Kare Design

The Furniture Rebels

kare kare design
Jürgen Reiter and Peter Schönhofen, the founders of Kare Design. Photo: Kare Design
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s Kare Design, with more than 100 stores worldwide and sales in the three-digit-millions, has enjoyed steady growth with off-beat, affordable designs catering to people who don’t want mainstream furniture.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Set up 35 years ago by students Peter Schönhofen and Jürgen Reiter, the company is branching out into fashion and interior design.
    • Kare’s range comprises 5,800 objects and accessories, about half as many as IKEA. Some 85 percent of products are designed in-house.
    • The German furniture market grew by 4.2 percent in 2015 to €32.6 billion.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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The world’s most unusual furniture store isn’t in Sweden, but in the Munich district of Obersendling. Furniture entrepreneurs Jürgen Reiter and Peter Schönhofen of Kare Design have molded the ruins of a former gas power plant into an architectural marvel. A playful touch adorns the many corners of the 10,000-square-meter building: flying carpets and opulent crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and the rooms are filled with colorful furniture and exotic accessories. It’s a heady mix of grandeur laced with kitsch in an austere, industrial setting.

Apparently striking the right balance of industrial flair, the quirky location made it into the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice. In 2015, the Association of German Retailers named the plant “Shop of the Year.”

“In the home market a brand has to have a visible lighthouse,” said Mr. Reiter, 58, guiding the way through the store with almost childlike enthusiasm, his dog Toto on a lead by his side. The location is more than just a store – it’s a lifestyle destination. In addition to displaying furniture, the store hosts concerts, parties, exhibitions, cooking classes and barbecues with top chefs.

Mr. Reiter and Mr. Schönhofen now have more than 100 stores worldwide but they’re not resting on their laurels. On the contrary, the duo wants to expand their brand with the fashion label Stierblut, or “Bull’s Blood,” and with an interior design service for hotels, homes, and restaurants.

The firm has grown from humble beginnings. 35 years ago, it was just a student startup. While studying business administration in Munich, Mr. Reiter lived in tiny, high ceilinged room, where he couldn’t seem to find a fitting bookshelf. On a trip to Stuttgart, he finally discovered a manufacturer of custom-made shelves. Mr. Reiter then opened his own small shelving store in Munich, co-founded with his classmate and childhood friend Peter Schönhofen.

Mr. Reiter had always had an affinity for furniture, and came from a former furniture dynasty in Trier in western Germany. The students called their startup “Kare” simply because they were able to acquire the existing business name from Mr. Reiter’s uncle and father (KAurich and REiter) for the bargain price of 600 deutsche marks, or $344.

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