9 questions for an acclaimed knife designer
Tomer Botner's eye-catching designs and attention to detail are attracting praise in the cutlery world.
You might say that Tomer Botner has literally carved out his own niche.
The native of Tel Aviv, Israel, who now lives in Barcelona, Spain, just celebrated five years at the helm of a flourishing cutlery company he founded. Florentine Kitchen Knives, inspired by the distinctively charming and street-art-adorned Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv, employs a unique blend of artistry and functionality to create kitchen tools for a growing list of culinary clients.
Botner's got a full plate at the moment, between running his business, meeting with fabricators and clients, touting his wares at trade shows around Europe and caring for his newborn, a boy named Lev. But he still found time to slice through some questions with From The Grapevine and discuss his passions, his purpose and his plans for the future.
From The Grapevine: Why knives? What drew you to kitchen tools rather than, say, home décor or something more inherently artistic?
Tomer Botner: Why not?! Seriously. Knives are one of these tools that I, and probably most people, use every day. I think we all have a connection to this particular tool being the first tool that we made, short of using a rock to smash things. On a more personal level, I enjoy cooking and eating and I'm very interested in the culinary world, so it was the tool that was close my heart even before it became my livelihood.
FTGV: Your kitchen cutlery is beautifully designed, but it doesn’t usually leave the kitchen, so customers rarely ever see it. Why would chefs gravitate to your products rather than a simpler, functional knife that just does the job?
TB: It's not only professional cooks who buy my knives, and I'm sure people enjoy presenting them to their friends, but even for cooks, they spend their whole day with this tool and they want to be excited and passionate about it each time they use it. It's something so important in one's life and career that you want to enjoy everything about it. It's like a tailor not having nice scissors or an author not having a nice pen. They are meant to be both beautiful and highly functional tools.
About the handle, I was schooled on the premise that form followed function, and so my mixed material handle started out as a way to give a particular balance to each knife according to the client's wishes. Depending on which discs from which material we placed and where I placed them, I could play with the balance of the knife.
FTGV: How did Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood inspire you in your designs?
TB: I was living in Florentin when I was designing my first knives as a school project and it was the premise of my project to work with what I could find locally (by that I mean, very locally, just my neighborhood). So I would say that Florentin is the inspiration for FKK from start to finish. After all, it's our name. I still use very similar materials to what I could find there, and I am still very much connected to that area. I really know that place. What I do with FKK is to design the dream of what it could be.
Bauhaus architecture in Florentin, Tel Aviv. (Photo: Guy Yechiely/Flickr)
FTGV: What’s a typical day for you? In many of your Tumblr posts, you're seen spending a lot of time in your workshop, and there’s a lot of wood involved.
TB: Since moving to Europe, I spend most of my time on the logistical side of things and running the business as well as designing our projects and keeping in touch with clients. So most of my day right now is spent on the phone, traveling or in front of the computer. I also had a baby this year so I'm very much focused on him, of course.
FTGV: Are your products available in any stores? In the U.S. and Europe?
TB: We have our line in several retailers across the States, including Michigan, New York and Texas. In Europe, we have retailers in Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. We also started selling on HOUZZ, which just started selling EU products in the U.S., and has a first EU website in the U.K.
FTGV: Tell me about your team. Who else makes it happen? Are you more of a one-man show?
TB: There are a few people who have been here from the start, and even though it's technically a one-man company, that's very far from what actually goes on. There are a lot of people involved with making this thing work. Among them are my wife, Noam Blumenthal, who was always there to offer support and advice but now is slowly getting into the business as we grow; Ran Shauli, who is the man behind the branding of FKK from back when it was a school project; and I always take advice from a lot of good friends like my studio partners back in Tel Aviv: Shay Nifusi, Andrey Grishko and Oded Webman, who also made and designed some of our products over the years.
FTGV: What’s your best-selling or most popular product?
TB: We usually work in batches and redesign our products each year so it's hard to say which knife is most popular. Chef knives always go fast, but I can tell you that our paring knives and steak knives are the only products so far to enjoy a second (and will probably go for a third) run of the same design.
FTGV: You live in Barcelona now, but you grew up in Israel. What was the transition like from Israel to Spain? Do you ever plan to move back?
TB: I grew up in north Tel Aviv with two younger sisters. I was always drawn to the arts and literature and majored in cinema in high school. After a few years of work and travels abroad I decided I want to be a history teacher, so I went to study that at Tel Aviv University. But I was finding it hard to learn through my eyes and not my hands, and after one year, I decided to be an architect, and through preparing for the exams I found out about product design. Finally I got into Shenkar College and spent the next five years there. As far as my relocation, I've been traveling and living in other countries for most of my early 20s so I wasn't worried about moving here; I was simply looking for better opportunities for my business, and it was actually quite a simple transition. Barcelona is a great town, and I personally like it more every day as I make myself more at home and get to know it more. It shares similar weather and temperament with Tel Aviv. But I think we will stay here for now. I just wish the food here was a bit more like home.
FTGV: Those are your tattooed hands in many of your photos. There’s got to be a story behind that! Please share.
TB: I was young and I came into some money ... just kidding. I actually got this tattoo as a present from one of my closest friends for my birthday. My fingers have handmade written on them. I don't make too much or give too much meaning to tattoos usually, I have quite a few but they are all spur of the moment kind of things. I believe in handmade, I think we have something extra that we can bring as human beings; so far we can learn better than machines, though that might be changing these days. It's important that we know how to make things, any things. I would like my kids to understand how things work and what it takes to make them, so it's basically a reminder to myself.
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