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Designer Dialogues: VANTOT

02 July 2019

The creatives of Sectie-C, an Eindhoven based design hub, initiated BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE, a magazine that portrays different creative makers in their workplaces while interviewed by colleagues. What fascinates, inspires and drives them to do what they do? Especially for, BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE edited the interviews into interesting short stories. This time, we get a look inside the studio of VANTOT.

Many design studios are named after the designer(s), but you have chosen a different name for your company. How so?

Esther: We did not want to call ourselves Studio Van Gurp en Jongsma. That just doesn’t sound right.
Sam: That was indeed the main reason. 
Esther: We figured it would be nice if someone else could join our company in a later stage and that VANTOT could grow. Anyone could be VANTOT.
Sam: At the moment we are still with the two of us, but funny enough, we are seen as a big company mainly abroad. Short after graduation we received an e-mail of Microsoft and Twitter for a price indication for a project of 330 lamps. We were like: “Wow, how did they find us already and why do they think we have a sales department?”
Esther: We are often called with the question: “Can I talk to your sales department? Can I talk to your financial administration office?”
Sam: The choice for our company's name has another side to it. In the beginning we were not asked much for exhibitions. We were not seen as designers, but as a commercial company.

Esther: We got the feeling that cultural institutions and subsidy providers found us too commercial, while our products always come from experimentation. That changed when we made the Current Curtain, because it shows the experiment. Funds reacted differently to us.
Sam: When your studio is calles Studio Esther Jongsma, you know the face behind the design. Our name is perhaps a bit more distant in that sense.

Sam van Gurp
© Manon Vosters

But then you wouldn’t get e-mails from Microsoft or Twitter.

Sam: Indeed, so that is a choice you have to make. We went for VANTOT and we eventually also got recognition from the creative sector. Sometimes you think a famous designer creates on his own, while he or she has a big team working with him. In our case this is completely the other way around. Many people think we are a big company, but basically we do everything just with a small team. The name that you chose for your studio has a big effect on how the world approaches you.
Esther: I really like to work strategically. At the moment we get big orders which gives us the freedom to do whatever we want. We don’t have to be accountable for subsidy providers. We can think freely about how to spend our money.

Esther Jongsma
© Manon Vosters

How do your products come about?

Esther: It all started with Sam’s graduation project: a lamp that you could move. Only, that light got so hot that it broke after a few days.
Sam: It was taped and tinkered together. 
Esther: We were totally laughed at by an official LED-developer for what we did with the LED. When we received that mayor price indication we thought: 'We really have to develop this lamp or else we get in trouble'. Together with Harold, our LED-developer, we started to investigate that light. We found out that there are so many possibilities with LED-lights, but it is mostly being used in a very traditional way. We can do so much more with it. It is so cool to research what it means if you can touch electricity. What could that look like?
Sam: For example, why must a lamp always hang above a table or stand in a corner?
Esther: We look at a technical element and we research all the ways it could be applied.
Sam: I think there is also a financial story behind all this. We always did projects to be able to invest that money in the next projects. That way we were free to develop our own ideas without having to justify ourselves anywhere. On the one hand you have the idea, but on the other hand you have a certain strategy. You don’t just do something without a reason. There is always a sense of realism in our work. We are not some crazy artists. We are realistic and we check whether an idea has potential and if it is worth to explore.
Esther: Investigating the LED, for example, gave us such a big feeding ground for so many new possibilities. At the moment, we are working with flexible solar cells and how those can be applied.
Sam: It is very interesting to see that you can add something where someone else's job stops. Many technological innovations don’t go beyond that point. These flexible solar cells will not be further developed if no one finds a good application for it.
Esther: We can work together with technological companies. They often think about improving things that already exist. We have noticed that we can create an enormous mutual enthusiasm by adding something that they haven't thought of. For instance, we used the circuit board in our lamp also as an aesthetic element. This was a radical perception for technical people, because they usually hide technology. We focus on using the full potential, to investigate this and experiment with that is so much fun.

The full interview with VANTOT can be found in the second edition of BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE. You can follow BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE here.

Interview: Mats Horbach / Photographer: Manon Vosters / Tekst editor: Martijn van der Ven