They say that science fiction writers inspire the future, but after speaking to somebody like Dutch designer Carole Baijings you have to wonder whether they got it wrong. Maybe science fiction writers dream of futures good and bad, but designers create the kind of future we want to live in.
Take the car, for example, and Baijings work in that area. Science fiction writers talked about driverless cars and cars that fly, but the car has remained fundamentally unchanged in over a hundred years – cars still have four wheels, doors, seats and steering wheel.
The interior, the space where people actually spend a considerable amount of their time in today’s traffic jams is also unchanged. Sure, there’s more tech and chrome finishes, but how many people would actually escape to their cars as a space to unwind and enjoy themselves? Exactly, nobody.
Re-imagining the car
“We had to wonder why a wheel has always just had a rim and rubber tire – why couldn’t it be one object?” asks Baijings, director, and co-founder of Amsterdam based husband and wife team Scholten & Baijings. “And why don’t they play with upholstery and colour like we do with furniture?”
If you ask Baijings what they do, she’ll tell you, “We’re designers of interior products”. But it’s more than that, as their MINI One concept car – commissioned by BMW Group – attests. They have taken a product that is heavily weighted in function and brought an aesthetic to it.
In designing a MINI One conceptual concept car they have shaved the MINI One back to its essence and added texture, transparencies and layers that not only allow you to look into the heart of the car but which also creates a strong emotional connection. As Head of MINI Design Anders Warming puts it, “This adds a new nuance to the MINI design language; very light, very holistic, and I think very calm”.
In other words, they’ve added aesthetics, function and desirability to the smallest interior there is, and turned it into a space where people will want to spend time.
A feel for design
“These are not forms you can design on a computer,” says Baijings, referring to a broad ensemble of products that feature everything from blankets, ceramics and curtains to couches and even TVs for Samsung – much of it in rich colour (hot pinks and fluorescent green), transparencies and layers.
“We mix our own colours and our own materials. We sketch first and then we make our own models, which could be from cardboard or paper for example, and in doing so we come up with new forms.
“The computers are for checking the technical details – we also use 3D printers to print what we design – but for us, things happen when they’re in your hands. A simple thing like a cup must feel right. The ear must be in the right place. So, the colour, texture and material is there from the start; it is never an afterthought,” says Baijings.
In everything they do, Baijings, her husband Stefan and their team strive for visual durability. “We mix our personal handwriting with public necessity. We work like artists, but in the end, functionality is as important as design – we use our own products to make sure they are liveable,” says Baijings, admitting that this way takes more time, money and energy.
But the work speaks for itself and more and more clients from all over the world are prepared to invest in a Scholten & Baijings creation.
“Layering, details, focusing on each and every element is important because the detail is what makes a product more durable,” says Baijings. “If you visit a museum, you can see the great pieces have this personal touch, this attention to detail. To like it or not to like it is fine, but it shouldn’t leave you asking any questions.”
A product of collaboration
There’s some irony in the fact that in the designing of products and spaces for people to use and enjoy, Scholten & Baijings spend so much time in museums (from where they draw their inspiration), and collaborating with traditional craftsmen like glass blowers, porcelain makers and wood workers.
By necessity and by preference, their work is a collaboration between designer and craftsman. In fact, time in the factory with artisans is one of their favourite phases in the creative process because it's the close, hands-on kind of work that allows them to push the boundaries.
“There is the textile museum, called TextielMuseum, in the Netherlands where they have their own textile lab. As designers, we can spend time there developing our own textiles and standing alongside the weavers. This allows us to stop, change our minds or rethink things.”
Another important collaboration is between Carole and Stefan themselves. The latter has always been a designer, while Carole’s background in film adds an understanding of space and how to get the most out of it. Their greatest collaboration of all, says Carole, is their 4-year-old son, who is no doubt the best affirmation that all great things are made with love.