Creating modern fairytales, Dutch designer Tord Boontje breaks the mold of contemporary design.
Daring to be different, Dutch designer Tord Boontje has created a new language – the language of love and eternal happiness. Step into his world of wonder.
Hailing from the Netherlands' Eindhoven Academy and the Royal Academy of Art in London, where he studied industrial design and art, respectively, until 1995, Tord Boontje's beautifully poetic use of embellishment eschewed the fashionable minimalist diktats of the Nineties, heralding a new era of warmth and homeliness for the 21st century.
Boontje first came to the fore in 2000 with Wednesday, a collection of everyday furniture and fabrics incised with decorative, playful naturescapes. Combining cutting-edge technologies with an artisanal approach – as well as an early eco-awareness – his romantic, narrative style soon placed him as a modern-day William Morris.
Boontje's most iconic works, such as Swarovski's Blossom chandelier, the Tord Boontje collection for Moroso, and mass-produced favorites for main street chains Habitat and Target, have secured him a place in history as one of the most prolific and talented designers of our time.
Tord Boonje's Definition of luxury:
For me it's surrounding yourself with objects that you really like.
It's completely personal.
A nice, quiet, sunny day at home.
My wife, Emma.
You carry out lots of research before starting a project. What does the research entail?
First of all, there's always ongoing research, which involves a lot of reading books, watching films, going to museums and looking at contemporary and classical art.
There's a strong tradition of storytelling among Dutch designers; where does this come from?
I think for me it was a kind of realization that design can be as interesting as, say, making a film or writing a book.
Your illustrative style seems particularly well-suited to children's literature. Is that something you have considered?
I'm working on this at the moment, together with my wife. We are creating a new story. My daughter is our test person – she makes suggestions. Like everyone around me, she's a soundboard for ideas. It's good to know that a six-year-old likes it as well.
You wanted to be a forest ranger when you were young, do you think that the idea for your most memorable works, such as the Wednesday collection and Blossom chandelier, may have stemmed from your childhood ambition?
Absolutely. I think that in your childhood, you start to form your interests, and there are things that you carry with you for the rest of your life.
What do you think it was about your narrative style that made such a seismic impact on design?
When I started producing this new work and openly engaging in decoration and a narrative, it was a time when the market was overloaded with stylistically minimalist objects, which had nothing to do with original modernism anymore, so in that sense, it only became about the appearance of things. It was very superficial, and there was a great emptiness – a cold hardness. I think that at that time, many people were looking for something else, something warmer, richer, more personal and more human. I believe that I was one of the first people to visualize what this could be.
You've adapted your most prolific designs for a broad market, from limited editions to main street. Did you ever worry that it would devalue your work?
Not at all. If anything, the two work very well together. I see myself very much as an industrial designer, which really means working with an industry that produces mass products. I work with mass culture. For example, if I worked in music, I'd be making pop music, not chamber music. There's nothing elitist about what I do. Obviously, if I work with clients such as Swarovski or Meta, who use very expensive materials, the products will be expensive, as well. As long as I don't make a cheap version for another client, such as Target, then there's no competition. The mass market makes you accessible and known to a great audience, while doing the much smaller-scale productions also gives the work something exclusive.
What has been the most challenging design to date?
Probably my recent work, the Fig Leaf wardrobe, because everything is handmade and it's the highest quality. With so many craftspeople involved in the project (around 20), it made it very complex. As soon as I talked with enamellers, they knew things that I don't know, so they gave me feedback, which influenced the design. There was a lot of going back and forth.
Your Fig Leaf wardrobe and L'Armoire, both produced by Meta, look set to become the most talked-about designs of the year. Where did the ideas come from?
It started with the opportunity to work with Meta and to work with such fantastic crafts and materials, so by definition it was very material-based. I like all materials, because each has its own character. I look at how they are used in fashion, so I used a wardrobe to illustrate that idea. Each wardrobe is about the material and its own character. I've always had great admiration for the enameling technique in the jewelry collection of the Victoria & Albert museum. I wanted to do something with enameling because it was finally an opportunity to work with that material. Because the enamel was so colorful, I decided that it should be the most extravagant and free-thinking piece in this collection. If you think about clothes, it's a way of expressing nakedness, and when you go back to the story of Adam and Eve, the first piece of clothing was the fig leaf. Also, when you look at nature, trees kind of dress themselves in summer, then there's nakedness when the leaves fall. I just started to play with those different ideas.
How do you compare the experiences of working with Meta's craftsmen and with, say, the artisans of Colombia, Brazil and Guatemala who produced your recent Witches' Kitchen collection?
They were completely different. In South America, the craftspeople come from a tradition where for hundreds of years they have been making the same product, but they feel like they want to change. They want to bring a new quality to their work, to sell it outside their own country, outside their own local economy. With Meta, we worked with the type of craftspeople who are very passionate about their extreme level of skill, because they are the best. Also, they are used to working to commission and working with external people.
Since early in your career you have championed the rights of artisans in underdeveloped countries and supported these crafts by incorporating them into your work. We are seeing a return to the value of time-honored craftsmanship; what do you think has sparked this interest?
I think people just got fed up with seeing another plastic chair. How many of these plain objects can you take in, and how much of that do you want to live with? It's also always been a part of our culture to live with handmade things. Just because we've forgotten it doesn't mean we don't like it.
You've always expressed a fascination with fashion and have worked closely with the fashion designer Alexander McQueen in the past. Have you ever thought about designing clothes?
Yes, I thought about it and ran away very quickly! However enjoyable I find it, I think it's a very different discipline.
What is your ideal working environment?
In my studio, surrounded by my things and with the people that I work with and my tools.
Who is the most inspiring person you've ever met?