Two of the most highly-acclaimed Dutch designers of the moment, Kiki van Eijk and life partner Joost van Bleiswijk launched Kiki and Joost to create, enchant and to push the boundaries of design; their studio producing work that includes carpets, lighting, furniture, ceramics, glassware and textiles.
The conceptual studio is as much about craftsmanship and collaboration as it is about self-exploration. Steering the ship, Kiki has the mind of an artist and works intuitively on every project, continually questioning reason and function in an honest and genuinely individual way. Their work is often colourful, whimsical, almost always nature-inspired and altogether charming, exploring and challenging relationships between space, function and physicality it can often be described as abstract, where the process is crucial to the non-uniform outcome.
Imagine misshaped doorways that remind you of comic strip exclamations; solid ceramics that appear entirely soft; or bioplastic and pigment structures that focus on the in-between—you then begin to discover a coming together of exceptional, excited and curious minds.
Kiki and Joost have exhibited their unconventional design work in museums, galleries and fairs worldwide—including Basel; London; Paris; Milan; Venice; New York; Tokyo; Rome; Moscow; and Holon—and have collaborated with Hermès; Saint-Louis; 1882 Ltd; MOOOI; Häagen-Dazs; Serax; Bernhardt Design; and Nodus to name just a few. And, we the inquisitive, had to learn more about the duo and their crew, discovering an underlying love of nature, space and creativity as we sat down with the inimitable Kiki van Eijk…
Tell us about your farmhouse in Eindhoven and your warehouses where the magic happens. What is so special about these places?
Our farmhouse gives us space and freedom. We breathe better outside of the city. We have a beautiful garden full of trees, fruits, vegetables, flowers and bees. We have space to make, to think and to look around. We spend a lot of evenings outside, make bonfires, build tree houses and be with nature. That still amazes us daily.
The warehouses give us the freedom to experiment with materials and shapes. We have all the machines and tools to practically make anything; we feel very free in that sense.
Where did it all begin for you?
We both knew at a very early age that we were makers. Joost was always constructing and building as the son of a craft teacher born in Delft. I lived outdoors, knitting, drawing in the middle of the fields, obsessively making visual stories.
What we did later throughout the Design Academy in Eindhoven was very intuitive and instinctive, enabling us to conceptualise ideas and methodology. We were both artists at heart, only after school, we became designers.
Nature plays a significant role in your designs, what is it about the wild that is so inspiring?
To be wild means to be free, it’s the unpredictability of the shapes that makes it so magical. Wilderness is raw, and at the same time more perfect than anything I have ever seen.
Your work is genuinely personal, dreamlike and not necessarily always functional in the traditional sense, but what do you get from the design process and outcome?
It’s a thoughtful process that makes you think, question, rethink and sometimes surprises you unexpectedly with the results—often giving the unknown a chance. I want to be enchanted, and I want to enchant.
How do you begin or envisage a project? Do you draw or sketch first? Do you have a firm idea in your head or will that idea develop through time?
It starts with a thought. Then follows a sketch, a word, a line, sometimes a poem or just a random encounter with a material that makes you think differently about how to utilise it. It gradually develops by re-thinking and re-looking at your starting point and, of course, editing the process in the meantime.
Time is important in any project. You need to allow yourself the time to doubt and question all of your choices, to be able to understand how grounded the entire idea is. It’s a fascinating process to materialise ideas … but it is not easy.
What is your key role in the Kiki and Joost Studio?
We are the creatives; the making is more of a collective effort. Our studio is a big family. It sounds clichéd, but it’s the truth. Joost is extremely good at problem-solving and finding smart solutions in constructing. He has a very creative brain. He can easily think outside of the box and be enthusiastic like a little child about the solution. His energy is an essential part of the studio.
How do your respective approaches harmonise? Is one more conceptual and the other one more pragmatic?
It’s not so formulated. We question and edit each other respectfully but also with truth and honesty, we often disagree. We need to convince each other, and it’s not always easy.
You love working as part of a studio, who else works with you in-house and do you often collaborate with external craftspeople, makers and designers?
We work in-house with a small team of creators and makers, quite harmoniously. But often we collaborate with external production companies and craftspeople, when necessary and needed. We never outsource—we always collaborate.
What is your favourite project to date?
For me, it’s Space Poetry, but I know it will change. It is one of my most abstract pieces and exists in the space of between (architecture-design). I spent a lot of time working on its skin: a mix of bioplastic, pigment and sand. I think there is also something special about the colours I made for these pieces.
Interlocking Panels is Joost’s love affair at the moment. The inspiration comes from simple pebbles found on the ground, but they translate into something very abstract and refined. The piece is as bold as it is elegant.
You work across many disciplines, including lighting, furniture, ceramics, glassware and textiles, but do you have a favourite?
They are all of our children, and you can’t have a favourite child, right?
Are there any makers/designers who people should keep an eye on?
It’s not a new name, but Andrea Branzi is an all-time favourite.
Can you tell us about the design community in The Netherlands, how easy or difficult is it to set up a studio, are the many challenges or support circles for emerging designers or makers?
It’s good here if you compare it with other cities in the world. Design is well appreciated. The country knows that it’s a source of creative thinking and design thinking is the language of the future; it’s progress. But could it be better? Always. That’s how a designer thinks: how can I make this better?