Poised with a contemporary air and pure timeless beauty, the creations of piano bench designer and maker Mario Koch were conspicuously present at the Frankfurt Musikmesse 2018. Under the trademark MAKONI visitors were given a chance to indulge in a different world of the piano’s best friend and companion; the piano bench.
The whole thing actually started with Koch looking for a new waste system in one of his bathrooms. He found none that he liked and consequently created two designs himself. Friends liked the result and today the product named Hank & Eve is ready for series production and is offered under the MAKONI design brand. It was during a sabbatical that he took up piano playing again and found himself in the need of a piano bench. Mario had bought a used school piano from an old piano master builder in Augsburg. Its bench should therefore be special, unusual, modern and also an eye-catcher. After three months search he gave up. There was simply nothing to find in the market that suited his imagination. So, if you can’t find what you are looking for you’d better do it yourself is Koch’s motto – consequently it didn’t take long before the first piano bench designs were outlined and introduced.
We are truly enjoying your designs here in Frankfurt, which brings on the question why the piano bench market has remained so conservative over the years. When you sketch a new model, how do you balance functionality versus aesthetics?
I am always thinking about some main aspects. What looks good? What could be improved? What is my personal need and taste? The functionality has to fit with the aesthetics, that is very important. Sometimes I have a good idea for the design, maybe with some new aspects, but then I recognize that my idea did not fit to the technical requirements for the height adjustment for example. I feel so much inspiration, but I have learned that it is important to combine the right design with the right technique. At least I must like the result and the market will show me if I am right.
Tell me about your customers. Who buys your benchs and why?
Mostly people who like piano playing and design. Private persons cherish the design and quality. Furthermore, they are proud to have something unique. Traders are happy that they can offer a design furniture in front of an grand piano. There is a trend to customize also in the music market. Professional piano players appreciate the easy height adjustment and the silence of some models. No noise is disturbing during playing or recording a session. That is really important, because a bench noise on a tape can cost a lot of work and money. At the end of the day, buyers are persuaded of the comfort when sitting for a long time and the visible handmade quality.
Ergonomically, are there aspects which you must consider?
Yes, sure. For me it is very important, and I was frightened when I recognized the minimum quality of most piano bench seats. The upholstery mostly is to soft. You don’t get supported and you will feel the wood of the bench after only a few moments of playing. Because of the artificial material, you often sweat and get wet. Some of our models are flexible. The construction works like a suspension and takes the effort out of playing. You can sit and play longer with more power and without being exhausted from sitting. Of course, all our models have height adjustment, and some you can bring in an angle to relax your spine.
Tell me a little about your background because I know that you are a multiple discipline person.
Yes, that’s right, I didn’t go a straight way. After school I wanted to work and made an apprenticeship as organ builder. Five years later I wanted to go to school to have the possibility to study. So, in 1997 I received my master’s degree in interior architecture. I designed stores, exhibitions, houses, offices etc. and trade fair stands for more than 15 years all over the world. I worked for brands like Caterpillar, Swarovski, LOWA, KIA Motors, MAN and Mercedes Benz. Then I changed to a family owned company to restructure it and to bring it on a new way. Four years later I was successful, but the owner wanted to guide his company himself again and I had to go. That’s the story – one year later I founded my own company makoni.
When I was looking for an extraordinary piano-bench, I could not believe that nobody had thought about piano benchs for such a long time. I found my personal gap in the market.
Like a painter your works eventually create a whole gallery or an artistic universe so to speak. Where do you go for inspiration?
For recreation, I go into nature. Walking, running, cycling – then often a solution of a problem comes into my mind. But also, I am very open during life. It is an automatism that I see something and one second later I think – oh, that’s a good idea for a piano bench detail. For example my model No. 02 accento with the eccentric lever of the height adjustment – everybody knows it from cycling. You can say I work with bridges from other parts of life.
Are you trying to find ideas from the world of contemporary instrumental piano design where Bechstein’s latest futuristic grand piano, the Boganyi grand or Kawai’s glass grand comes instantly to my mind?
Actually, I don’t know where my ideas come from. I have the wonderful talent to produce ideas. I guess I get inspired by my environment and for sure I look at contemporary piano design. But my way is not to copy. I will add something new, something unique and that it is what happens in my mind: a new combination of things out of my environment, put together to a unique makoni design.