written by:
photos by:
June 20, 2011
Originally published in A New Slant on Family Fun
as
Hella Cool

In her Berlin studio, rogue Dutch designer Hella Jongerius creates colorful, covetable objects that meld the handmade and the mass-produced in surprising new ways.

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  The walls of Jongerius’s workshop are covered with sample materials and colors, including a prototype for her new Borders textile for Maharam.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    The walls of Jongerius’s workshop are covered with sample materials and colors, including a prototype for her new Borders textile for Maharam. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  A chromatic composition in progress includes an array of cards from the color system she devised for Vitra, ceramic samples, and other more obscure items.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    A chromatic composition in progress includes an array of cards from the color system she devised for Vitra, ceramic samples, and other more obscure items. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  The book Misfit was designed by the Dutch graphic designer Irma Boom to accompany the Rotterdam exhibition.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    The book Misfit was designed by the Dutch graphic designer Irma Boom to accompany the Rotterdam exhibition. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  Jongerius’s studio is a vibrant jumble of prototypes, products, and samples, including a red Polder sofa for Vitra and, on the far right, a Blossom lamp for Belux and prototype for the Rotterdam Chair for Vitra.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Jongerius’s studio is a vibrant jumble of prototypes, products, and samples, including a red Polder sofa for Vitra and, on the far right, a Blossom lamp for Belux and prototype for the Rotterdam Chair for Vitra. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  Jongerius’s personal cabinet of curiosities includes miniature models of her designs. She rarely makes drawings, preferring to sketch in 3-D.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Jongerius’s personal cabinet of curiosities includes miniature models of her designs. She rarely makes drawings, preferring to sketch in 3-D. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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  Other pieces in her studio include A Tribute to Camper from 2009.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Other pieces in her studio include A Tribute to Camper from 2009. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  Evidence of color experiments populate Jongerius's studio, including this one, a study of yellows and oranges on ceramic.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Evidence of color experiments populate Jongerius's studio, including this one, a study of yellows and oranges on ceramic. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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  Here's a color experiment in clay.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Here's a color experiment in clay. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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  A ceramic-and-leather Mouse vase from her Home Props series.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    A ceramic-and-leather Mouse vase from her Home Props series. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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  Although Jongerius insists she had a major clear-out before leaving Rotterdam, her studio in Berlin is as packed as ever. Note the Ikea PS Jonsberg vases on the top row of shelves, each made using a different ceramic technique, with ornamentation inspired by different parts of the world.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Although Jongerius insists she had a major clear-out before leaving Rotterdam, her studio in Berlin is as packed as ever. Note the Ikea PS Jonsberg vases on the top row of shelves, each made using a different ceramic technique, with ornamentation inspired by different parts of the world. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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  On a work table, a cluster of early color experiments foretells her 300 Unique Vases project.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    On a work table, a cluster of early color experiments foretells her 300 Unique Vases project. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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  Hella Jongerius Timeline 1993 Graduates from Design Academy Eindhoven.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .

    Hella Jongerius Timeline

    1993

    Graduates from Design Academy Eindhoven.

    Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  1993
Exhibits her Bath Mat and Soft Urn with headline-making new collective, Droog Design.

    1993

    Exhibits her Bath Mat and Soft Urn with headline-making new collective, Droog Design.

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  1997 B-Set porcelain tableware launches a long-running collaboration with Royal Tichelaar Makkum.

    1997

    B-Set porcelain tableware launches a long-running collaboration with Royal Tichelaar Makkum.

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  1999 The Kasese Chair.

    1999

    The Kasese Chair.

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  1999 Embroidered Tablecloth continues patterns derived from Ming vases across plates and cups.

    1999

    Embroidered Tablecloth continues patterns derived from Ming vases across plates and cups.

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  2002 Repeat, for Maharam.

    2002

    Repeat, for Maharam.

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  2004 Nymphenburg Sketches brings the porcelain animal figures of the German pottery up to date.

    2004

    Nymphenburg Sketches brings the porcelain animal figures of the German pottery up to date.

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  2005 Introduces the Polder sofa, Jongerius’s first industrial piece of furniture and her first collaboration with Vitra.

    2005

    Introduces the Polder sofa, Jongerius’s first industrial piece of furniture and her first collaboration with Vitra.

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  2005 Cupboard, an experimental one-off for Galerie Kreo.

