Belgium may be a small country, but the city of Antwerp is a well-known hotbed for fashion, while Brussels is a cosmopolitan city filled with designer studios and shops around Sablon and Avenue Louise. Belgian designers are active on the fashion, product and industrial design scenes, introducing innovative solutions to considerations such as craft and functionality. Here are some of the best contemporary Belgian designers working across product design.
Alain Gilles received the Red Dot Award for his outstanding design of the Welded table. With a stone top and metal structure, the simple lines of Welded make it a unique contrast of materials and minimalism. This is just one example of the inventive mind of Gilles, who designs functional, but practically sculptural products. His BuzziHive brings acoustic space and privacy to open spaces, folding portable walls that can be instantly rearranged to accommodate a group. For the modern minimalist bedroom there’s Contrast, a metal bed frame topped with a very large upholstered headboard. Ignoring the beauty of the pieces, it’s always Gilles’ functional thinking that stands out: BuzziHive has a dropdown table for meetings or a computer, while Contrast has small metal tables on each side of the bed.
Ann Van Hoey
Ceramics is certainly not a new craft but the ceramics that come from Ann Van Hoey’s studio put a fresh spin on the simple pottery bowl. Inspired by a wide range of things from origami to Ferraris, Van Hoey’s pottery doesn’t have fancy embellishments; she simply uses the colour and texture of clay to highlight the clean forms she creates. This means elegance, simplicity and purity radiate from her work. And her ceramics are known far beyond Belgium – in addition to awards and honourable mentions, Van Hoey was awarded first prize in the Parcours Carougeois (Prix des Grands Amateurs du Parcours) in Geneva, Switzerland in 2011 and won a bronze medal at the 5th World Ceramic Biennale in Icheon, Korea, in 2009.
What happens when two people with communication backgrounds form a design studio? Poetry and objects with something to say. Beaverhausen is run by Mimy A. Diar and Ad Luijten, whose passion lies in designing simple objects that are aesthetically pleasing. They are particular about their materials and think about how the piece fits with its surroundings. From a couch inspired by cotton candy to a nightstand moved by energy (Qi), it is easy to see that this duo is easily inspired by the joy of life.
Sitting on the border between architecture and design, Gauthier Poulain conceives products for the home that are notably fresh. Starting his career as a painter and graphic designer, Poulain’s eye is definitely the eye of an artist, but his functional designs give a nod to a more mechanical leaning. He has exhibited throughout the world, from Milan to New York to Thailand. His pieces such as Ruban, a casual chair for a variety of spaces, or the Sunshade lamp, which whimsically leans against the wall and provides ‘sun’ from under its shade, are as much about the décor as they are about the function.
Mathias van de Walle
Easy, practical and flexible – that is the kind of object Mathias van de Walle wants to create. The importance of geometric forms, and the space around them as well as the desire to make his products playful and functional means the simple items he designs are always able to surprise. Take the Stamp coffee tables. These are actually three separate tables with differing heights that can be grouped or separated as the room owner desires. Allowing the object’s owner to manipulate the item is seen in more of van de Walle’s designs, for example the Bobonne lamp. Here, the foldable shade made from a single piece of material allows the user to arrange it into different shapes and create different light effects.
With a background in butchery and carpentry, it seems Michael Bihain would be best served doing creative things with a knife and wood. He ended up studying interior design, though, and now creates furniture, jewellery and accessories, often for private companies and clients. What stands out the most in Bihain’s work is his use of lines and space. He has the ability to make items appear as if they were moving, meaning that his furniture adds a sense of liveliness to the rooms in which it is displayed.
Raphael Charles starts with an artistic impulse, and then his objects begin to take form. The material, shape and function all follow this initial burst of creativity, which sees Charles creating sculptures that can, and should be used – for example the Ordinary Day in a Wood Factory. What looks like a pile of wood waiting for a carpenter to pick up is actually a chest of drawers. The Corail bench is art meets seating: interlacing strips of steel are welded to form random patterns inspired by the underwater world. The pattern takes shape and is fixed on the wall and then flows on to the ground to form a seat. This artistic design could be called functional art and is what makes Charles a fascinating designer.
Studio Peter Van Riet
The people at Studio Peter Van Riet have design in their DNA. They work with a number of design specialists to create products for specific clients. Products range from a longboard stroller for skateboarding moms to a collection of modular couches. They like creativity, a challenge and a variety of things to design. The Antwerp-based studio has also created a public water fountain to promote tap water and special snowboard binding. Each product seems to want to tell a story and the beauty of it is that this story is comprised in incredibly simple design.
Raw materials are what inspire Sylvain Willenz when he’s thinking about a new piece of furniture, light or other product. The design itself may be simple, but the design solution is evident, and that’s what makes his products unique. Candy Shelves take reinforced steel bars and create a functional yet industrially attractive shelving unit, which also explores the use of easily available construction materials to make furniture. Willenz and his work have been noticed by many, exhibited in museums and given awards. His Torch light series was nominated for Best in Lighting and Overall Best Product of the Year at the UK Grand Designs Awards in 2009.
With a passion for art, Thierry Batalille’s underlying goal with his products is to improve the living environment. He creates a variety of furniture pieces and does his utmost to ensure they are eco-friendly, using wood and wood-derived materials and designing and assembling them like a puzzle, so no hardware is needed. His designs have a touch of humour, like the Valet, which comes complete with a head and arms. Naturally simple, but pleasing to the eye and inherently useful, the designs coming from Batalille provide a novel look for the home.