written by:
May 5, 2012
Originally published in The Now 99

Familiar objects take surprising new forms in the hands of experimental designer Aldo Bakker.

3dwn1up four-legged elm stool by Aldo Bakker

Bakker’s 2010-2011 3dwn1up stool is crafted from elm and comprises a seat and four legs, one of which functions as an unconventional backrest

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minimalist wooden and plaster maquettes

“Every material has its own beauty, but I’m mostly drawn to wood because of its variety of texture, smell, and color,” Bakker says. Maquettes made of balsa wood and plaster are displayed in his studio and are used as guides for skilled Dutch or European artisans who produce the finished pieces in silver, glass, ceramic, and copper.

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sculptural green Jug water carafe by Aldo Bakker

When working in the studio, Bakker says, “I always need to speak my idea out loud. Speaking and sketching at the same time help me to explain the idea. Then I do all the technical drawings myself because they drag me out of the illusion that I am almost there.”

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colorful Jug water carafes by Aldo Bakker

Bakker’s girlfriend, fashion and furniture designer Brecht Duijf, sometimes suggests colors for designs. “I would not have been able to think of these colors,” Bakker says, holding up tiny ceramic chips she selected to determine the palette for Jug, a water carafe with a neck bent over a drinking cup, looking like a primordial creature feeding its young.

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sculptural oak Tonus stool by Aldo Bakker

Tonus is a sculptural stool made in 2010 from a solid block of oak that continues to swell and shrink like a “living, breathing” creature.

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pink copper tube watering can Aldo Bakker

Bakker has designed many new kinds of vessels for producer and curator Thomas Eyck, his friend and first patron, including a watering can made of a single copper tube. “With the watering can, I questioned the relationship of its elements. I made the spout, handle, and container continuous and the same size. Everything is now container, handle, and spout at the same time.”

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porcelain reservoir for vinegar Aldo Bakker

A porcelain reservoir for vinegar.

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Aldo Bakker stool Eames leg splint Bentwood chairs

Among Bakker’s cherished objects that began as shapes with no fixed purpose is the 2006 three-legged Urushi stool coated with several layers of transparent Japanese lacquer that seem to “tremble next to each other.” That piece later evolved into Stool, an all-wood version, which won international plaudits on its release in 2010.“Home is very important to me but Brecht has more exquisite ideas about the interior,” Bakker says of their 850-square-foot harbor-front apartment. Duijf designed their coffee table—a beanbag-style base with a solid onyx top—and also scattered tons of little Ikea cushions onto a navy blue couch that the couple’s baby, Zora, likes to play on. Bentwood chairs and a leg splint by Charles and Ray Eames are complemented by sheepskin rugs and Bakker’s sample Stool.

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young male Dutch designer Aldo Bakker

“I knew at 16 that I would be a designer,” says Aldo Bakker, son of the late avant-garde jewelry artist Emmy van Leersum and Gijs Bakker, cofounder of the influential Dutch conceptual design collective Droog. The 40-year-old designer, who has been teaching for a decade at the Design Academy Eindhoven, has only recently gained acclaim for his experimental forms that blur the lines between art, ritual, and function.

It took many years to establish a following because, he explains, “I am a control freak,” and each design took a long time. At his studio in a 1930s brick warehouse in Amsterdam, Bakker tries “to refine the posture of an object,” sometimes intermittently for years.

minimalist wooden and plaster maquettes

“Every material has its own beauty, but I’m mostly drawn to wood because of its variety of texture, smell, and color,” Bakker says. Maquettes made of balsa wood and plaster are displayed in his studio and are used as guides for skilled Dutch or European artisans who produce the finished pieces in silver, glass, ceramic, and copper.

He began by tinkering with tableware and in 1998 had drinking glasses blown to laboratory beaker–like perfection, with footed bases or indentations to fit the hand. His pieces—many in permanent collections, including those of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam—reflect his function-follows-form approach. His porcelain condiment dishes started simply as shapes that fit elegantly into a user’s hand; their intended uses, as an oil platter and salt cellar, developed later. The three-legged Stool, composed of just three pieces of wood—a round convex top, a spindle-shaped front leg, and a block shaped like half an apple that forms the stubby back legs—evolved from a shape he has repeatedly revisited in his designs.

Today, several design awards have bolstered his growing reputation, and a 2011 retrospective at the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen, Emmy+Gijs+Aldo, even sheds light on his parents’ influence on him. “When my father was at Droog, he was in my way,” Bakker says. “I had to push to find my own path.”

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