Life Is A Journey With Benjamin Patch
The designer and former athlete on carving out his own path
Benjamin Patch recently happened upon an archival comment from the depths of the internet and felt both flabbergasted and affirmed. It seems that, in that moment, he himself had unintentionally determined his path long before he knew it. “Furniture and interior design,” he had typed back to a curious fan asking him about his alternate calling if he were ever to quit his globally acclaimed volleyball career.
It’s a sunny Friday morning, and I meet Benjamin at his airy Berlin-Mitte flat, sitting at a rustic table made by, you guessed it, himself. Like everything around us, from voluminous, organically shaped vases to slender, timeless candlesticks, stone chairs and metallic stools, it epitomises Benjamin’s creative oeuvre. Lest I forget his travel trinkets, like a woven bowl from Lagos, Nigeria, or rocks from Mallorca’s shores. Just days prior, the designer and art director had returned from a trip to California, where he had searched for waters and wilderness away from Berlin.
Every story from Benjamin’s journey underlines his reverence for the souls and places that have nurtured him, with love and validation as the seeds of his every move. Nature's wild influence, too, is evident in the materiality and tone of his pottery. The self-proclaimed ceramic dancer lives in a state of perpetual transience. He calls on his open mind and heart to evolve and remain fluid, and courageously follows his intuition. Traversing myriad places, from his remote, mountainous childhood homes in Utah and the South Pacific islands, and later to Italy and Berlin, his journey led him to find his truth, and to gain clarity and insights about the world around him. “It’s a very human experience, and very genuine to who I am as a person,” Benjamin says.
Adopted into a white Mormon family, a culture that wasn’t intrinsically his, “I came into this world under obscure circumstances,” he states. His parents, both medical professionals, soon moved the family of four to New Zealand, and later to neighbouring Tonga. Returning to Utah eight years later, Benjamin discovered his penchant for Volleyball – “a girl’s sport in my state at the time”. He grabs an earthy-hued, unevenly patterned pitcher, the first ceramic piece he crafted at the age of 14, and laughs: “Back then, I thought this was the ugliest thing on the planet. Now it’s my favourite item ever.” Design and pottery were Benjamin’s first love – before volleyball determined the course of his teenage and young adult life.
At 16, during a volleyball stint in California, he tried out for the US youth national team – the start of “an unexpected, surreal dream. Where I’m from, it was just unheard of,” he says. He cites sitting in his father’s car, and receiving the call from BYU Utah, offering him a full-time scholarship to study design and play volleyball. “Also, I wasn’t the quintessential football or baseball guy. So to be recognised for being who I wanted to be, and for my family to have a sense of pride, it was worth all the bullying [I had experienced at high school].”
Life moved rapidly for Benjamin. Since graduating, he played in Italy's and Germany’s professional leagues, whilst also starring on the US men’s national team. In Calabria, Italy’s sun-baked region of old-fashioned villages and dramatic coastline, he learned the language to assimilate, but still felt othered. “As my queerness became more apparent, it was hard for me to live in a community without much contemporary thinking,” he notes. After a serendipitous move to Berlin’s Recycling Volleys in 2018, he came out personally, but also publicly, by accident. “[In Berlin], nothing seemed obtrusive; the streets, the buildings, the trees, everything made sense. It was a spiritual feeling of, this is where you are supposed to be. It felt like home in a way that there was just this ease,” he says. In October 2020, in an interview with the local newspaper Tagesspiegel, he mused about Berlin’s width to express himself as a queer man. Benjamin became the first active and openly queer player in a German men's professional sports league.
A Cancer that shines in the spotlight yet hides in his shell, too, Benjamin didn’t relish the attention at first. “But it turned into a really great platform that has helped a lot of young people and active athletes and which I get to proudly carry with me forever.” Last year, at the age of 28 and the height of his career, his volleyball exit made headlines, too. “I gave it all, and it gave me what it could – it was time to build something else,” he says about reconnecting with his primary love and the foundation of be.assembly, his interior design studio. For people to accept his new identity, he had to move on himself; today, mentorship is his only role in volleyball. “In sports, [sexuality-related] taboos are slowly breaking. If I can help shape that shift for younger generations, so it’s not an issue when they come of age, that would be great.”
How does it taste to have the world again at his fingertips? “It’s a feeling of just beginning. That excitement to use all of that history to propel me into my next chapter, which might include an open relationship with Berlin.” A very Berlin move, so to say. Weaving new narratives, Benjamin strives to inspire people to care more for objects and the spaces they inhibit. “Especially during Covid – she who must not be named – it became so apparent that, going at such a fast pace, we were losing quality of life. The best value you can have is creating your own world with the things that surround you.”
Benjamin with O, the newly released book by his friend and photographer Luis Alberto Rodriguez, which features intimate portraits of the artist’s community.
Benjamin daydreams about eventually settling between rolling Mediterranean hills and tall trees swaying in the breeze: His return to nature, with beauty and quiet in plain sight, where he would only let his mind wander. “I think that’s who we are as people: to give and take, and to move and absorb and distribute.” What has travel, the one key permanence in his life, taught him, I ask? “We’re doing it all wrong, and we’re doing it all right.”
Thank you, Benjamin, for allowing us to peer behind the curtain and marvel at your life, works, and light-filled Berlin home. This story is part of Life Is A Journey, a conversation-based series that contemplates intimate narratives and notions of travel.
Photography by Jessica Jones
Videography by Jonny Brooking
Text and Interview by Ac Schubert