When ex-drafstman Simon Geringer grew tired of the “administrative” nature of architectural design, he turned to designing intricate digitally-rendered chairs. He walks Sam Diss through four of his designs, discussing their real-works inspiration and the line between the objects we can imagine and the ones we can bring into existence.
It’s a truth innate to our species: If you are tired enough, anything can become a chair. The first known mention of chairs goes back six millennia, to the early dynastic period of ancient Egypt, and the next mention is now just 11 words away. They are all around us—you’re probably sitting in a chair right now—yet we rarely stop to appreciate their elegant efficacy.
But the great Vico Magistretti, a furniture designer born into a family of renowned Milanese architects, urged us to look at usual things with unusual eyes. The work of Simon Geringer follows suit.
The French designer trained as a draftsman before tiring of the “administrative” nature of architectural design. Now his obsession is chairs: producing incredibly intricate CGI renders inspired by the world around him and—at odds with recent trends of AI-accelerated product design—takes his sweet time doing so.
Geringer creates his work on KeyShot, which he calls “the most simple rendering software in product design.” As a result, it’s a long process: where peers may produce a design a day, he spends weeks tinkering. It is painstaking, he says, “like creating a car using only a screwdriver.”
His metaphor is fitting. When I caught up with Geringer to run through the designs which best represent his work, Paris Design Week—so impressed with one of his chairs—had just asked him to exhibit. They didn’t realise the chair was, at that point, just a render, never intended to see production.
So Simon spent a fortnight frustratedly fiddling with his latest creation, bringing it to life, screws and all…
“This chair was selected to appear in Paris Design Week but it was just a picture…” says Geringer. “I had a moment of reckoning with the fact that I now had to actually make this chair.” With work that so often skirts the line between fact and fiction, he admits he learned his lesson the hard way.
“I had to redesign every piece so that it could actually be produced,” he says. “For a long time I’ve only drawn ‘fake’ projects. I like to play with the real and the virtual. But now, I have to think about my projects differently, to think even more like a designer does, and to input more of the industrial process into my drawings. I need to make sure that when people ask me to produce the real object, I can actually do it.”
Still, despite its bumpy conception, Geringer admits the chair “remains the best example of my inspiration: building sites and building supply stores.”
“I was in one shop and saw tubes on the shelf and the little plastic clips used to stop them falling off,” he says. “When I saw the clips I thought: I can make a chair with this.” His work often prides itself on taking an incredibly complicated route towards a deceptively simple end product: a maximalist minimalism. “The pipes are definitely minimal,” he says, “but it requires 200 screws. The result is very complex. I can only compare it to building a car in my apartment. All those screws, all that stuff… Just for a chair?”
“I kept going away and coming back to it, and it’s become a kind of sculpture. If I sold this piece and people built it themselves, I think they would really appreciate it. It takes so long to assemble, they would be proud to think: This is my chair. I built this.”
“I was on holiday in the French countryside,” he says, “and saw all of the tomatoes in a box and I thought: It’s a chair. There’s often a link with everyday objects in my work. I always take pictures of stuff I find in the street or countryside, items that are not currently in use. My main inspiration is seeing objects waiting to be used differently.”
Geringer found his love for design in the quiet atelier of his engineer-turned-sculptor grandfather, a man who taught him about perspective, angles, and the endless possibilities of the straight line. Decades later, his work remains in dialogue with those formative lessons.
“In the house, my grandfather had a lot of technical furniture with complicated elements, made up of boxes and rails,” says Geringer. “I think I learned to think in straight lines from him, too.”
Now he has found balance between his humble inspirations and a CGI design prowess that allows him to explore ideas which may otherwise be outside his grasp. “This drawing was never intended to be produced for real,” he says. “It would be too complicated, too expensive to make. But the images look real, so people think it exists even if it doesn’t.”
“I spent a month finding the right references for this: camping stuff, watching lots of climbing videos, old campaigns by The North Face,” says Geringer. “Then I spent a month drawing the idea in my sketchbook, modeling it, and getting the render looking realistic.”
Such a painstaking process, he admits with perverse pride, is at odds with his contemporaries. “On Instagram, people publish new projects every day,” he says, “but, because I draw every imperfection on every screw, it takes a long time. I like the process being long.”
In the future, Simon admits he’d like to bring his physical creations to life within his 3D environments, “probably a mix between design/art direction and scenography.” But he’ll never leave CGI behind completely.
“CGI allows me to infinitely refine my choices of materials and finishes,” says Geringers, “I can't conceive of bringing an object to life without creating a digital, visual environment for it. It enables me to bring a piece truly to life. While my chairs created in the real world will hold a particular resonance for me. I'll always continue to design my pieces in 3D. I only want to ‘produce’ real-world pieces that fit into a very specific context. We already live in a world awash with objects. We don’t need more.”
“A lot of people do inflated designs with AI now,” says Geringer. “This was my response to that. I wanted to create an exercise reinterpreting a chair and the design of furniture. I wanted to smash a chair.”
“At first, when I saw these AI programs, I was afraid. Midjourney can create a 3D render in seconds. I tried those programs a lot but realised it would never replace me. My work requires looking closely at real objects to see those imperfections yourself before recreating it. It’s a choice: you have to choose to include imperfections. That’s why my 3D renders look real, because I put imperfections everywhere. It is as if the object already had a life before. It’s not a brand new chair. It’s a chair that has been used. I only do still images, but with these imperfections I input this idea that the objects have movement. That’s why I don’t feel the need to design motion graphics: the still items already move.”