David Kobele worked with wood as a teenager, building his own audiospeakers. After a career as a child nurse, he recognized that was not his calling. “I knew that it was the wood.” He bought some machines and started to work in his cellar.
His first wood product was children toys, but “I noticed that…you aren’t really free in doing toys. So I started with a very simple thing, the idea to make boards.”
“Everybody uses boards, but not like these. Every board should be a combination of art and something to use. I’m an artist, but not only. For me it’s a combination of artist and woodworker. I make boards. Some people put it on the wall or lay it on the table as an object, but for me it’s best if you combine these two things. That you have a place where you can see and touch it, and if it’s needed you use it.”
Now he sells 1500-2000 mosaic wooden cutting boards every year. He could sell more but he doesn’t feel like making any more. He doesn’t want to hire anyone to work for him because “It’s my product, I want to make it from the beginning to the end.” Even if he could find people who could “do the boards like me in quality, they couldn’t do these boards in this variation. I have 400-500 different kinds. People who know me when they come to me they want something very special and individual. You can only do this if you work alone.” And anyway, “I don’t like to say to people what they have to do.”
At the Kollwitzplatz Markt in 2000, where he still sells, he met a glassworking couple who offered him the space which has been his studio ever since.
In the studio he shows me the wood.
“You see the colors. There is every color. The woods I use have purple, pink, orange, red, yellow. These colors, to have wood with these colors you need trees who grow equatorial. I know that they are from rainforests, and that there is a lot of bad industry who makes this wood. But I love these colors, and I think that I need only a little bit of that wood. So that’s my justification to use these woods. I could say ‘ok, only wood from Europe.’ But I would miss these colors. I need some of this wood. But sometimes people ask me that at the markets. I say to them that the most wood who is needed from the tropical areas is needed to make paper. Over 90% or more is for kitchen papers, cosmetic articles. Only some trees are for furniture. And why ask me? They have to go to the industrial furniture firms and ask them what they are doing? They use every day tons of wood from the tropics.”
“I sell all of the boards that I make in a year. What I can earn from that it’s enough to – it’s enough. So I don’t have the feeling that I have to earn more. But I wish I could work more.”
If you don’t want more money, why do you want to make more?
“If I work more, I could do not only boards, but boxes, I find them very special and I love them. This was art. And the people they bought these bigger boxes. They cost 1000 euros but that was no problem to sell them. To sell a box like that it hurts a little bit, but it gives you more power than if you sell hundreds of boards. I wish I would make more special boxes.”
“I’ve chosen the right profession for me, but I need some new kicks. So that the work is again interesting for me. In the last 2-3 years, it’s harder to get in the process of making boards in the beginning of the year. So I think it’s because it’s not new what I do. In the first years it develops quick. But now I’ve made a lot. There is more routine than in the beginning. Still I only make the boards I want. I have nobody who says make this or make that. But it’s not so interesting as in the beginning. That’s why for example I made this room where I can listen to music and develop audiospeakers again. It’s not an idea to have a new product to sell. I think it’s hard to sell loudspeakers. The ones I”m thinking of will require a lot of time. The price would be very high. It’s only for me to have fun, or because it’s interesting me.”
I think that if I develop loudspeakers I need time to do that, but on the other side, I have again more interest in making boards.”
He never sold wholesale. When he used to sell to shops he only gave a 10% discount, so their retail price was nearly double what he sold for at the markets. Eventually he stopped this. “It was too much work to send the packet to them for just 20 boards. Now I only sell in markets… I have a woman who helps me for 13 years. I’m lucky to have her because she likes the product very much.”
“I have a lot of people who have no money to buy a board, but these people give me also good vibrations because they are interested and fascinated. That’s very important. So I was last Saturday on the market for the first time in about a month. I noticed that I was missing something, I was missing the contact to the people who were fascinated by the boards. It gives me power. Too much contact isn’t good, but from time to time I need the contact to notice that they love what I’m doing. To get new power.”
“Sometimes people are only looking and touching, and I see that they are fascinated.”
“I’ve also been at places where people couldn’t understand what is it and they get angry if they don’t understand what they are looking at.”
“The people who buy the boxes, most of them they search for a box to put something special in. Some of them if they see the box, they know that’s the box for this particular thing.”