Published on Inspire Travel
When one thinks of anything Dutch the cliche of windmills, bicycles, free love and sex and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh immediately come to mind. Yet a quiet design revolution has been underway since 1993 when former jewelry designer Gijs Bakker and art historian/editor Rene Raamakers formed what is now considered the iconic Droog Design. Until that time, design was the bailiwick of Italy, Japan and Scandinavia. Gijs had studied at the acclaimed Dutch Rietveld Academy and by the mid-sixties was working in Scandinavia where furniture and related design had become a worldwide phenomenon.
Sitting across from Mr. Bakker in his blue painted office, on a little side street in Amsterdam, I conducted an interview sitting just about face to face with him at his company’s headquarters. The office, spartan yet colorful was modest in size. Gij’s almost comic curiosity belied his age and set the tone for a lively chat.
The History of Droog
“For half a century Dutch design was dried up” Gijs mused. There was no platform for young designers, so we decided to help industry solve problems by giving a story to each product. The products we make aren’t just nice to use. There is more to it than just functionality. See the glass you are holding? It has bubbles popping out of it and de-bossed ones as well. I can see the water reflection in there and a lens like a camera’s eye.”
In fact I could see what he meant and was intrigued. I took a walk through the warehouse space attached to the Droog flagship store to ascertain whether I myself could see stories behind the products on display. The exhibit had recently returned from Milan’s Salone del Mobile (Furniture Show) 2008, where Droog had been commissioned. The show’s name “A Touch of Green” used sustainability as this year’s theme.
Most Recent Commission
As I wandered through the cavernous space I began chuckling. For example, Drive-in Wardrobe by Gaeale Girault (ECAL) is made of bamboo, stainless steel and hard wax oil and was built on a palette. The usually disposed of wood was cleverly concealed and remodeled. Bamboo is a fast growing tree and is now the darling of the furniture to housewares manufacturing industry. The curtain has built-in magnets that allow for funky shapes. Each time you folded it a different shape appeared. What made me laugh was the thought of reframing. Meaning, taking an object and completely abandoning it’s original use by creating another one, not thought of beforehand. I remembered seeing some similar effect at a science museum where pulleys and ropes automatically reorganized themselves just by pulling them.
Next on the chortle list was the second hand table painted and engraved with laser entitled, Till Death Due us Part” by Martino d’Espositio (ECAL). The designer actually engraved a contract between owner and table on the tabletop so that the two would be paired for life brilliant statement showed us how we waste good or new things. I could imagine a cartoon of a walking table angrily pointing it’s legs at the owner shouting, you cannot get rid of me so quickly, just you try! I could also see a chain dragging the table to the owner’s own leg.
Droog Design is also commissioned by the Venice Biennial and private clients. The prestigious Venice Biennial will be organized by former Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) director Aaron Betsky in 2009. He’s asked Droog to do a display platform. In addition Droog is pushing the envelope by designing a “social and humane” project for the city of Eindhoven, home of Philips. The local Dutch government funds prostitutes’ medical bills and provides shelter and food, like the job of the Salvation Army, for around 30 women. The funds were going to an endless well so they asked Droog to come up with design solutions to stop the funds from drowning. If you wish to commission them for a project mailto:email@example.com
Droog in Dutch means “dry”. Each product in a Droog collection reveals a very personal story on the part of its creator. More than likely these ideas are delivered with dry wit and a no frills approach to their structure.
One of my favorites, and there are many is the Do Frame tape. This is tape that is an adhesive with a floral frame motif. It can be used as an artistic finish anywhere. A child’s drawing can be “framed”. http://www.droogdesign.nl/shop/product_info.php?products_id=474
The products on display at it’s flagship store www.droogdesign.com can also be purchased in Asia at various distributors. Droog has learned over the years to produce all product themselves in order to maintain and sustain high quality. From stretchy rubber bands that can hold newspapers, shoes, scarfs or jewelry http://www.droogdesign.nl/shop/index.php?cPath=1&sort=2a&page=3 (Strap antracite) to handbags made of material used for typical Dutch sails. Droog is fresh and inspirational, breaking with tradition.
The company is now in the position of being a trendsetter amongst the world’s great schools of design. All designers are invited to work on projects and work freelance. Yet what is the selection process? I asked Gijs Bakker to elaborate. “The first question I ask myself when looking at a portfolio is, “Is this more than a gimmick? Can it be produced? Is there sustainability? How much labor will this take to make it viable?”
“ I can see through a designer’s thoughts by looking at their renderings. My trained eye allows me to scout out true talent. I need to be hit to be wowed. I like to ask myself, is this attracting or repelling me? If so, why. Then as the aesthetics grow over time I know the designer will make an impact”.
Amongst the bigger names in Dutch design are Marcel Wanders, Rhella Jongerius, Richard Hutten, Tejo Remy, Jurgen Bey and Arnout Visser.
As I was leaving the Droog building – from an extremely modern space to a 17th century row of warehouses – I had one last question for Gijs Bakker.
What’s your 10 year goal? His answer was to reach a big world audience by spreading the philosophy of Droog design through their popular products AND finding more exposure for their experimental projects. For a small nation like Holland, they ought to be proud to having produced such a grand visionary as the Droog team.
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