The Brightly Colored World of Designers Scholten & Baijings

The reigning couple of color has made an indelibly saturated mark on the furniture scene of today. Here, a look at a new monograph on their work by Phaidon.
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Dwell spoke with one-half of the duo Scholten & Baijings, Stefan Scholten, at the duo's studio in central Amsterdam. 

Stefan Scholtens and Carole Baijings are an Amsterdam-based couple who have made their career applying color, pattern, and texture to rigorously designed items from tabletop porcelain to wood tables to woven textiles.

On life/work balance
We chose not to live and work in the same place. You’ve spoken with a lot of designers and architects; it’s a twenty four hour thinking process. So if you also live like this, it’s not so healthy.

Phaidon's new monograph on their work, Reproducing Scholten & Baijings, is out in February 2015. This is the first compendium on the studio's work and includes an elaborate overview of their design process, from initial drawings and sketches, through a multitude of models, prototypes, colour swatches and samples, to the finished product. (A tidbit for the design geeks: The book is printed with fluorescent ink in order to more accurately translate the studio's signature neon colorways.)

On gaining inspiration through changing environments

Scholten & Baijings first pieces for their Blocks & Grid upholstery collection for Maharam launched in 2014; look for more introductions coming down the pipeline in 2015. Michael Maharam initiated the concept for Phaidon's book. In conversation with the book's editor, Louise Schouwenberg, he writes, "Scholten & Baijings might be described as the Dutch Muji on the basis of the pleasantly universal and useful character of their designs. Importantly, they bring unexpected and striking color to the mix and couple it with a studied approach to pattern."

When I grew up my father was traveling all the time for the same company. In Holland we started in the North and did another city every two years. That’s where my love for furniture came from, I think. We changed interiors all the time! I was really happy when I settled in Eindhoven, for the design academy, of course. I did five years of study and then had a studio for four years, because it’s very affordable for young design students. And then we went to Amsterdam.

A view of the Scholten & Baijings studio in central Amsterdam, on a quai overlooking the River Ij. The studio has worked with Maharam, Established & Sons, HAY, Ikea, Karimokou New Standard, Georg Jensen, Moooi, J. Hill, 1616/Arita Japan, Thomas Eyck, and BMW Group/Mini, among others.

On their son, Rem
Everyone thinks his name is referring to Rem Koolhaas now, and we like Koolhaas, too, but in art galleries, they say, "Oh, it’s so beautiful that you named him after Rembrandt." That was, of course, not the case.

Tea with Georg is a 2013 collaboration that Scholten & Baijings did with revered Danish silversmith Georg Jensen. The collection combines old craft techniques (hand metalwork, fine surface finish) with digital design (gradients and grids applied as pattern on porcelain and etched onto stainless steel).

On the origins of their practice
Both of us have a love for color in general. In 2000 when we started working together, it was not the only thing we were working on: We’d work on design patterns, but then we started out with a project for the textile museum where we were actually making ingredients. Printing is not so difficult, but to weave, it’s apparently more difficult to make a fluent creation. So there were some mistakes within the orange band, in the weaving process. We thought we had failed because the goal was a gradient, but then we had a party at our house had samples out that people liked very much. It was an eye opener that a mistake could be part of the process.

Tests for dried and embroidered lemon skins for Scholten & Baijings's Vegetable series from 2009. These "hyper-realistic, ingenious translations" mimic the texture of vegetables through fabric and embroidery.

On teaching at Design Academy Eindhoven
Around the same time we started teaching at the design academy with our colleague who specialized in color, Mathieu Meijers. He taught me when I was studying and he’s been there like 40 years.

Colour Wood for Karimokou New Standard

Working with skilled Japanese craftsmen—as well as state-of-the-art equipment like printing robots—Scholten & Baijings introduced a robust collection collection of tables for Karimokou New Standard. The "Kitchen Library" was presented during the 2013 Salone del Mobile.

On their tag-team approach
We base [our designs] on intuition. We have a feminine and masculine way of approaching color in general, which maybe makes it more approachable for the public in general. If Carole, for instance, selects a color range and I think it’s too soft, then we discuss. We try to fill the studio with 50/50 male and female employees. It creates a good mix, especially if you all work day and night together! We have a rule in the studio that if 80% of the team members don’t like the design, it doesn’t work for us in the end.

2008's Woven Willow collection ties together artisanal fabrication methods and the centuries-old tradition of a table centerpiece. Scholten & Baijings revived the almost-extinct craft of wicker-weaving by combining the organic material with plastics and papier-mâché, then adding super-saturated color.

On color limitations
Every material has its own limitations within colors. Like if you work with ceramics, as we have with Japanese ceramic companies, the range of color possibilities has limits. It’s not like with spray paint, where you just take a can and you apply color. There’s no application the color in the end [it’s always part of the material]. We don’t first create the design and then pick a color. We think in terms of composition, and even in landscape.

1616/Arita Japan is renowned in Japan, as well as The Netherlands, thanks for European trading routes dating to the 17th century. Scholten & Baijings tapped into ancient Japanese ceramic tradition for a collection of 53 items, including bowls, plates, cups, and vases.

On working process
The way we work is quite time-consuming. I was educated like a normal designer [for hire], who tries to manage the time process [laughs]. That’s very linear, and we’re not able to work like that because we make a sketch and then instantly need to make a model.

The first portion of a project is usually with paper, and then you translate from cardboard to porcelain. We call that a studio working, or the atelier way of working. If we just made a design from the sketch and put it directly into the computer, we might never find the right solution. And that’s what we teach at the Design Academy, this hands-on method of working. The only thing it’s very time-consuming, so we need a lot of people, a lot of hands. I mean for a cup, you need half a day and then you need to translate it into a mold and then you need to translate it into porcelain.

On signature moves
People say "You are recognizable as a duo," and while we are still evolving, we still use some of the same ingredients as we did ten years ago. It’s nice to recognize the handwriting of the designer, in culmination with the producer, of course.

Reproduing Scholten & Baijings is available through Phaidon in February 2015. 


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