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The Bookbinder by the Canal

Today Klara K is one out of five bookbinderies left in Denmark. She runs her own workshop in Christianshavn next to the canal at Overgaden Oven Vandet and she is quite busy binding everything from books to boxes, journals, photo albums, portfolio’s and menu cards. There isn’t a job she likes more than others. Instead she appreciates the diversity in her work load. As a young woman in Copenhagen she discovered her talent for bookbindery and she immersed herself in this niche craft, that has guided her decisions in life.

How did you manage to build up your business in this beautiful workshop?

I took over the workshop from a man who had moved to the States and wanted a tenant with a quiet business. It was back in 2006 when new galleries, boutiques and workshops opened every day, so I was really lucky to get this opportunity. At that time I was living in Schwitzerland and I have to admit that it was a bit stressful arranging the initial preparations starting up a workshop meanwhile focusing on refining my craft at Centro di bel Libero. And just after I came back to Copenhagen the financial crisis settled in, which didn’t calm my nerves. But it quickly turned out that my business actually grew steadily from the “damages” of the crisis. I experienced a demand for quality and unique pieces. For instance people needed to put more effort in their portfolio’s in order to stand out from the long line of sudden unemployed people. Ironically the financial crisis actually helped me to start up my business.

Why did you choose to build your workshop in Copenhagen and not your home country Sweden?

Copenhagen taught me to be a bookbinder, so I have always felt a strong connection to Copenhagen. After high school I wanted to move out from my parents two homes, but thought it was silly to pay the rent in a place near them. My cousin spoke a lot about Copenhagen, so my initial plan was to be in Copenhagen about a year and then travel to England to learn English even better. But I never left. Instead I started studying at Teknisk Skole in Julius Thomsens gade, where I ended up in a bookbinding class with this very odd, but lovely teacher – Ole Lundberg – who listened to loud jazz and dried the glue of his hands in the armpits of his artistic white and blue striped shirt. To my own surprise I got hooked, got my own personal key and worked all by myself long hours in the workshop.

What does it mean to you to create things with your hands and mark it with your own personal touch?

I am proud and lucky that I am able to make things with my hands. It is a skill that I am blessed to have. Looking back I can thank my mother for turning me into a craftsperson. Every December she installed a Christmas decoration workshop on our long dining table and we played with all the tools and materials and made quite pretty Christmas cards and decorations. My mother taught me to think creative and gave me interest in handcrafted work. I remember back in elementary school, that I had a teacher who wanted us to make our own textbooks, I made them with pleasure and even made more than necessary. It has always felt natural for me to create things with my hands.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

From my personal creativity and artistic flair. And when that doesn’t work I phone my sister! My sister is a very talented graphic designer who now runs her own studio in Stockholm after 3 years at French Vogue and 7 years at M/M Paris.

What’s great about Copenhagen and your neighborhood Christianshavn?

I like the waterside outlook and the architecture of Christianshavn. I really enjoy to eat my lunch at the bulwark when the weather allows it. Christianshavn is very lively and there is a lot of activity all around. I personally love to spend time in Bådudlejningen, which is a kind of raft cafe/bar in the canal.

Can you share a special everyday moment?

I love my morning coffee in the binding workshop before I start to work, when things are quiet.

What do you do when not working?

Eating with my friends and enjoying my free time socially with them. It’s very important to me.

What are you most passionate about?

Still eating! And having a good quality of life. I love to invite my friends over for dinner. It’s not that often I can take the time to do it. But I prioritize these evenings, because it gives me the best quality of life. I am not the kind of person who’s always waiting for vacation. I don’t travel much, because I enjoy my every day life. These evenings with my friends have become my kind of getaway.

Describe your ideal day…

Being very productive and getting lots done. I really like to work and the feeling of getting things done is very satisfying to me.

Who do you admire?

I admire Hans Meyer (The Master Bookbinder) who at the age of 80 still try out new techniques and share his knowledge and enthusiasm with me.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

A good bookbinder can hide his or her mistakes, which I learned from my first teacher, Ole Lundberg. It means that when you master your craft and materials you can cover up your mistakes, which we all make. Even though you master a craft, you are still only human.

Can you share a quote or a motto that guides your way of living or thinking?

“A binding a day keeps the taxman away”. Or the saying: “Hvor intet vover, intet vinder”. The last has to do with courage, which has been central thinking back on my decision to build up a business in such a niche field, where it’s very hard to survive and actually earn money. My father also ran his own business and the only thing he wished for my sister and I was to get a job with a steady and secure income, but that didn’t happen. But I am happy and I have made a living out being a bookbinder.