From the outside, Kwirl might look like an upmarket gift shop; scratch beneath the surface, however, and it reveals itself as a hub of creative energy with a driving focus on sustainability and upcycling. In fact, it’s more like a delightful, fresh design platform that works on three levels.
First, there is the more obvious ‘store’ function: display shelves filled with a cornucopia of hip items ranging from Zaha Hadid’s plastic shoes, solar-panel Sunnybags, Ivorilla’s GasCase canister wheely-suitcase, Finnish Rissarossi brooches made of re-used zips, through to Nika Rams’s USE LESS socket covers in the form of a bath plug, highlighting home energy waste with a humorous twist.
Then there are owner Iris Kastner’s own designs. The “Glücks Bar” is a series of lucky charms that are not only sustainably produced but also bring new life to old local customs. So you will find exquisitely shimmering silver-coated carp scales to be given at the New Year – or all year round – each one as individual as the fingerprints they resemble. The carp scales are sourced locally from the Gut Hornegg organic fish farm, then individually washed, dried and sprayed in a process Iris Kastner describes, understatedly, as “rather labour-intensive”. There are tiny glass vials of four-leaf clover powder, once mixed into bread dough as a folk digestive remedy by Styrian farmers. Another local practice being sustained here is the ‘Christbaum-Quirl’. A voucher entitles you to have a whisk hand-made from the tip of your own Christmas tree. The wood is cut, stripped and dried and should then be used to froth up a Styrian cream soup.
On a third level, Kwirl functions as a gallery, discovering and showcasing exciting new talent in local design. These have recently included Walking Chair, with their upcycled PET light chandeliers, and Jakob Lederer, a young Austrian designer making furniture from recycled skis. At last year’s Design Monat, Kwirl collaborated with Breaded Escalope to present the “Shakin’ Products” mobile cocktail bar, mixing up original resin Graz clocktowers in a shaker, while Kwirl’s window hosted their popular Samsa Bucket constructions. Iris Kastner is passionate about great local design: she also promotes Heidenspass’s messenger bags; Glückslabor’s ‘shirt’ wall systems; RE.TRA.DE.’s upcycled poster bins; Rebikle’s bicycles constructed from old parts – the list is extensive and varied.
This three-tier system must be what gives Kwirl an atmosphere that goes beyond a standard ‘design boutique’. There are no gimmicks; each item has earned a place there and genuinely reflects the store’s underlying philosophy. The ‘Zeitloch’, for example, is a paper slip containing a packet of black spot ‘time-hole’ stickers. Minimal design with a strong statement: the opposite of a diary ‘window’, you use them to earmark days devoted to your wellbeing, a little black timehole into which you can disappear. Typical of Kwirl, it’s about taking care of yourself and your surroundings, always with a wry smile and plenty of Lebensfreude.
"Upcycling" has become an international style phenomenon. The idea of renovating and customising is not exactly new, however this recently coined term highlights its environmental benefits and moves mere recycling into the realm of reinvention. Whether it’s updating vintage and antique furniture, repainting old ceramics, printing over old textiles, reshaping retro clothes and fabrics or converting waste into accessories. And it’s not all about these thriftier, more eco-conscious times. With designers’ creative input, the wonderful materials already out there can become as good as - or even better than - new. In a backlash against the throwaway society, the focus here is on quality, not quantity of production; on continuity of culture and traditions. Sustainability in all senses.