Designer Spotlight: Susanne Flother, From Journalist to Luxury Mattress and Pillow Creator
It might seem unusual that Susanne Flother exchanged a journalism career for marketing and then became a designer and manufacturer of mattresses and pillows. But the owner of Los Angeles-based Somnium, a high-end, customizable mattress company whose products are available through almost two-dozen furniture showrooms across the United States, sees the fields as similar. It provided good training where she learned how to do research, how to problem solve and how to communicate a concept—all skills she uses now, she said.
Somnium mattresses, firm and regular. Photo credit: Martin Herbst
Coming to America … a Writing Career Transitions Into DesignFlother always knew she was going to work with words or design. “So I was either going to go into journalism school, or I was going to study design, and journalism won,” she said. After she graduated college in Germany, she worked for a magazine, before coming to the United States in 1990 to report for a German news agency.
She worked there for several years before going freelance when she wanted to go beyond the material the organization wanted to cover. She began writing about the travel industry—a topic she loved as an avid adventurer herself.
During that time, she met many public relations and marketing people who repped the destinations she covered and she started to do writing projects for them. That led to her opening her own public relations and marketing agency, where she worked with all types of with clients, including restaurants and importers.
One of them, Rainer Wieland, wanted to launch a business and asked if she was interested in joining him. “At some point, [with marketing] you always advise people, but you can only be so helpful, right?” she said. “You can come up with new strategies, you can come up with new ideas, but either people implement them or … they don't. Then the next month, they ask for more advice to do the same again.”
Susanne Flother at work. Photo credit: Anthony Scott
The Importance of a Good Night’s SleepSo she joined forces in 2006 with Wieland (who is not part of her current company). As a former competitive college swimmer and someone who participate in recreational sports, Flother understood the importance of a good night’s sleep. Mattresses are necessary “fitness equipment for the night,” she said. “A good night’s sleep impacts your health—from your daily performance to your metabolism.”
With Somnium, which in Latin means dream, she envisioned a better mattress: one that could be recycled, with an antimicrobial, machine-washable cover that supported the body and felt comfortable all night long. A process of trial and error started, with machine testing, simulations and laboratory visits. The goal became to eliminate heavy metal coils and the usual bulk that mattresses contained.
Instead, Flother wanted to use a combination of foam and elastomer springs made from Thermoplastic Polyester Elastomer or TPEE (a lightweight material that aviation, automotive and athletic gear industries use in their products) that allow air circulation so the mattress remained well-vented with a temperature-controlled environment. The durable and flexible springs also ensure that each individual gets the proper support needed.
Susanne Flother at ICFF. Photo credit: Somnium
The industry seemed resistant at first. “At first, people thought mattresses are a dime a dozen,” said Flother, who couldn’t offer the typical "buy a mattress/get a bedframe free" campaigns. “I don’t want to offer a product like that – I don’t think that makes a good buying experience,” she said. She’s more interested in quality—something her clients, including athletes, trainers, chiropractors, etc. all appreciated. The company also does quite a bit of custom work and offers Somnium Baby crib mattresses.
Somnium Baby crib mattress. Photo credit by Liz Lonky
People often tell Flother that she’s enthusiastic about Somnium’s products. “It's because I love them,” she said. “I don't bring anything to market that I haven't tried personally.”
The Challenge of CovidWhile the pandemic challenged many businesses, Flother found this year even more difficult. “There's so many hiccups in the supply lines … It's just, it's beyond your control.” The longer lead times and problems obtaining certain materials has changed some of her designs, including a new pillow.
Still, Flother has learned to flourish despite the challenges. “I think running a business is a natural learning experience,” she said. “You always have new rules that you have to figure out one way or another, sometimes even problems that you already thought you had solved.”
The company’s a second line, Solid Night, launched in summer 2021, bringing a new and stylish Somnium pillow to market, that is as uniquely designed and restful as their mattresses. Solid Night also includes a more affordable mattress collection that also emphasizes Somnium’s goals of creating a product that offers both comfort, support and air circulation so moisture and perspiration don’t become trapped.
Susanne Flother hiking. Photo credit: Anthony Scott
Flother hopes this can become a more commercial product that might even one day be available in hotels. In fact, Flother often wishes when she travels that she could take her mattress with her. She already brings her Somnium pillow on the road. She started using it regularly after a friend accidentally slept on a prototype pillow when staying over. Flother had never tried it for a full night’s sleep herself and decided to do so. “I never looked back since.”
Above photo: Susanne at ICFF. Photo credit: Somnium
Feature photo: Extrawall bedframe by Piero Lissoni for Living Divani with Somnium mattress at Dzine in San Francisco ©Susanne Flother
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