You can never have enough of a good thing, so they say. But lovers of iconic lamps from the early 20th century were for decades deprived of the possibility of owning some of the most striking luminary pieces by the Wiener Werkstätte and the Bauhaus, having long fallen out of production. This is the story of WOKA, the Vienna-based manufacturer that set out to bring a significant slice history back to life.
The Greeks had a word for it. (OK. They had a lot of words.) Peripatetic. Meaning a meandering of sorts, a walking about, as opposed to a direct route. Aristotle, it’s said, used to deliver his philosophical pearls of wisdom as he wandered about the Lyceum of ancient Athens. Great moments of creative thinking and activity arise from taking the road less travelled, it could be argued.
Wolfgang Karolinsky’s own piece of peripateia saw him embark upon his adult life as a composer but decades later has him running one of the most design-committed design manufacturers internationally. As owner and CEO of WOKA, the Vienna-based brand that has single-handedly introduced some of the most significant pieces of lighting design from the early 20th century to new audiences, Karolinsky has, by all accounts, arrived.
While studying at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, the entrepreneurial young Karolinksy discovered a harmony of a different kind when he began to deal in antique design pieces, chief among them turn-of-the-20th-century furniture by Austria’s favourite creative son, architect and designer Josef Hoffmann. Commerce for Karolinsky has always been indivisible from his passion for design; parallel to his entry into the world of business he undertook research in a number of libraries, immersing himself in the world of design history. The result: an extensive archive of over 7,500 images and covering almost 100 years of production in wood, metal, ceramic and glass, all photographed by Karolinsky himself.
Often when history repeats itself, it’s nothing to be welcomed. In this case of Karolinsky and his company WOKA, which has dedicated itself for decades now to the quality reissuing of classic lighting designs from not only the Wiener Werkstätte, but also the Bauhaus and from French Art Deco, it’s something to be celebrated. Craftsmanship lies at the heart of the enterprise, with Karolinksy and his team taking pains to ensure that each piece that leaves their atelier remains true to the fabrication techniques of the original designs. ‘Our workshop is producing in the same way as the Wiener Werstätte did when it was operating from 1903 to 1932,’ says Karolinsky. ‘We are about 20 people and that’s enough. We never wanted to be a big company, just a company that is able to deliver quality.’