If Scandinavian design is the definition of clean functionality, the Dutch counterpart could be described as its rebellious and free-spirited cousin. While 19th-century modernism and De Stijl pioneers such as HP Berlage, JJP Oud and Gerrit Rietveld continue to inspire, what many associate with Dutch design today actually emerged in the 1990s.
‘The movement developed as a reaction to the somewhat stagnant design scene of the time,’ says Cok de Rooy, owner of renowned Amsterdam store The Frozen Fountain. Both Piet Hein Eek and Hella Jongerius, both of whom are celebrated today, were part of this game-changing cluster of creatives. Eek brought something new by using alternative materials – making furniture out of scrap wood – and in doing so created a recognisable and much sought-after signature. Jongerius, meanwhile, fused industrial and craft elements in a way that hadn’t been seen before.
No Sign of Design
Richard Hutten was another highly influential name. He made his mark with a series called No Sign of Design. Hutten’s Table Chair of 1992 invited people to question what they were actually looking at – a chair or a table. ‘The nonconformist approach could almost be compared to the Memphis group,’ observes de Rooy, referring to the Italian pop art-inspired design movement established by Ettore Sottsass in the early 1980s. Conceptual design company Droog is another cornerstone of Holland’s design heritage, as is its must-visit Amsterdam store. It stocks iconic products, such as the Milkbottle Lamp of 1991, which have an irreverent twist typical of the era.
The new generation
How would Droogs’s director Renny Ramakers and The Frozen Fountain’s de Rooy define the new generation of native designers? Both experts agree that it’s a different beast altogether. ‘In the past, a product was a product – this is no longer the case,’ notes Ramakers, and de Rooy points out that students and young designers use their work as a vehicle to solve problems that will affect their future. ‘Social design, involving solutions that will assist the environment, health or communication, is what concerns our young creatives,’ he says.
This new breed of designer was out in force at the 2016 graduation show of Design Academy Eindhoven, one of the most influential schools in the world. Tamara Orjola’s Forest Wool furniture and carpets, made from processed pine needles harvested from timber-industry leftovers, is a good example of this zeitgeist.
Always seeking innovation
Established players such as Droog are changing their ways, too. ‘Over the past two years, we’ve focused on work that makes positive changes in the city,’ explains Ramakers. ‘Our approach is anti-disciplinary and our projects can materialise in anything that contributes to society and quality of life.’ One of these schemes involves turning a dark and threatening pedestrian underpass into a welcoming and cosy arcade studded with coffee stalls and ice-cream vendors.
Aside from taking a moral stance, with sustainability at its core, the designers of Holland also possess hi-tech prowess. Joris Laarman and Dirk Vander Kooij’s new 3D-printing techniques are making waves internationally. Zaandam-based Vander Kooij is best known for transforming a Chinese industrial robot into a 3D printer, which assists him in creating pieces such as lamps, vases and his Endless Chair, made from strings of old refrigerator plastic. ‘I’ve always been fascinated with recycled synthetics, and I wanted to change the general perception that it produces only cheap and breakable products,’ says Vander Kooij. ‘With the help of our robot, I’ve created objects – layer by layer – one wouldn’t expect to be made of plastic.’ Robot number two has now joined the family, while a gigantic press is used to take care of the waste produced by the studio. ‘We feed the press chairs we’re not happy with and it turns them into chunky tables,’ says Vander Kooij.
Dutch design may have evolved to become more about purpose than tangible form, but there’s no shortage of suitcase-friendly objects to buy. You’ll find Eek’s ceramic jugs and Jongerius’s pots at The Frozen Fountain, for instance, while Ramakers personally recommends Droog’s Strap storage solution from her store, made from traditional bicycle carriers. She also tells us that there are still a few examples of Chest of Drawers, created in partnership with Tejo Remy in 1991, available to buy – the rest are housed in museums across the world as a celebration of a major chapter in global design history.