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5 Minutes With … Scholten & Baijings!

After the release of Herman Miller’s new ColourForm Sofa Group earlier this year, we sit down with the team that collaborated on this landmark design feat: dynamic Dutch duo Scholten & Baijings!

5 Minutes With … Scholten & Baijings!

Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings. Portrait by Olya Oleinic

There are few communities in the world that have had quite so significant an impact on contemporary design than the Dutch. Rightly lauded for ushering in the fuss-free minimalism of modernity, Dutch design’s characteristic simplicity coupled with playfulness underpins so much of today’s formal design language across architecture, furniture, fashion and even food.

Earlier this year, the design teams at Herman Miller turned their eyes toward this rich aesthetic world for the development of the brand’s latest venture, the ColourForm Sofa Group. Drawing references from the full gamut of Dutch design history, it is little wonder, then, that Herman Miller sought the expertise of the Netherlands’ leading design minds Scholten & Baijings to collaborate on the project

Launched in connection with another recent collaboration of Scholten & Baijings with Maharam – a collection of three key performance-driven textiles – ColourForm’s range meditates upon the role of colour, pattern, rhythm and texture in contemporary furniture design. “It’s an atelier’s way of working”, says the husband and wife design powerhouse. Across so many different mediums, the couple have perfected an approach to design that is at all points sympathetic to the unique needs of the end-user and the primacy of authenticity in contemporary design.

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To celebrate the launch of Scholten & Baijings’ latest collaborations, we sat down with the eponymous designers to get a truly behind the scenes glance at one of the world’s most celebrated design studios.

David Congram: Can you tell me a little more about your ‘Power of Ten’ design commandments? Are they something that truly informs all aspects of your practice, including your unique approach to design?

Scholten & Baijings: The Power of Ten is how we refer to our ten design commandments that we always use (no matter the medium) when we approach the design process. We’re always super enthusiastic about delving deep into a material, a craft, or even a brand when we start a new collaboration. And the main reason might be because we work as a male-female team. We share our work and lives 24/7, and that makes our lives unique and certainly challenging. [Laughs]

The combination of the masculine-feminine intuition and creativity makes all the difference for us in resolving successful products. Our team really does share the same passion.

Each design process begins with a blank page. Of course, we now have a number of mainstays, such as recognisable colour use, patterns, multiple layers, attention to detail and our ‘Atelier-Way-of-Working’. Still, it remains difficult to explain exactly what the secret of our success is. Gut feeling plays an important part, so we make many choices based on intuition. And I suppose because intuition is difficult to explain to others, we work with our Power of Ten design commandments.

David Congram: Working in a rich design tradition of Dutch design, how would you characterise your particular contribution to the design history of the Netherlands?

Scholten & Baijings: We live and work in the Netherlands: the country of water and reclaimed land. You are probably aware that our country has gained fame because of the painters Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Mondriaan and the architect Rietveld. But did you know that Holland is also well known for its Dutch Design approach? So there is a ‘rich’ history as you say, but today we’re noticing that Dutch design is characterised by some key aesthetic languages: minimalistic, experimental, innovative, unconventional and with a sense of humour.

The Dutch writer Louise Schouwenberg described our work well within this tradition.

“Scholten and Baijings share with many other Dutch designers an awareness of the multiple layers of meaning embedded in products, and the realization that the context in which products are produced affects their value. Scholten and Baijings are author designers who resist incorporating easy and clichéd references to craft production in their work. They combine the best of both worlds by linking a universal industrial design language to a pristine execution rooted in local artisanal techniques. They consciously play with various references, but always do so in a subtle and calm way, rather than through loud proclamations.”

‘The design process of the designers dictates all their preliminary conclusions and generates a level of beauty and an almost un-Dutch elegance that could be called characteristic of the Scholten & Baijings label. There is beauty in the forms, pared down to their essence, in the surprising colour palette and colour gradations, in the visible traces of the production, in the compositions of lines and surfaces, the exquisite detailing, the perfect finish, and there is beauty in the way Scholten & Baijings are able to bridge the gap between contemporary industrial design and local, ancient crafts. There is beauty also in the sense of multilayering and the coherence of the different stages of their oeuvre, in the presentations and re-presentations of their work, which they design and elaborate down to the smallest detail!’ – Louise Schouwenberg.

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David Congram: In the past year, colour has received a lot of attention – from the way in which it can influence the psychological well-being of end users, all the way through to ‘trending’ colour design (such as the Pantone ‘Colour of the Year’). What do you feel we may have overlooked with respect to the importance of colour in design today?

Scholten & Baijings: For us, colour is never an afterthought. We always work based on the material and its colour, and the combinations of colours produce a harmonious whole within a series. What’s interesting in that regard is that colour has no inherent grammar. Using the rules of language you can combine words into sentences, and therefore ultimately you can tell a story. That’s certainly not the case with colour. All sorts of things have been written about colour theory and how colours relate. But, surprisingly, you can access very little about methods for developing your own palette. So, we use music as our proxy model. In music, you can create combinations that transgress supposed laws and rules and yet are works of genius. We formulate our own “grammar of colour”… [Laughs] And then violate it entirely!

David Congram: [Laughs] Well, given colour’s complexities then, do you follow a similar approach to negotiating colour in your projects across different mediums?

Scholten & Baijings: We always start by trying out lots of colours with paint on canvas and that matte, chalky look is something we always try to keep. For the new textiles for Maharam, we began with 44 colours. That’s too many of course, but we knew they would be edited down during the design process. So, we’ve ended up with 17 Pare colours, 5 different colourways for the quilted Mesh fabric, and 11 options for Tracery. We also added some colour options for the ColourForm Sofa’s wooden frame — we felt these needed to be matte and still show the grain in the wood.

David Congram: Speaking of ColourForm, with respect to your recent collaboration with Herman Miller, could you tell us a little more about the history of your relationship with the company?

Scholten & Baijings: Two years ago we presented our first textiles for Maharam (‘Blocks & Grid’) on classical pieces from the Herman Miller collection in their showroom during Salone del Mobile. Because this was such a good match and elevated the furniture pieces in a new manner, we were invited to design our own sofa system suitable for residential as well as for the project market.

David Congram: This is the first time you’ve collaborated with Herman Miller. What drew you to the desire for your brands to work together?

Many of the brands we work with have a unique history, which is also very much the case with Herman Miller. It’s a perfect match because we are in a position to produce fabulous quality that is consistent with the principles of Herman Miller, where love for quality and design are always key priorities.

David Congram: And, how did the collaboration begin? What kinds of conversations occurred that really influenced the design brief and direction of the collaboration?

Scholten & Baijings: We cannot resist when designing a sofa to also visualize the upholstery and vice versa. Specifically chosen colours for Pare, one of our new textiles for Maharam, are exclusively quilted for Herman Miller.

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David Congram: Scholten & Baijings is renowned for working across many different forms of design practice – from graphic design through to textiles and beyond. Do you find this kind of flexibility adds something unique to your design process?

Scholten & Baijings: Our assignments are extremely diverse and varied. We travel a great deal and meet interesting people, from visionaries to master craftsmen. We encounter the most diverse cultures: from Japan and Korea, for example, as well as Denmark, France, Italy, Germany and the United States. Moreover, we become hugely passionate the minute we recognize the potential of a material or craft. For example, as soon as we entered an old paper factory in Japan, we immediately saw the many products that could be made, such as notebooks, napkins, wrapping paper and beautiful boxes. However, we always forget the amount of work that is in store for us to actually create a product [Laughs].

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