For over 25 years, Maarten Vrolijk has been one of the internationally successful designers who make do without an extroverted distancing effect in their creative work. The Amsterdam-based designer considers it important to elaborate on the simple, unequivocal nature of a product. His design language is so unusual because it consciously plays with shapes, colours and materials in an uncontrived way. He aims to make products not just useful; they should also make people’s everyday lives that bit more beautiful through the many little details that evoke the unexpected. Many of his works are exhibited in museums including the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Studio in Amsterdam has been selling several of his product lines for some years under the label ‘Raffi for life’.
Numerous design fairs are held each year to present new trends and give us an insight into tomorrow’s beautiful items. Only recently at the Biennale Interieur in Kortrijk, visitors were able to experience how their homes may look in the future – if they follow the trends. To what extent do these exhibitions and the observation of trends influence your work? Is it necessary to keep up with trends in order to be modern?
Maarten Vrolijk: Trend is a word often used for fashionable products which are ‘in’ one moment and ‘out’ again the next. I don’t feel any connection to products of that kind. What really fascinates me is the spirit of the times in which we live. This determines our preferences for materials, techniques, colours and forms at a particular point in time. We sometimes think that a trend is set down for us, but that is a misunderstanding. Ultimately, trends are made and dictated by people. We just attempt to receive the earliest signals with our highly-developed antennae and transpose them into products and collections. We are all, consciously or unconsciously, affected by a dominant trend or spirit of the moment. We are influenced daily by the information and images presented to us – and that’s a huge amount, due to the internet and social media. This flow of information can confuse people and make them want something to hold on to. A brand to which you feel loyalty can be that something, because you feel a relationship to the thought and style behind the brand. Raffi designs lifestyle collections which express the spirit of the times and fit in with the strategy and mentality of our brand. We seek a dialogue and relationship with nature as our greatest, inexhaustible source of inspiration. We don’t aim to imitate, but seek the symbiosis with our creativity and inspiration that leads to the creation of interesting new images, resulting in a natural harmony between all Raffi products.
Many designers state that nature is their source of inspiration. Reading about Maarten Vrolijk’s relationship to nature, you could get the following impression: nature possesses something which is lacking in our digital age – something childlike, carefree. This creates a free space for all things true and real. Something which does not stand in contrast to the world but is part of it. And which reminds us that we can rediscover ourselves in this space at any time. The fascination of nature is its simple, steadfast being which invents the most beautiful shapes and colours. Is that the essence of the ‘nature’ that inspires you? What position should it take in our everyday lives? How does your view of nature influence your creativity?
Maarten Vrolijk: Even as a child I was always amazed by nature. I remember staring in astonishment at our cherry tree which turned completely pink in spring. I found it incredible that the tree could completely change from being a bare shape in winter to a glorious pink tree in spring. And when I saw the gorgeous red cherries hanging there in summer, I was completely fascinated and found my inspiration for life. We ourselves are nature; we are part of the great whole. Of course we have always known it, but recently this thought has become more and more important, so we view the world around us with more respect. For example, we believe that animals have the right to a reasonably good life, so we reject intensive livestock farming. This new consciousness is also a reaction to the global crisis, which we have only just overcome. We are searching once more for genuine things that make us happy, unlike the plastic world that flatters our ego but doesn’t really fulfil our innermost wishes. Going back to nature teaches us to again pay attention to the cherry tree and to the implicit quality of nature. This new consciousness leads us to the contemporary spirit of the times, in which we are seeking genuine, pure, natural materials. We have regained our awareness of the beauty of natural materials that occur in nature: untreated wood, concrete and marble, for example. This is why we have sought a very matt paint with a stone look for our new Raffi my home collection. We carried out numerous tests, mixing paints with a range of different materials until we finally found a type of wonderfully fine sand that perfectly reflects this stone-feeling. This new sand paint adds dimension and depth and combines beautifully with our other colours.
Large, colourful flower motifs are characteristic of your design language. Motifs that reveal a play of colours to the world, setting atmospheric accents without being intrusive. In contrast to this, your new product line Raffi my home I paint is characterised by very earthy, warm colours: gentle colour harmonies which tend to establish a peaceful atmosphere. What made you choose this colour spectrum for your first paint collection?
Maarten Vrolijk: If you create a range of collections for different applications, you must continually remind yourself of the function of a product in interior design. For example, accessories such as carpets or cushions play a different role from paint. Accessories set accents, while wallpaper or paint have a much greater influence on the interior design. When we first started thinking about a colour palette for paint, we quickly realised that in our opinion, paint should create a balance in the whole house. People often tend to decorate one particular room or space and in doing so, lose sight of the other spaces. As a result, the redecorated room then doesn’t suit the rest of the house and the visual effect is jarring when you go from one room to another. To avoid this effect, we have developed a wonderful palette of 15 paints which can all be combined with each other. In other words, there are no ‘wrong’ colour combinations within the range. The whole palette can be used for all the rooms in the house, from the hall to the living room to the children’s rooms and bedrooms, and they all accentuate the house’s architecture. In this way, you can introduce gloriously subtle accents throughout the whole house which all harmonise with each other. If you start by painting the entrance hall and don’t quite make it to the bedrooms, you can select another combination from our paint range to suit the room to be decorated at a later time. It’s great to see that for example Raffi rose combines with Raffi off-white or yellow to give a carefree atmosphere to a girl’s room, while combining it with our warm grey tones give a subtle modern atmosphere which perfectly suits an entrance hall or living room. We also decided that it was important to be able to use the paint for furniture, to give the opportunity for more beautiful colour partnerships. The combination of our three textures, Matt, Sand and Satin, round off the whole range and make very subtle combinations possible, for example by choosing a single colour in different structures. In addition to all this, we have also developed a lovely Tintin collection which can be mixed in our paint mixer according to the customer’s wishes.
Everyone needs their own favourite spot in their home: a secluded place for quiet moments or a long phone call or settling down with a good book. Have you got a favourite spot in your home? And what gives this place its special quality?
Maarten Vrolijk: Every place in one’s own home should be a favourite spot. My favourite spot depends very much on what I need at any particular moment. I live in the Amsterdam canal district in a fantastic historical location, which is also in the middle of a nature reserve by the water. I love contrasts, so I appreciate both the city and the beauties of nature. A favourite spot is a place where you feel both that you can be yourself and that you are connected to the world around you. I find this in the stillness of nature after the city’s excitement and vice versa.
Imagine you could travel in time. Which era would you choose to visit and what would you aim to bring from your journey for people today?
Maarten Vrolijk: The best aspect of our time is that we can look back over a fantastic history and interesting movements, from Bauhaus to Baroque and from Minimalism to Pop-Art. Every age has brought its own riches with it and today they can be more easily understood than ever. When surfing the internet, you go on a virtual journey through history and encounter all sorts of movements which interest you: the proofs of art history are hanging in museums. We are currently in an age of reflection, where we look back at our history and literally take the precious things from the past into the here and now. We mix styles and combine our relics. We strive for the unique, the personal. We are seeking identity and differentiation. But above all: history, our own history.