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Maarten Baas Goes ‘Pop’ at Salone del Mobile
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Dutch designer Maarten Baas was in Milan last week launching his Das Pop light for Czech lighting brand Lasvit. We caught up with him to talk about the collection, listening to your gut, and what he hopes to pass onto his students at Design Academy Eindhoven

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Do you want to start by telling me about Das Pop?

It’s based on the chandelier we made last year. I wanted to combine my Clay Furniture with glass. Glass is a formed by mouth, or should I say by air, and the Clay Furniture is made by hand, so I thought there was an interesting dialogue between those two materials. There’s a contrast in it – the fingerprints are kind of rough and the glass is very smooth – but there’s also the similarity that it’s all handmade and I think that’s exactly the strength of it. Last year we made the chandelier and standing lamp and this year we wanted to make something more simple, so we thought let’s take the bulb only and make a pendant lamp out of it, so it’s a very simple lamp actually, I’ve never worked on anything as minimal as this.

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What has been the difference in working so minimally compared to how you usually work?

It was easy, five minutes and done! No, but it was actually quite easy. It was so logical that this needed to be the shape and then there were some technical difficulties around the size of the mechanism inside but that’s a usual part of the design process. My work is never really high tech to look at, but on the other hand there is often a lot of technology behind the scenes. Take the Clay Furniture for example – the material itself is a very high tech material so I made it look very naïve on purpose. I like that, I like the very direct approach. You should see it and the message should be clear so no more layers or difficulties or intellectualizing or technical things because I want it to hit you right away, rather than you having to think about the concept too much. I think you reach that by keeping it as simple as possible. It is very difficult to do that, but you should not see the difficulties in the final product.

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How does your design process work?

I don’t know, I just have an idea, this is what I want to make and then I start making it. When a company like Lasvit approaches me, I have to kind of reverse engineer the process so I can make something I would have made anyway. I don’t like to start with the material – I have an idea and then I search out the material that will fit to make the idea.

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And do you draw, do you use a computer, do you make prototypes?

Yeah mostly I draw, a very sketchy thing which is interpretable in many ways and then we make that in the workshop at 1:1 scale. Then I can see what happens and decide whether I think it should be a bit smaller or whether there should be something there or whatever – sort of ‘sculpting’ the piece. It depends what kind of product it is, but that is often how it goes. Even if I have to design a space, a restaurant for instance, I prefer to make that restaurant 1:1 in the workshop and then put all the furniture in it. I have difficulties making it abstract in a computer – I really want to see it, to walk through it. If you design everything on a computer you end up with cold spaces which are not really made with a real human – you get a kind of a template of ‘a restaurant should look like this.’ I work very inefficiently, because I always have to reinvent the wheel and think about the most sublime thing for that moment, for that situation, for that client.

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Did you always want to be a designer?

I started off wanting to be all the cliché things of course like a fire fighter, but when I grew up a little bit, by the time I was 11 or 12, I knew I wanted to do something creative – that was quite clear – photography or theatre or those kind of things. When I got a little bit older again, perhaps 14 or 15, I discovered actually the job of a designer. A friend of my older brother, he was already studying when I was 15, so he must have been 21 or so, and he studied architecture. He had designed a chair, and the drawing of his chair was on a table. I remember it very well. Until that moment, I was always searching – should I do music or theatre or photography or film, I couldn’t really feel what I should do. Then I saw design and I thought that’s exactly the line where I have something to contribute.

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What are you most proud of?

I like the Clay Furniture series. I’m proud of how that went. It was quite an exciting moment. My breakthrough, so to speak, was Smoke Furniture and that got a lot of attention, but there was also a lot of critical eyes on me saying “Ok, so now do something else other than burning each others furniture,” so my pride wanted to show that I was a good designer. I wanted to create a new collection – the Clay Furniture is a very fragile, clumsy, naïve series, so it’s not typically what you’d do in response to that criticism, but that was really from within. I really felt like this is what I wanted to say. I didn’t know what anyone else would think of it, but I really felt this was what I was missing in the design world. I felt very insecure about it, but the only thing I could do was to give it all I had, and I’m proud that I did that and it was a success. Ever since then, whenever I doubt myself, I can really listen to this intuitive voice because it seems to resonate with other people too.

What advice would you give to a young designer just starting out?

Well probably that advice, to trust in that inner voice. Creatively, the best thing you can do is to really trust your intuition. It’s all too easily confused with things you think you are supposed to do, or fear, or practical problems. There are many things that can take you away from sticking with your original idea. I teach at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and that’s my main target – to let everybody really find that essence of themselves.

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Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven writer and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.