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A Studio Visit With Vij5

The Dutch Designers are Steadily Approaching Their Tenth Year of Working Collaboratively

Posted by Gestalten—09/2015

Looking at Dutch design firm Vij5's workshop is like looking into a nursery with shelves upon shelves of potted plants and plentiful unpainted wood furniture. Founded by Arjan van Raadshooven and Anieke Branderhorst, Vij5 has an impressive and ever-growing collection of products ranging from copper lamps to tabletops made from recycled newspaper. Their focus on forward-thinking design and constant collaborations is supplemented by some of the brightest innovators with unconventional insights. For example, the Schenk carafe, which can be found in Gestalten Pavilion, borrows its idiosyncratic handles from the spooling technique of a kite string. We spoke with Anieke about how she and Arjan maintain their collaborative symbiosis. 

Your workspace looks beautiful—like a mixture of a greenhouse and an office. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Our workspace is located near the city center in Eindhoven in a nice area where a lot of old industrial halls are concentrated on one street. We moved here in March 2013 and immediately fell in love with the light that shines through the large windows. We wanted to create a space where all of our labels could be housed under one roof. Our workspace accommodates the studio, workshop, and showroom accordingly.

The studio in the back of the space is the main Vij5 office. This area overlooks all of the activities within the label, ranging from designing new products and preparing exhibitions to the managing production, processing orders, and various communication activities. Prototyping, finishing the existing products, quality control, and assembling items in the collection are all done in the workshop. The showroom is located in the middle of the workshop and looks a little bit like a green house. We built it ourselves to make sure our collection always has a nice—and dust-free—space for presentation. It has since become one of our favorite spots to have meetings or lunch!

Where do you and Arjan know each other from? When did you start working together?

We met while living in the same student house during our studies in Eindhoven. We started dating and, after our studies, we decided to work together as well because we noticed that we complemented each other very well both on a personal and on a creative level. Soon thereafter, we realized that we wanted to start a label to promote our own designs and also be able to work together with other designers.

What are you currently working on?

We are currently busy presenting the Vij5 collection at different fairs to introduce more people to our collection and to the stories behind our products. We recently added a lot of new products to the collection, and we are currently work together with about 19 designers and have more than 30 products in the collection. Next year, we will celebrate our tenth anniversary! In the meantime, we are busy with developing the NewspaperWood material for production on a larger scale within the NewspaperWood company.

What is characteristic for a Vij5 product?

Correct proportions and a balanced composition; the use of pure, honest materials; clear lines and fine details is what most designs have in common. We look for designs that suit our own signature and we are very involved in the designing of each product. The brand has a very distinct personal style and high standards of quality.

You are collaborating with many other designers instead of solely working on your own projects. Why is that?

After a while, we realized that we enjoyed both the creative and the business side of our job. We noticed a lot of designers struggling with the processes that come after designing their products. That’s why we started to integrate other designers into our collection—we wanted to create a beneficial situation for all of us. We have put a lot of effort in creating an interesting network around us, and one that benefits more than just the two of us. A lot of the collaborations under our label start as friendships—it should be fun to work together, too. Things will go wrong during the process, and we have to be able to find solutions together.

Next to that, we also believe products become better as a result of collaboration. Arjan and I have totally different characters, resulting in a perfect symbiosis. Since we started working on our product collection together, our interactions seem to have become even stronger. Collaboration became one of the basic principles of Vij5, and is also apparent in the growing number of collaborations with other young designers. We enjoy having different perspectives on situations and believe that it is important to keep sharing your ideas with other people to understand their impact on the world. A product is only finished when we both agree that it is, which is how we stay critical of each other and of the designs we produce.

The recycling of used newspaper back to NewspaperWood received a lot of media attention. What's the story behind the process?

The NewspaperWood story started in 2003, when designer Mieke Meijer created the material while studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven. We met her in 2007 and started to collaborate with her in hopes of implementing the material into our product collection. We developed the material to ease production and presented our first prototype collection in 2011. Since then, we have been overwhelmed by the positive response! We get requests from all over the world, and not only from people interested in interior design. That’s why we recently decided to start a separate company called NewspaperWood BV together with Studio Mieke Meijer in which the NewspaperWood material will be further developed, produced, and distributed. This will make the material available for a larger audience in the future. We are very proud to be a few of the pioneers behind NewspaperWood and we will definitely keep using it in the Vij5 collection products!

How did the jewelry collection made from NewspaperWood come into being?

The Sample Series jewelry was designed by rENs as part of the first prototype collection that we presented in 2011. Back then, we invited a group of designers to work with the NewpaperWood material for the first time and asked them to experiment. rENs regards NewspaperWood as an archive made of characters, words, sentences, and stories—stories from one newspaper from one day are processed into one material. For the Sample Series, a slice of NewspaperWood is embedded in metal, and a small part of the archive becomes wearable jewelry. The code on the bottom is the diameter of the ring alongside the date of the newspaper from which each particular piece is made. What we like so much about this design is that it really focuses on the appearance of the NewspaperWood material, making it into a jewel.