963 illustrations Werner Klemke

What are some of your favorite books?

Although they’re not actually books I would say my collection of Graphis Magazines from the 40s to the 60s..I’ve carted them across the world and back again. We spent some time working in Zurich ten years ago and I stumbled across a store with piles of old Graphis for only a couple of dollars each. I will never forgive myself for not buying all of them. I hurried straight back there on our next trip but of course the store was long gone. Most recently I “discovered” Werner Klemke. I have had his Brothers Grimm book for quite some time, but it was only when I found another of his books that I started to recognise his name and style. I have just started a flickr account so I can share some of my finds

rilla alexander

I love the elephant shaped bank you have on your desk. I believe Luigi Colani designed it for the Dresdner Bank. I heard that the bank gave these out to kids when they deposited money into their savings account. Are these elephants easy to find in Berlin?
Yes, there are a couple of stores where you should be able to find them. Though they are normally about a third of the size and in red, orange, yellow or green plastic – this guy is porcelain and an Ebay purchase. Despite being completely tongue tied when it comes to speaking German, I understand enough to shop online in the language. Though, let’s be honest “Porzellan Elefant” is not exactly a challenge.

rilla alexander

Where did you find such a beautiful bookcase?
Where else but Stue?! Although it is Danish, it lived in Switzerland for 30 years before it came to live with us.

I notice you have a nice collection of porcelain dishes. Did you become interested in these dishes before or after your work with the German porcelain company Rosenthal?

We arrived in Berlin with nothing more than our suitcases, so I had the fun of setting up our home and studio all over again. My love of classic Danish design intensified by living dangerously close to the artfully arranged furniture store, Stue. There I found a plate designed by Bjørn Wiinblad and a string of very happy coincidences led me to visit the countryside home of Rosenthal, for whom Wiinblad worked for many years. His studio was still intact and the company were planning a series to celebrate his life’s work.

I was overjoyed when Rosenthal commissioned me to design of a full dinner set and even more so when I received the prototypes of my designs in red, black and gold. Alas, the story does not end happily as the dastardly “Global Financial Crisis” claimed the life of Rosenthal. I’m just holding out now for a kiss of life to bring everything back to life. It’s difficult to fathom a national institution like Rosenthal failing…

What draws you to Bjørn Wiinblad’s style?
I felt immediate kinship with him when I met his mono round headed, triangular nosed people. I was sad to discover that he had died recently – he would have made a lovely honorary grandfather. His one colour plates are so joyful and full of life – and this strikes a chord in me as I usually prefer very restricted colour palettes.

My interest in Bjørn Wiinblad resulted in a serious Ebay addiction and I became acquainted with Iittala and Arabia of Finland, Nymolle and Royal Copenhagen from Denmark and Gustavsberg from Sweden. It also led to me learning the names of Stig Lindberg and Lisa Larsen, who I had admired anonymously for so long.

rilla alexander

Do you feel that your working environment has any influence over your work?
I think its inevitable that everything has an effect. I can see the results of our travels, the books I find, the memories I dig up and the city I live in. I’ve even noticed slight changes in my work between our old studio (which was more industrial) and this one (which is very homely). That said, I don’t think anything is more powerful than the influence of my childhood and family. Everything I am doing relates to the essence of “home” which I think you feel more keenly when you are far away.

What are you currently working on for design projects?

I have spent the last 6 months working on my long procrastinated about children’s book. I set myself the deadline of “the sun” but it has arrived before I am finished. Not that I am complaining mind you!


We’d like to thank Rilla for giving us a peek at her studio space. Please be sure to stop by the Rinzen website to see more of her work. Also check out Rilla’s Flickr collection.

Photo credits Micke Lund.


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