People

Turning junk into design

Raphaël Diener, the actor, director, set and prop designer and artist who grew up in Yverdon-les-Bains, transforms old electric scooters into sophisticated design items. What motivates him? Giving materials a second life.

Carmen Fusco

Rich Content Section

46-year-old Raphaël Diener with his “Last2nd” design items.
46-year-old Raphaël Diener with his “Last2nd” design items.

“I had a very brief stint in the postal sector,” smiles Raphaël Diener. In 1997, Swiss Post was recruiting temporary letter sorting staff for the Christmas period. Raphaël applied to tide him over after completing his theatre studies in Brussels. “It was a wonderful time. I used the mail bag – which I filled and emptied goodness knows how many times – as padding for my chair.”

Talented on stage and with his hands

When he was 18, Raphaël moved to Brussels, the capital of Belgium, to study drama at the “Ecole de Théâtre Lassaad”. But he didn’t stay long and soon returned to Switzerland. And with great aplomb, he brought smiles to many faces and captivated audiences all over Switzerland with over 2,000 professional performances. But acting isn’t Raphaël’s only natural talent: he adored working with his hands even as a child. “I completely restored a sailing boat when I was 14,” he recalls.

He developed his gift for crafts during his time in the circus. He always kept a close eye on the technicians and craftsmen who created the props for the set. He learned more every day until his lifelong dream came true. “I’d always wanted to live in a truck.” He lived and travelled around Switzerland in his converted truck for 13 years. He revealed a little secret: ”The truck still exists and is part of my next project.”

When dreams come true: Raphaël’s converted truck.
When dreams come true: Raphaël’s converted truck.

Saved at the last second

There were no electric scooters – now a common sight on Swiss streets – when Raphaël worked at Swiss Post. These eco-friendly delivery vehicles are supplied by the company Kyburz. When they reach the end of their service life, Kyburz carefully inspects them. New vehicles are made out of parts which are still working. But what happens to those which cannot be reused? Raphaël takes care of them as best he can.

Luca Botta, a friend for many years and Head of Sustainability at Kyburz, contacted him last year: “He called me and I drove straight to Freienstein to collect a few hundred kilos of junk for my workshop in Basel.” He immediately began tinkering around with the second-hand, ‘unusable’ parts: “It struck me right away that these objects which perform a mechanical function are actually really beautiful. I adore objects that have some history. And that’s exactly what the parts from Kyburz possess. They were all components in these vehicles and did a job until they ended up in my hands.” It’s not just aesthetics but also the function of the objects that matters to Raphaël. “The parts I use for my art works have signs of wear, scratches, dents – and that’s what I love about them. It shows that something’s happened to them.” The parts are not longer fit for their original purpose, but Raphaël gives them a second chance, saves them at the last second and gives them a second life which is where the name “Last2nd” comes from.

The “Last2nd” items suit any home.
The “Last2nd” items suit any home.

Repairing instead of throwing away

“We live in a consumer society where things are simply thrown away after a few years, or even months,” laments Raphaël. The materials he uses for his art items are robust and durable. He believes objects can constantly be repaired or even “recreated”. He really appreciates Kyburz’s initiative: “They were courageous and creative enough to give something a go.”

What’s Raphaël’s favourite item?

The “sight frame” – created from the electric scooter’s wing mirrors and given a spiral design – can be decorated in so many different ways and suits any home. But the “feather light” shown is his bestseller and also a fine piece.

written by

Carmen Fusco