What Is Dutch Design?
Designers from the Netherlands are becoming increasingly well-known abroad. When the design world hears the name Dutch Design, they may picture the innovative furniture pieces of designers like Droog or Mooi or the avant-garde designs by Richard Hutten and Marcel Wanders.
Others might think of Gerrit Rietveld’s Red Blue Chair or the experimental graphic designs by Wim Crouwel. Yet, the true face of dutch design is much more varied than this.
A synthesis of various influences, Dutch design has become an internationally recognized phenomenon. Rather than eliminating, it chooses to selectively add elements, creating a curated space that is uniquely suited to the people living in it.
The De Stijl movement, founded by Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg in 1917, was an art and design movement based on strict ideals of horizontal and vertical geometry and primary colors. Their work was influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy and ideas developed by mathematician Dr. M.H.J. Schoenmaekers, who claimed that “yellow radiates, blue recedes and red floats.”
The De Stijl artists believed that the world was becoming more and more industrialized, and that art should reflect the simplest, most universal aspects of nature. After the horrors of the first world war, they hoped to create a utopian vision of the future based on pure abstraction and universal harmony. However, this utopian ideal was never fully realized as Mondrian broke away from the group in 1923 when Van Doesburg introduced diagonal elements to his work, a concept that Mondrian viewed as artistic heresy.
During the 17th century, the Netherlands achieved unprecedented economic and cultural success. The enduring impact of this period can be seen in the art of Rembrandt and Vermeer. Similarly, the work of designers such as Bovenkamp, Galvanitas, Hala, Fristho, and Raak have become synonymous with Dutch design.
Marcel Wanders, the first designer to use staged photography in his poster work and credited with the revival of De Stijl, has since founded several design companies including Moooi where he serves as creative director and co-owner. His designs have won numerous awards and are displayed in museums worldwide including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and the Central Museum in Utrecht.
The legacy of these and other influential Dutch designers can still be seen, albeit in a mutated form, in the work of today’s younger generation of homegrown creatives. One such is Lex Pott, who combines traditional materials and techniques with contemporary technology to create entirely new products such as his Transience mirrors that manipulate the natural process of oxidation.
Known for his conceptually innovative yet playful designs, Rotterdam based designer Richard Hutten graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 1991 and started his own studio shortly after. He has since become one of the leading international figures in his field, and is represented in over 40 museums worldwide.
Hutten is a key exponent of the Dutch ‘Droog Design’ movement, which has changed the world of furniture since its beginnings in 1993. His work is characterized by the idea of playfulness and a reference to Homo Ludens or ‘Playing Man’.
Another modern Dutch designer is Lex Pott, who manipulates natural processes to create new products. His Transience mirrors, for example, use the natural oxidation process of glass to create bold geometric patterns. The result is a reflection of the changing environment in which we live, and illustrates the way in which designers are working to adapt their products to this. The result is a unique collection that is both functional and artistic.
Studio Wieki Somers
It’s easy to see how these innovators left a lasting impression on modernism, and their legacy can still be seen in the work of contemporary Dutch designers. Some are taking their inspiration even further.
For example, Studio Wieki Somers’ Merry-Go-Round Coat Rack combines the practicality of a coat rack with artistic flair and a sense of wonder. The outermost rings take their colour palette from the sun, while the inner ones are synchronised with the moon’s phases.
Another example is Lex Pott’s Transience Mirrors, which use natural processes like oxidation to create a series of bold geometrical patterns that reveal the aging process of the mirrored glass. Meanwhile, Studio Moniker applies a similar philosophy to information design. They use graphic design to turn complex fields of data into visually intelligible form. They also design books, atlases and other forms of documentation. These designers are reimagining the role of design, and their work is gaining both informal and formal international acclaim.