BELGIUM’S BEST DESIGN
Hadewijch Ceulemans, the author of ‘Belgium’s best design’, says it’s difficult to define Belgian design since there is nothing particular that makes Belgians as a group stand out. Still, when you go through object descriptions you can find many terms that are common like: elegant, timeless, sophisticated, simple yet highly effective, sturdy-looking, nostalgic/poetic vibe. I believe a very telling sentence describing Max de Belge (1995) chair equipped with a drawer designed by Casimir (minimalism combined with functionality) is universal for Belgian design in general: “But look a little closer and you will discover an additional layer, an extra significance or a twist that makes the piece more complex and more surprising”.
Just like with my two most favourite: Piles of suitcases (2008) designed by Maarten De Ceulaer which is a highly sophisticated wardrobe made of fine leather suitcases combined in an asymmetric pile (the idea he came up with after cancelling his planned trip around the world) or Charles Kaisin’s Kaleido (2010) which is contemporary crystal collection inspired by the shape and visual effect of a kaleidoscope (Kaisin trained under Jean Nouvel and Ron Arad).
I also like very much Michael Bihain’s multifunctional ladder-like storage system with shelves (LIBRI, 2008) and organic forms of the HAENTJENS CHAIR form 1952 by Renaat Braem (who was the only Belgian ever to train under Le Corbusier). The most quirky object is Bram Boo’s ‘Overdose desk’ (2009) that turns a standard table into a dynamic and original composition. I was happy to see UNFOLD collective among the designers, Claire Warnier and Dries Verbrugen are the authors of the book on 3D printing reviewed by BOA a short while ago. The author has chosen many interesting and beautiful objects (often original, like a modern narghile) so it’s exciting to learn more about them and their designers.
Seeing so many examples of unique and beautiful objects by Belgian designers, it’s difficult not to agree with the author who believes that “their work has now returned to popularity, thanks to the lucid rationality and undeniable timeless beauty of their design.”
Selection wise there is an interesting mix of both – established and young designers. The author also looks from the historical perspective by featuring among others Henry van de Velde who “as a forerunner of modernism, was looking for a way to allow his creations to be determined by their function”. Many biographies are a great source of information about Belgian culture in general like in case of Marcel-Louis Baugniet who apart from being a painter, art critic, philosopher and furniture designer and was bringing good design to the manufacturers’ attention, was “perhaps best known to the general public as the husband of the Belgian Isadora Duncan, dancer Marguerite Acarin alias Akarova. He designed the geometric costumes that emphasised her dance movements to the rhythm of machinery and other mechanical sounds.” How fascinating!
There is also a great appendix bringing together 44 lists by design specialists and connoisseurs who answered to the question: What do you think are the 10 best design objects, created by a Belgian, between 1900 and the present day? which is great for further research. Praise for the design (I love the very hard cover)! It’s also worth mentioning that the edition is trilingual (English, Dutch and French).