Q&A with Michaël Verheyden
Belgian designer Michaël Verheyden talks to us about his work with from designing his first HERON collection to his most recent LUCID.
You studied industrial design at Genk’s Media & Design Academy, in Belgium; do you think that the way you were trained means you have a different approach to craftsmanship? Do you find there is a divergent cultural approach to design across borders?
Yes. I was mostly trained by artists, philosophers, craftsmen and fashion desigerns during and after my study. One’s culture, in a very broad sence, is very important, and has a huge infuence on what you design. I think my designs are deeply rooted in Flemish culture. I feel very connected to the work of Axel Vervoordt and Vincent Van Duysen because they are capable of bringing the most humble version of luxury there is. Something I try to do as well in my work.
Very early in your career you became well known for your handbag designs and even collaborated with the celebrated fashion designer Rick Owens; leather is clearly a material you love - are you still designing and making leather goods and do you still hand sew?
We’ve stopped the leather goods, because our audience was too small.
Besides sanding, hand sewing is one of the major jobs we do in our workshop. It is a very harsh job to do, but it is so much more beautiful that machine sewing. It gives you also more creative freedom because there are less restrictions.
You have established an atelier with your partner Saartje Vereecke, this is where you handcraft all your own work? Does having a space like this heighten your creativity and enable you to work more freely, more independently?
We don’t make everything ourselves, because that is practically not possible. A lot of different parts are made by local craftspeople in Belgium and less locally in Italy and Morocco. But all objects are assembled and finished of in our workshop. The workshop is one aspect, but mostly to have your own structure/brand gives you an enormous freedom. It takes a lot of sacrifice at the start but on the long term it is the best investment ever. It enables us also to be very extreme in a world ruled by commercial companies.
In the current design lexicon, the words simplicity and minimal are often mis-used; however your work does genuinely have all these attributes and more. The geometric forms and expert craftsmanship often belie the complexity of your work - how do you arrive at this high degree of rigorous simplicity? Does the process play a role in the end result or do you know from the start what you want to achieve?
I like a certain austerity in life, which I try to translate into my work as well. I try to posses as little as possible, but I want the things I own to be of the highest quality possible. Proportions and details are very important to me. I see a lot of things around me which are “almost well done”, which makes me wonder why they couldn’t me made better. I think this quest for perfection will keep me busy for the rest of my life…
From an idea to a product is a whole process. It all starts with an idea, a sketch, often a lot of time goes by in between stages, to let the idea ripe. A lot of ideas are also deleted along the way. Then there is the tuning of the design by making and testing; prototypes, etc… . Sometimes it takes a day, sometimes it takes years, it is very unpredictable.
You have designed the Heron brass lighting series for CTO Lighting, an elegant and thoughtful contemporary piece which has been very well received. What appealed to you about working with CTO Lighting?
To be honest, the lamp was not designed for CTO. It was designed for a temporary shop in Genk, my hometown. The idea was to make a simple lamp, that we could easily produce ourselves, to light the goods that we’re displayed on the tables. The truth is, it turned out not to be that simple to make the lamps, and because I was strugling with production I offered Chris Turner, the owner of CTO, to put it in his collection. We were neighbours at Maison&Objet one time. We had a good contact, and I liked his collection, so that was it. At first, Chris was not that enthusiast about the lamp, but wanted to give it a fair chance. He was afraid the lamp was too simple, and modern, for his collection. Well, it turned out differently…
Is this the first light you have designed? What is it about designing a light that throws up the biggest challenges?
It was indeed the first light I’ve designed. I don’t know what the biggest challenge about it would be, but I like that a light is mostly an object at daylight, and can completely dissapear and crreate the atmosphere at dawn.
When you started designing the Heron series - Did you have an idea what type of customer you were designing for or a particular type of interior?
We basically only make the pieces we would like to own ourselves. If other people like it as well, fair enough. You can target an audience with pricing, but it is much harder to do it with design, because people are very unpredictable. The most interesting interiors nowadays are the once where old and new, modern and classic, are mixed up. Because the Heron lamp is that subtle, he could blend in, in any interior.
You clearly love what you refer to as ‘noble and durable materials’; materials that feel natural and age impeccably, would you consider or have you any thoughts about designing a light in a totally different material/finish?
Of course. I don’t feel bound to any material. I’ve already made lamps in alabaster for example.
I don’t like to repeat myself, so to keep things fresh, I’m always looking for new materials, techniques, craftsmen who can help me build my ideas,… .