Carving space in his heart for the lady in red
Furniture-maker Knut Klimmek and wife Siobhan have made their mixed marriage work very well, writes Andrea Smith
Siobhan Klimmek first met her husband Knut aged 17 when he was dating her friend Susan. She had heard so much about this "gorgeous German guy" from their pals that she was expecting a vision, but when they met, she wasn't overly impressed.
"I thought, 'Meh,' and wondered what they were all going on about?" she laughs. "Then I got talking to Knut at a party when Susan was away in France, and I thought it was a pity he wasn't good-looking as he was a nice fella. The next time I saw him I decided he actually wasn't that bad-looking, and by two weeks later, I thought he was gorgeous."
A while later, Susan returned and broke up with Knut, leaving him "heartbroken and distraught." What he didn't realise was that Siobhan had her eye on him and had decided to pull out all the stops. "I did the hair, put on my red dress and heels and went to the rugby club disco," she says. "My plan that night was to get Knut Klimmek, but I didn't realise I'd keep him for so long!"
Knut, now 53, came to Ireland in 1973 from Germany, as his dad Werner was setting up a subsidiary of a German company, ABS Pumps, in Wexford. He was aged ten when he arrived and didn't speak English, and it came as a shock to all three Klimmek siblings that corporal punishment was practised at school here, as Knut puts it "with gusto."
He later went on to boarding school in Cashel, but socialised with a group of pals in Wexford. Although he was nursing a broken heart, he was quite happy when Siobhan started chatting to him at the rugby club. "I thought she was very nice," he says. "She was very forward, but I didn't mind as it was refreshing that I didn't have to make all the effort. We laughed a lot too."
Knut and Siobhan got on so well that they began dating, but were so young they were also embarking on college and career training. Knut studied art and environmental design in Dublin for a couple of years, and he and Siobhan secretly lived together as it wasn't the done thing at that time. She had moved to Dublin in 1980 to work with Bank of Ireland, where she remained for ten years.
Knut did an apprenticeship with furniture-maker Tom Roche in Tullamore, followed by two years at the renowned John Makepeace School for Craftsmen in Wood in Dorset. "It was an unparalleled opportunity to learn," he says. "We had all sorts of tutors who were among the great and good in design at the time."
Knut founded his own company, Klimmek & Henderson, with Nigel Henderson upon his return from Dorset in 1986. That was the year his parents returned to Germany, and while his mum Barbara passed away last year, his dad and brother are still living in Germany. Knut and his sister remained in Ireland.
Siobhan, now 54, grew up fifth of the late Patsy and Billy Keilthy's six children, and they lived on Main Street, Wexford. She got engaged to Knut at 21 and they were married in a civil ceremony at 24 in 1986, by which time Siobhan was expecting their first child. "My parents were grand about the pregnancy," says Siobhan. "My father was more worried about it being a mixed marriage because Knut was Lutheran."
Knut and Siobhan now live in Dublin and have four sons; Ben, 29, Fionn, 27, Max, 26 and Sam, 23. It was a whirlwind they say, but they've loved every minute of being parents. Their son Sam, his girlfriend Sarah and their daughter Freyja, 1, also live with them, and they're thrilled to spend so much time with their beloved granddaughter.
While Siobhan is far more effusive in her praise for Knut, he is, dare we say it, a touch Germanic in his restraint. Nonetheless he's clearly devoted to his partner of 37 years. "Siobhan is lovely and she's my sounding board," he says. "I couldn't ever see myself without her. In my mind, we're still 17 walking home that first night from the rugby club."
Siobhan worked with Knut full-time for 20 years, but when the recession bit, she cut it back to one day. Knut's business partner Nigel moved on and the company changed name to Klimmek Furniture. Siobhan now also works three days weekly in accounts and office management with FDT Consulting Engineers and one day in accounts with Paul Gill Opticians in Dalkey. "It was weird and hard at the beginning not working with Knut all day," says Siobhan, "but it has all worked out grand."
Knut makes gorgeous bespoke furniture to suit clients' requirements and tastes, and is renowned for finding solutions to people's design conundrums. It is contemporary furniture, often with art deco touches, and he is looking forward to exhibiting his bedroom furniture at house 2016 next weekend. "Knut is very kind-hearted and is so hard-working," says Siobhan. "He's passionate in every sense of the word. I fancy the pants off him and am absolutely mad about him."
www.klimmek-furniture.ie will be at house 2016
Sunday Indo Living