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Dutch Design Renaissance

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For a tiny country whose name many people get wrong, The Netherlands has had an over-sized creative impact on modern furniture.

Dutch Design Renaissance

From Vermeer and the Delft masters to Van Gogh, and 20th-century graphic designers like Wim Crouwel, who invented the unconventional New Alphabet typeface, the Dutch have always marched to the beat of their own drum.

“Since Colonial times the Netherlands developed a knack for trading with cultures throughout the world and an appreciation of all things beautiful,” says Khodi Feiz, a top designer for one of the country’s oldest and most prominent modern furniture brands, Artifort. “The Dutch eat, sleep, and breathe design.”

Thanks to government funding of design entrepreneurs in the 1990s and a flood of graduates coming out of two of the finest art schools in the world—Design Academy Eindhoven and the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam—the Netherlands is in the midst of a design renaissance.

At events like the Salone del Mobile in Milan and Dutch Design Week, a sense of Dutch creativity has emerged. We asked three major firms about their work and what inspires their design sense.

For a tiny country whose name many people get wrong, The Netherlands has had an oversized creative impact. From Vermeer and the Delft masters to Van Gogh, and 20th-century graphic designers like Wim Crouwel, who invented the unconventional New Alphabet typeface, the Dutch have always marched to the beat of their own drum.

“Since Colonial times the Netherlands developed a knack for trading with cultures throughout the world and an appreciation of all things beautiful,” says Khodi Feiz, a top designer for one of the country’s oldest and most prominent furniture brands, Artifort. “The Dutch eat, sleep, and breathe design.”

Thanks to government funding of design entrepreneurs in the 1990s and a flood of graduates coming out of two of the finest art schools in the world—Design Academy Eindhoven and the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam—the Netherlands is in the midst of a design renaissance.

At events like the Salone del Mobile in Milan and Dutch Design Week, a sense of Dutch creativity has emerged. We asked three major firms about their work and what inspires their design sense.

Droog

Droog launched in 1993 with a singular goal of creating cutting-edge, functional designs in collaboration with other designers. Set in a studio space above its avant-garde, namesake hotel overlooking the rooftops of Amsterdam, Droog has devised everything from door handles to luggage showrooms. “We have a curiosity and a willingness to learn without taking ourselves too seriously,” says business director Machiel Brautigam.

The brand’s designs, he says, also aim to reflect “revolutionary things happening in the world.” Its Rag Chair, which features layers of 15 bags of rags bound by metal strapping, helped to define the upcycling trend as a new spin on sustainable design.

Currently, Brautigam is most excited about the concept of the virtual world converging with reality. Case in point: Droog’s What You See Is Not, a cabinet reduced to its two dimensional image with the only 3-D detail being an open drawer. This “playful twist of irony,” says Brautigam, runs through all of Droog’s designs. “It’s an open attitude that’s very Dutch.”

Artifort

Artifort is based in Schijndel, near Eindhoven, the site of Dutch Design Week in October as well as the renowned Design Academy, from which most of Artifort’s product development team graduated. The brand is known for groundbreaking pieces that were the result of historic collaborations with icons like Pierre Paulin and Kho Liang le, along with Jasper Morrison and Patrick Norguet a generation later.

Top designers are drawn to the idea of working with like-minded innovators. “Artifort is unusual in that all production facilities are in-house and at the disposal of the designers, says Khodi Feiz, one of the brand’s major collaborators today. “This allows for tremendous freedom as well as the possibility to experiment and innovate.”

Innovation and individuality are valued highly in the Netherlands, explains Artifort’s communications manager Marloes Bomer, as evidenced by the iconic Le Chat Lounge Chair. “It’s not an obvious piece and not everyone will put it in his home,” she says. “So it’s a nice way to show your uniqueness, and we Dutch like to show we’re not the same as everyone else.”

Other designs, like the C 683 Sofa reflect the tight living quarters of the Netherlands. “We usually don’t have much space at home and a smaller piece like this is ideal for us,” Bomer says. “The open base makes it look transparent, just as the taut upholstery does. There’s no ruches, pleating, or anything else to distract from the design.”

Similarly streamlined silhouettes include Khodi Feiz’s Gap 4-Legged Chair. “The gap between the back and the seat makes it easy to keep clean, which the Dutch like.”

Moooi

Moooi (named for the Dutch word for beauty, with an extra “o” denoting additional value) began in 2001, when established lighting designer Marcel Wanders was introduced to Casper Vissers, an inventive pitchman. “We wanted to create a brand that would be legendary, and to do this we knew we should design products that were different from others,” explains Vissers.

Echoing some of the hallmarks of other Dutch design brands, Vissers describes Moooi as “daring” and “playful,” adding that “the style is based on the belief that timeless objects of beauty that possess the uniqueness and character of antiques can combine with the freshness of modern times.”

This fusion brings the brand to focus on the production of iconic objects like Bertjan Pot’s Random Light and Wanders’ Delft Blue collection, which recalls the famous Dutch blue-and-white floral motif.

The team takes inspiration not only from Holland but also from the rest of Europe and the world beyond. “Basically, the Dutch—we borrow and give back.”

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Rachel Kemp

Rachel is one of the Merchandise Managers for YLiving with a long career in merchandising and is thrilled to finally be working through a channel that supports her passion for modern design. As a mother of two toddlers, she is practical, design driven in her decisions with furnishing her home and tempted daily with the endless options of home upgrades.