    2005

    Cupboard, an experimental one-off for Galerie Kreo.

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  2006 Worker Chair for Vitra.

    2006

    Worker Chair for Vitra.

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  2007 Office Pets.

    2007

    Office Pets.

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  2009 Designs PS Pelle, Mikkel, and Gullspira Wall hangings for Ikea, handmade by Indian women.

    2009

    Designs PS Pelle, Mikkel, and Gullspira Wall hangings for Ikea, handmade by Indian women.

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  2009 Frog Table for Galerie Kreo. “For me, decoration is a bridge between user and object. With Frog Table, I was trying to see how far I could take it.” —Hella Jongerius

    2009

    Frog Table for Galerie Kreo. “For me, decoration is a bridge between user and object. With Frog Table, I was trying to see how far I could take it.” —Hella Jongerius

  • 
  2009 Tribute to Camper.

    2009

    Tribute to Camper.

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  2010Bob Garden Club chair for Kettal.  Courtesy of © Mark Gregory Peters 2010.
    2010

    Bob Garden Club chair for Kettal.

    Courtesy of © Mark Gregory Peters 2010.
  • 
  2010Misfit exhibition in Rotterdam introduces 300 Unique Vases and the Colourful Blacks paints. Hella Jongerius: Misfit (her second monograph) is published by Phaidon.
    2010

    Misfit exhibition in Rotterdam introduces 300 Unique Vases and the Colourful Blacks paints. Hella Jongerius: Misfit (her second monograph) is published by Phaidon.

  • 
  A bulletin board in Jongerius's studio reveals works in progress, experiments, and snippets of inspiration.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    A bulletin board in Jongerius's studio reveals works in progress, experiments, and snippets of inspiration. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  Though the designer typically works with ceramic glazes for her color experiments, clay is another handy way to blend shades.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Though the designer typically works with ceramic glazes for her color experiments, clay is another handy way to blend shades. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
  • 
  Another view of Jongerius's studio, full of colorful evidence of creativity at work.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Another view of Jongerius's studio, full of colorful evidence of creativity at work. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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  Jongerius's Nymphenburg Sketches–Animal Bowls from 2004 consist of hand-glazed porcelain bowls and animal figurines.  Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
    Jongerius's Nymphenburg Sketches–Animal Bowls from 2004 consist of hand-glazed porcelain bowls and animal figurines. Courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
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Hella Jongerius designer in her studio
The walls of Jongerius’s workshop are covered with sample materials and colors, including a prototype for her new Borders textile for Maharam. Image courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .

“I came here to be alone,” Dutch designer Hella Jongerius says, explaining why she moved to Berlin from her native Netherlands. “Questioning the limits of the design profession—that’s my talent. So I wanted the space to research and study, to answer my own questions rather than the demands of the design industry.” Up until three years ago, Jongerius ran a busy ten-person studio in Rotterdam. “But I didn’t want to be a people manager anymore,” she says. “I wanted to be a beginner again, an outsider.” So she sorted through the contents of her studio and moved the essentials—and herself—to Berlin, glad to be alone with her work.

Misfit, then, was an appropriate title for the major retrospective of her work earlier this year at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, and the Irma Boom–designed book published in its wake. In many ways, Jongerius doesn’t fit in.

One of the talented and successful Dutch designers to emerge with Droog in the 1990s, Jongerius is the female exception in the boys’ club of top designers. Her genre-shattering work combines craft and technology, tradition and innovation, and high and low tech. Not for nothing does she call her studio Jongeriuslab; her work is more about conducting experiments than making design statements. She shows a stubborn reluctance to confine herself to a particular market: Her range extends from one-off design art pieces for Galerie Kreo to mass-produced (but still hand-finished) items for Ikea.

