This risk-taking Dutch designer thrives on experimentation, and isn’t afraid to show his mistakes.
My parents are artists, and when I was a kid I was always making models and playing around with different materials. I was fascinated by their artistic life, but I also saw how difficult it was to make a living. When I saw the work being done at the Design Academy Eindhoven, it seemed like a perfect combination of visual and applied arts. So it was a logical next step for me to take: doing something creative but making it more applied and reproducible.
The biggest difference between design and art is function. I often work with a sense of personal necessity, so sometimes the outcome is not a functional piece. In that sense, I work as both designer and artist.
My graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2009 was a series of wooden shelves and a big stone table. Everyone thought I was the “super-sustainable guy,” because I had only worked with natural materials. But the first collection I did after graduation, True Colours, involved oxidizing metals with chemicals, so I lost the sustainability label pretty quickly. It’s too narrow for all of the work I want to do. It’s good to design in a sustainable way, but it’s not a purpose in itself for me.
Process over outcome
I like to experiment, but nine out of 10 times people say, “It won’t work. Why don’t you quit right now?” I think it’s crucial to follow your intuition and keep trying, even after many failures. In the end, there may be an unexpected outcome.
What’s interesting for me is getting more out of such familiar materials as wood or metal, where so much has already been done with them. When you zoom in on an individual material, there’s always a hidden quality, or a moment, where you can do something to shape it in a different way and tell a unique story. In that sense, I consider the process crucial. A lot of designers might set out to create a chair, for instance; I start with material research or an experiment, and after diving into all of that the outcome becomes logical.
Working on Diptych was a nerve-wracking experience. The collection uses Douglas fir sandblasted to open the grain of the wood, contrasting organic and geometric shapes. Together with Woes van Haaften, who operates the New Window online gallery that commissioned the line, I shared the initial sketches and ideas via social media. We included both the successes and the failures, like the moment when we tried to use the wood in discs instead of cutting it lengthwise. It was impossible; it started to shrink and crack immediately. Normally, if you screw up a project you can simply not show it to the world and keep it to yourself. In this case, it was all out in the open, so we felt quite vulnerable. It’s interesting to communicate the real design process and those moments of impasse where you’re sort of stuck.
I showed my Pivot shelves in Milan in 2013, and the Danish manufacturer Hay came by and picked it up for their collection. I think what they liked was that I had already resolved everything, from the suspension to the folding, so they could see that it really worked as a system.
Now they’re producing wall hooks of mine that look like cubes being stretched and coming out of the wall. If you combine them in a grid, you can play with shapes and sizes, almost like a modular system. This project happened by chance; my assistants and I were making plinths for our show in Milan, and we were cutting sheets of wood at a 45‑degree angle. That night when we were cleaning up, I noticed a small offcut and thought it had an appealing shape, and I wondered what we could do with it. I placed it on the wall, and it made a perfect hook. I studied the proportions further, and the material, the colours, the suspension, and it became a product within a week – one of my fastest projects ever.
Besides Hay, I am working on a set of vases, part of the True Colours collection, that will be launched soon by &Tradition.
I’m interested in companies that have strong craftsmanship. I would love to work with a glass producer to create unique pieces from what they would normally do but using the same techniques. Working with leather, cork and clay would also be great. I’d approach those materials the same way I did the others, trying to find new qualities or an unexpected method of manufacture. But it takes time. I’m still relatively young and fresh.
Hilversum, the Netherlands, 1985
Bachelor of arts (cum laude) in Man and Living, Design Academy Eindhoven
Designer and artist
2013 Nominated for Mini Young Designer Award
2013 Nominated for D3 Contest, IMM Cologne
2014 Wood, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam
2012–2014 Salone del Mobile, Milan
2013 Dutch Design Awards, Eindhoven
2013 London Design Festival, U.K.
2012 VitraHaus, Weil am Rhein, Germany
2012 Gallery S. Bensimon, Paris
2012 Art Brussels, Belgium