Above: Subtle gradients of colour in Scholten & Baijings’ Tea with Georg collection, produced in collaboration with Georg Jensen (2013)
There’s no sign on the door, but the flashes of colour that appear beyond the enormous double-height glass windows mean that this is undoubtedly the studio of Scholten and Baijings. Located on the IJ Harbour in Amsterdam, the light-filled workspace of Dutch designers Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings is a treasure trove of colour, material, prototypes and experiments in all stages and forms.
Maquettes of chairs are lined up with coloured thread and textile swatches, teacups made from cardboard and masking tape stand beside dishes sculpted from foam, while sample towels hang from the walls, testing pattern and colour. A cupboard full of glass and ceramic samples reveals the progression of various projects – half a dozen or so grey-hued ceramic cups and saucers from the Paper Table collection shows an improvement in the quality of the prototypes while a droopy wine glass, probably not intentionally so, looks charming nevertheless. And there’s more! Nooks and shelves within the studio reveal books of colour analyses, tests on towels, prototypes of striped carpets woven in paper, as well as paper colour swatches.
The layered compositions of Colour Porcelain for 1616 / Arita Japan (2012) is informed by traditional Japanese colours. Photo by Inga Powilleit
This evidently hands-on approach to testing and making is combined with a distinctive use of colour, materiality and craftsmanship. It’s a winning combination that has fast caught the eye of the industry in the last few years – resulting in major collaborations with companies such as Hay, Established and Sons and Georg Jensen. Since launching their collaborative practice in 2000, Scholten and Baijings’ way of working on a vast array of products – from furniture and textiles to ceramics – has resembled an atelier or workshop in which the design happens through making. Scale models are made and remade in paper, cardboard or foam. Colours are created from scratch and combined in different ways to test possible options.
Through the process of making, surprising mistakes arise – and the studio has mastered the art of using these to its advantage, allowing them to inspire new ways of working. “By trying every way to get there, you come to different outcomes and make eye-opening discoveries,” explains Scholten. “We never refer to samples as failures. We know now, through experience, that these samples and different prototypes are needed to arrive at a good end result.
Block colours and delicate circles, grids and lines characterise the duo’s recent work for Danish brand, Hay (2013)
If you don’t try, you will never come to new solutions.” And the testing doesn’t stop in the studio: “We often test our products at home,” adds Baijings. “Samples should be tested in the environment for which they were intended; for example, bed linen should be on the bed, not hanging or lying on a table. In this way, you can also check the quality and function.”
Colour is always combined with materiality and layering, while minimal forms provide the perfect blank canvas. Behind the colourful facades of their products, a carefully orchestrated blend of grids, highlights, background colours and detailing achieves the right balance. Hinting at traditional Japanese forms, the studio’s furniture for Karimoku New Standard uses coloured stains to highlight the beauty of the grained wood – utilising Karimoku’s specialist technique of spray painting onto wood combined with new ink-jet techniques to print the grids.
Colour Stool for Karimoku New Standard (2011)
In their recent collaboration with Georg Jensen, Scholten and Baijings paired coloured ceramics and pattern with the Danish company’s trademark stainless steel to create the striking tableware range, Tea with Georg, launched in Milan this year. Similarly, the duo’s award-winning Colour Porcelain collection for Japanese porcelain manufacturer, 1616 / Arita, is a feast for the eyes.
For their research, the pair first analysed the colours of the company’s existing products to map the palette unique to Arita porcelain – discovering that yellow ochre, aquarelle blue, light green and red-orange were prominent. Instead of product proposals, Scholten and Baijings’ first presentation to the client contained only combinations of colours: the client literally saw their own colours in a new light. Existing colours were then layered with new colours onto simple, functional forms to produce an exquisite porcelain service with three levels of distinction in colour and pattern: minimal, colourful and extraordinary. The layered compositions – executed in different shades of glaze – are grounded in the colour of the natural porcelain, a delicate light-grey inherent in the local clay.
Carole Baijings and Stefan Scholten at work on Colour One for Mini, a concept presented at the 2012 Dutch Design Week. Photo by Inga Powilleit
“The entire service is also available plain, in case people didn’t like the colours, but the original collection has proved more popular so far,” Baijings notes. The collaboration with 1616 / Arita – one of Japan’s oldest porcelain manufacturers – also highlights cultural nuances that enrich a project. Products are used differently in east and west: a pourer doubles for milk or soy sauce and the sugar pot for ginger.
“We are so honoured to be working with companies such as 1616 / Arita and Georg Jensen, who have a strong cultural heritage,” says Scholten. “We’re interested to look at a company’s history and think about how we can add a little ‘Scholten and Baijings’ to their DNA, so it’s recognisable as both us and them. As foreign designers, we don’t always know the rules of the culture so design-wise, being outsiders works to our advantage.”
Sketches and samples for Colour One for Mini, a project that examined car components as autonomous objects. Photo by Inga Powilleit
So what is it about Scholten and Baijings’ designs that make them so covetable? The colours are magnetising, the materiality and detailing invite touch and, above all, the products are designed to be used. “The new dishcloths for Hay will make washing up more fun!” laughs Baijings.
“We like to work with a tension between how to present objects and how to use them,” she continues. “That’s the power of design: when you make it look real, people can relate to it more easily. In Milan this year, we showed Tea with Georg on a table set like a tea party complete with strawberries and cakes. It looked so real, people even took pieces of cake!”
With this workshop-style approach to their practice comes both persistence and a drive for perfection. The duo’s approach involves acute attention to detail and a desire to push the project, material or technique to the limits. According to both Scholten and Baijings, patience is one of their strengths – a trait that is paying off. Alongside new work for Hay, Karimoku New Standard and Maharam, there are exhibitions later this year at both the Art Institute of Chicago and the V&A Museum during the London Design Festival. The latter will be presented as a luxurious dinner party and we are all invited to join the feast: just remember to leave the food on the table.