"Old is the new new"
How does a person actually become a designer?
“Design is such a broad term. That’s why I prefer to call myself a product designer. For me, it was a gradual process. I’ve always been interested in the concept of transformation. For me, it holds a great deal of beauty. Change can best be seen in natural, organic processes, and I’ve been fascinated with these since I was very young. I worked for many years in a flower shop, starting at the age of sixteen. After studying product design, I got into interior design, working both for private individuals and for companies.”
Most of us associate office furniture with things like metal cabinets, dull desks and dusty carpet tiles…
“Yes, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. It’s all about striking a balance between functionality and what’s available on the market. It didn’t take me long to figure out that supply is very limited and that most of it is industrially produced. But I also discovered how to create interesting combinations using colour and materials or by making simple additions. It really is possible to be innovative and spice up what’s often a drab office environment. That’s my constant motivation.”
Sustainability is on everyone’s lips at the moment. We all want sustainable products these days. What do you think that means?
“Obviously, it’s possible to make products which are sturdy and long-lasting. But are they useful? Are they beautiful to look at? I personally believe materials often aren’t put to their best use. For example, you can use aluminium to produce tinfoil to wrap sandwiches in, or you can use it to make a candlestick. Which one will last longer? My point is that lots of products out there – be they trainers or cars – are less pleasing to the eye the more they’re used. One stain, scratch or dent and their value instantly plunges. The same is true of office furniture, which is often made of MDF (or medium-density fibreboard) covered in HPL (high-pressure laminate). It’s great stuff and lasts forever. But the very first sign of wear and a desk has already been written off. It’s a shame, really. I’m much more interested in products which are not only beautiful when you buy them, but which actually become more valuable as they’re used.”
Is that how you came to design the Transformer Table?
“Yes, but it didn’t happen all at once. An antique table may have beauty and character, but it’s not reproducible. So that means it’s not a viable option for a company needing six of them, let alone sixty. I like bringing different worlds together, which is why I enjoyed creating a new product that grows old gracefully. When I was thinking about how to combine the concepts of modernity, mass production and patina, I thought, ‘Why don’t I try to design a product that lives right alongside the people who use it, a product whose patina increases its value?’ I first set my sights on laminate flooring, but a conference table turned out to be a more practical option. Plus mass production was a must.”
So how did you go about designing the table?
“The challenge was all about purposely creating a new product which would show traces of use. Under a glossy top coating, I used a milling machine to create a ridged pattern in the MDF so that a patina is created when pressure is applied to the surface. This type of technique is new – you won’t find it anywhere else. It was a difficult process, particularly from a technical point of view, and I didn’t have much time. Eventually I applied a second, softer coating under the rock-hard top layer. The two layers don’t adhere well to each other, so friction, together with the ridges, produces wear. It’s ironic that when I was an art school student, my teachers didn’t like layers. Everything had to be very unambiguous. But I feel that layers create change, and change is life.”
What’s the table’s main selling point? Is it its novelty or value for money?
“The table will last for years, that’s for sure. And if the wear becomes excessive, the ridges can always be re-milled. Another option is to apply new coatings with colours, like a gobstopper. Obviously, all the maintenance will be outsourced, which is why the design is a perfect fit for the new economy and alternative business models. Office furniture is easy to lease, right? The company which owns the tables will make periodic visits to update them, or collect and refurbish them if a business relocates or redesigns its office space, and prepare them for a new patina created by other users.”
Your designs are born out of your philosophy and vision. Would you consider yourself a game changer?
“Hmm, maybe. I mean, I realise the table is a conversation piece, but I originally set out to create much more than just a gimmick or a trendy design. I hope the table will allow me to contribute to the discussion about how products are made and used. My goal is to truly change the way people think about buying things. Today it’s still very functional and commercial – people like a product in the moment, and are thinking one year ahead at the most. I feel we should be thinking at least three years ahead, with the knowledge that the product will be much more beautiful then, not just an asset to be written off. A motto a friend of mine came up with expresses this perfectly: ‘To design an object is to design its lifetime’.”
How has ABN AMRO helped you in this process?
“On the basis of my pitch, I was chosen out of ten other designers, and a lot has happened since. I’d already researched materials and coatings, but I still needed a suitable product to link with the whole wear-and-tear concept. Apart from financial support, the bank asked important questions and helped me find practical solutions. That’s how we eventually settled on a table, which had to be prototyped in just a couple of weeks. It was a lot of hard work, which meant I didn’t have time for much PR. That’s not really my forte anyway, but they’ve managed it all so professionally – from a photo shoot to a behind-the-scenes video. ABN AMRO has also done its very best to set me up with the right people and has given me a very effective platform from which to operate.”