"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.
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."
Zahid Sardar is an author specializing in architecture, interiors, and design. He currently writes the Material World column for the San Francisco Chronicle.