Søren Ulrich is 43, Danish and a cabinetmaker. A big dark beard, a chequered shirt and lumberjack boots is what stands out at first sight.
We meet in his temporary shop and showroom in Jægersborggade 8 in the north part of Copenhagen and one of the most bustling streets of the weekend.
An old style shop sign and a comfortable bench create a welcoming setting just outside the shop. The space contains a few selected pieces: a generous table in smoked oak, finely upholstered chairs, a couple of stools in different heights, various shelving and coat hangers and a collection of very peculiar bottle openers that display the different wood essences used throughout the pieces. All you can see has been designed and manufactured by Søren himself. “I am very busy and this takes time. I am torn between the workshop, the showroom and the desk where I need to write quotations and answer emails at all times.” Despite its 12 m2 the shop has a very cozy feeling and there’s a lovely flux of people that curiously browse, ask questions or just come by to say hi.
Søren opened Habengut (Danish word for “all good things”) in May 2015 but in reality he has been making furniture for more than 10 years. “When I was 16 I became a metal apprentice working as machine engineer but I’ve always dreamt about wood. It’s softer, easier and warmer.” So after years of tedious work and a period as a very meticulous decorator with paint and concrete, he decided to start his own business.
“I believe I was destined to create Habengut, my family didn’t have a long education and I myself was not so bright in school. But I had a feeling inside that I could do something with my hands…”
Working in complete solitude for many years made him very focused on his project but he recently felt the need of collaboration and hired 2 apprentices. They say, to his surprise, that he’s very good at delegating tasks. He even took them to northmodern (the Copenhagen furniture and design fair) to help out with visitors and new clients and it was a success. “We are in this together,” he thought “we are a team. I never got to go to a similar event when I was an apprentice so I thought I should make it better.”
The discussion inevitably turns towards the established Danish design brands that are his competition and he is not happy to talk about them. “They have it figured out, just focus on a design classic, people recognize it and all they have to do is change the colour once in a while and people will buy it again.” No specific master seems to inspire him
“I take a chair or a stool I like and feel comfortable in and study it, learn the proportions, analyze the wood and make one of my own.”
It is a hard business. Søren’s typical working day starts at 5 am with coffee and emails at home. Then around 8 am he bikes to the workshop not far away where his apprentices have been working since 7. “We like to have lunch together, you know the typical open sandwich thing, and then work until dusk. Even after we close I’ll keep thinking about work until I fall asleep.”
“And what about the future?” I ask. One day a young girl came to his workshop to get help for a school project: she needed to build a cabinet. And so, in helping her, Søren figured out that he actually knows a lot about making and likes teaching others. “I’ve considered applying to Statens Værksteder for Kunst (residency at the Danish Art Workshops) and as pessimistic as I am, hard work will always keep me away from depression.”
Alter Ego’s Proust-questionnaire: Who is Søren Ulrich
What would you rather be doing at the moment?
– I’d like to leave everything and go.
Have you ever lost something extremely important to you?
– My father.
What’s your inseparable friend?
– My hands.
What makes you laugh?
– Everything uncomfortable.
Where do you go when you need to regroup?
– To my favourite coffee shop.
What is essential in your work?
– Money… or nicely put “economic freedom”.
What is your favourite flavour?
– Salty flavours.
Who is your hero?
– Johnny Cash.
What do you hate about today’s world?
– The pressure, the stress.
Where is home?
A special message.
– Det skal nok gå. (= It’ll be all right)
what: Habengut by Søren Ulrich
where: Jægersborggade 8, Copenhagen
when: Fridays 14 -18 and Saturdays 11-16
Alter Ego Portraits features stories and works of selected individuals around the world that have an alterego in their lives. Based on the definition of the Latin term alterego as a person’s secondary or alternative personality we focus on their profile uncovering their alterego; our candidates perform a task (job or activity) that is not their primary occupation/education and the tension between original and new self influences their work in unexpected ways.
We are interested in people and projects that cross boundaries between arts and crafts, abstract and concrete, ordinary and bold. In uncertain times of deep crisis, fast change, fierce competition we believe in people that can inspire us to go beyond ourselves.