Like their subtle, well thought-out and far-ranging designs, Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings need not shout to relay their identity.
Their work life and home life are essentially one life that draws inspiration and adaptation from both sides. Scholten, a Design Academy Eindhoven alum, and Baijings, a self-taught designer, joined forces in 2000. Rooted in Amsterdam, Scholten & Baijings runs with 12 young designers who help accommodate clients like Maharam, Mini, Herman Miller, Samsung, Karimoku New Standard, Georg Jensen, Victoria & Albert Museum and 1616/Arita Japan. On August 1, they will unveil their 27-piece collection for Ikea including their new twist on the Klippan chair. The founders have also collaborated on home decor with HAY, which has a global following.
At the end of September, Scholten and Baijings will headline the eighth installment of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s Design by Hand series. The Van Cleef & Arpels-supported initiative will feature workshops highlighting the complexity of the designers’ approach to color and form.
During a preview at the Maharam design studio, the Dutch couple shared their design ethos, as the museum’s executive director Caroline Baumann, Van Cleef & Arpels’ president and chief executive officer Alain Bernard, Maharam’s senior vice president of design Mary Murphy and others listened in.
“We work in the atelier way. We always mix our own colors, we make our own materials and molds. And by doing so we come to new forms — forms that you cannot design with the computer,” Baijings said. “We do work with the computer but it’s more to test with technical drawings. That’s also why we have virtual reality so we can walk through your museum to know how the installation will be.”
Long before they developed a TV for Samsung Korea, a Mini concept car or a limited-run room at the Love hotel in Tokyo, the pair’s debut was not so covetable. “We started with eight unique carpets and two jewelries. It was winter and we were in my mom’s garden, using an old bath to color the carpets ourselves. Everyone thought we were crazy,” Baijings said.
“We were,” Scholten added.
But museums took notice, including the TextielMuseum, which continues to be a lab of sorts for their creations. “Everything starts with a sketch or a concept, then the team makes materials, colors, models. In the end we often have too much and have to choose. But we’re not very good at choosing so we leave that to our customers,” she said. “In the beginning people said, ‘Oh, are you only carpet designers?’ Then we did porcelain and they said, ‘Well, I don’t understand anymore.’ We knew it would take a little longer than if we only focused on one. Slowly, everything comes together and we can furnish a whole house with our designs now. We always test our designs at home so we know.”
Young and super flexible, the team includes technical designers, who specialize in 3-D drawings, and others who zero in on furniture, specialized textiles and other products, Scholten said. Many have been with the company for 10 years and understand that being adaptable is a job requirement. Scholten, who studied with Droog cofounder Gijs Bakker at the Design Academy, returned there to teach for five years and recruited some talent in the process. “You were lucky. You saw the students in your class and would say, ‘That’s the one’,” he said. “At the time, Hella Jongerius was doing the same thing, looking for the quality students.”
The challenge now is to keep them. “It’s tough with this new generation. They don’t want to be under contract. They want to be flexible and work three days a week,” he said with a laugh. “When our American clients come to Holland, they ask, “Three days a week? What do they do the rest of the week? Oh, you pay them too much, if they can only work three days a week.’”
They plan to work on interiors for a new hotel that will be built in Amsterdam’s north end which is emerging as a hip neighborhood, due partially to the newly extended subway. While Baijings hopes to do jewelry, fashion is also appealing. “That’s also of course very interesting,” she said. “I wear mostly prints and color. Often people ask me, ‘Did you design your textiles?’”
Scholten has his eyes set skyward, hoping to design the interior of a plane. “We travel a lot, we fly a lot. There is still room for a lot of improvement, not only for clean air, which we obviously hope to see one day, but comfort, textiles, color and it’s still a product. It’s a little bit different than doing a hotel or interior. An airplane is still an object, a very inspirational one when you think about flying and the skies are blue,” he said.
Intent on taking the needed time to develop products, Baijings said she was delighted to learn that the Verner Panton chair by Vitra was a nine-year process. Noting that cars typically take seven years to be executed, she was encouraged by MINI’s recent decision to use some of Scholten & Baijings’ concept car in a ride-sharing program in Germany. But a three-month window is the norm with electronics because the market is so fast. “If it takes longer, it’s no use because it will be copied or all over the market,” Baijings said.
Their round-the-clock partnership means work never really stops. “But the thing is we love our work of course. Now we have such a nice studio with a big, big garden designed by Piet Oudolf, who designed The High Line. So it is very poetic and really good for your soul. The team is so grateful to be there and we have really beautiful projects.”
The team presumably was also grateful to be visiting New York. In an elevator after Thursday’s discussion, Scholten and Baijings mentioned the next deadline. “We rented a sailboat and we’re taking everyone sailing this afternoon. We promised them we wouldn’t work too much.”