Jongerius’s studio is a vibrant jumble of prototypes, products, and samples, including a red Polder sofa for Vitra and, on the far right, a Blossom lamp for Belux and prototype for the Rotterdam Chair for Vitra.
Jongerius’s studio is a vibrant jumble of prototypes, products, and samples, including a red Polder sofa for Vitra and, on the far right, a Blossom lamp for Belux and prototype for the Rotterdam Chair for Vitra. Image courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
The term misfit also applies to Jongerius’s delight in imperfection and irregularity. Her designs are often warped, scarred, or left partly unfinished. “Perfection is macho,” she says. “And boring. I like to see the hand of the maker.” Soft Urn, the 1993 Droog rubber vase that put her work on the map, has a simple form that retains jagged marks from its casting process. Her B-Set porcelain tableware is intentionally fired at too high a temperature, giving each piece a unique deformation. Thanks to her long-term collaborations with design companies like Ikea, Vitra, Maharam, and the porcelain factories Nymphenburg and Royal Tichelaar Makkum, Jongerius has helped spark a resurgence of handcrafted detail in manufactured objects. “Hella wins their trust,” says Louise Schouwenberg, the curator of Misfit and Jongerius’s longtime friend and collaborator. "And increasingly, she works directly with experts and craftsmen in those companies to take what’s already there and bring it up to date. Her designs don’t shout. She happily puts the work of others on show."

In her large studio in Prenzlauer Berg, a new series of dishes she’s creating for Nymphenburg underlines her restrained approach. Combing through the factory’s archives and pattern books, Jongerius extracted a detailed model of a fox, some ceramic makers’ marks, and a thorny pattern. Then she arranged them on a simple bowl to create a fresh story from old elements.

As Jongerius’s work progresses, she has moved from the monochrome simplicity of Soft Urn and B-Set toward a more colorful, richly crafted vocabulary. The Polder sofa she designed in 2005 for Vitra features modulated shifts in shade and texture, and combines trailing threads and hand-sewn buttons (modeled on thrift-store finds) with Vitra’s expert cabinetry. “The marketing people said a sofa in six different shades would never sell,” she scoffs. (It did sell, and well.) Salespeople often resist her work, she notes, because of its novelty. A 2002 Maharam fabric with a lengthy 3.3-yard repeat was considered unmarketable because it would be difficult to display in showrooms. Jongerius stuck to her guns, and the fabric remains in production today.

Jongerius’s personal cabinet of curiosities includes miniature models of her designs. She rarely makes drawings, preferring to sketch in 3-D.
Jongerius’s personal cabinet of curiosities includes miniature models of her designs. She rarely makes drawings, preferring to sketch in 3-D. Image courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
More recently, Jongerius has embarked on a mission to transform the design industry’s use of and attitude toward color. “We need an alternative, because the industrial palette is so poor,” she says. “Modern colors are stable—and that’s about it. They don’t change with the light, so they don’t look alive. And if we want a darker color, we just add black, which, sadly, makes all colors gray.” For years, she has used pottery glazes to experiment with color recipes, culminating in the 300 Unique Vases installation at the Misfit exhibition. Jongerius—together with the Royal Tichelaar Makkum craftsmen with whom she collaborated—layered oxidation glazes with industrial and synthetic pigments in a spectrum of colors. The final circular arrangement suggests an alternative, three-dimensional color wheel in which each shade’s inherent dynamism shines, thanks to its relationship to the others.

It came as no surprise, then, when in 2005 Vitra entrusted her with overhauling its color system. Her first decree: Produce the plastic Eames chair in three shades of white. “People mainly bought the white one, so I said ‘If that’s what they want, let’s give them more.’” The overhaul took several years, and she remains Vitra’s color consultant.

Other pieces in her studio include <i>A Tribute to Camper from 2009</i>.
Other pieces in her studio include A Tribute to Camper from 2009. Image courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .
Currently, the busy designer is developing a new color system for shoe brand Camper. The challenge there, she explains, comes in creating a palette that lures buyers away from black and brown. Meanwhile, she is pro-ducing her own paints—starting with a range of 15 rich, velvety Colourful Blacks—with Swiss company kt.COLOR.

Though her color mission continues, “the research is done,” she says. “I need a new research project and I have one: plastics.” The material needs to be rehabilitated in a range of ways, Jongerius believes—–from the aesthetic (currently “it looks either cheap or high-tech futuristic”) to the environmental (“we need bioplastics”). She’s looking for industrial partners to aid  her experimentation. And so begins her next odyssey, in a new medium: the latest challenge for a design rogue with a remarkably broad comfort zone.

Evidence of color experiments populate Jongerius's studio, including this one, a study of yellows and oranges on ceramic.
Evidence of color experiments populate Jongerius's studio, including this one, a study of yellows and oranges on ceramic. Image courtesy of © 2011 Oliver Mark .

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