Nature in Abstraction – the art of Tom Leifer

With his key visuals, art director, designer and artist Tom Leifer ensures that the values of Walter Knoll are immediately apparent on the covers of our publications – even without words.

Tom Leifer has been a partner of Walter Knoll for many years now. The Hamburg-based artist talks here about the creation process behind his new key visuals, which can currently be found on the covers of our Home Selection 2022 and Legends of Carpets brochures. The journey starts in Nature.

Tom Leifer on Nature in Abstraction:

Nature as a source of inspiration

Anyone walking into a room of Walter Knoll furnishings immediately feels at home. Why is that? For me, the answer lies in the familiarity and obvious sensuousness that the pieces of furniture exude – their connection to Nature. It is the earthy color scheme, sensuous feel and materiality, the clear form and excellent craftsmanship. I feel it is my task as art director to capture this feeling in a poetic and touching abstraction.
Nature itself is a feel-good space deeply rooted in human consciousness. It is a source of inspiration for shape and color, a stimulus for our imagination, and an inexhaustible source of ideas for the visual translation of human sensibilities. The subject of Nature intensifies the perception of elemental forces, of depth and expanse, of light and air. Pictures, objects and spaces that take up natural elements gain in emotional range, poetry and humanity.

Nature in Abstraction

For me, the exciting moment is when the natural shape meets the one invented by man. A construction or abstraction that succeeds in keeping the soul of Nature alive.
For my design I delve into the seed box of my cultural background, my experiences of and in Nature, observations, sensations, and interpret the philosophy of Walter Knoll manually – with flowing ink, thick markers, cutouts and collages in an abstract, artistic way. A multitude of drawings, snippets of paper or woven paper surfaces are created until I’ve finally got what I am looking for, when the message to be transmitted has found its form. The result is translated into a digital file, the information of which transforms the outer outline of the shape into the cover page, making the motif visible and tangible.

Art and cultural history as the source of inspiration

The iconic magazine Arts & Architecture

One source of inspiration for my design process is the magazine Arts & Architecture, founded in 1929, which played a central role in the cultivation of modern design in California right up to the 1960s, making the local architects known on the international stage. At the same time, the magazine increased the demand for products in contemporary aesthetics, lighting and furniture for example.

The cover design of the magazine was inspired by the Californian landscape, the light, color and the formal language of Nature. It also presented links between architecture and Nature. I am a great fan of the publication and proud owner of a collection comprising almost every issue. 

Nature and Abstraction in the 
Whitney Museum of American Art

The inspiration for the title “Nature in Abstraction” was an exhibition of the same name at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1958. It investigated the relationship of abstract painting and sculpture to Nature in twentieth-century American art.

It featured, for example, exhibits from American abstract expressionist artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Kyle Morris and John Helicker. Its approach of mirroring Nature and form, almost playing them off against each other, has impressed and shaped me artistically.

Watercoloring, drawing, cutting, weaving 

– the creation process behind the key visuals


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Tom Leifer working on the motifs in his studio.

The key visuals

Legends of Carpets

“Structure and system, surface and tectonics, distance and horizon, linked by Nature.” In my eyes, there is no other project from Walter Knoll in which the reference to Nature is as clear as it is in the Legends of Carpets collection. The archaic beauty of African landscapes knotted to create sensuous, timeless works of art. Created from materials and colors of our planet.

Home Selection

“Stimulus, inspiration, variance, vividness, diversity, details, openness, light, translucency.” Home Selection is an ideas book. It is inspiring and tells stories. But above all it shows how furniture by Walter Knoll creates quality in a room and strengthens our well-being in an effortless and sensuous way.


“Free form merges with geometric construction, the outdoors connects with the indoors, Nature moves space.” Leitmotifs such as quality, sensuousness and validity – alongside them man and nature as benchmark and initiator. For me that is the benchmark for the products and processes of Walter Knoll. The projects are the proof. That was my guiding inspiration when creating the motif. Coming soon.
The artist

Tom Leifer

“Well-thought-out, poetic, playful and always daring.” Born in 1964, the versatile thinker and designer is based in his studio Tom Leifer Design in Hamburg. He studied Communication Design in Augsburg and designs not only magazines, books and pictures, but also spaces and entire brands. Which is exactly what he has been doing for Walter Knoll now for years. Tom Leifer has won numerous national and international awards and is a member of the Art Directors Club of Germany. He is also a member of the jury for the Corporate Design Prize, the Berliner Type Award, the BCM and the ADC.

Nature in Abstraction in your hands

Take a look at the cover art of our new brochures for yourself – and feel it! We would be happy to send you a free issue of Legends of Carpets and Home Selection.