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At Work With Scholten & Baijings

We meet the husband-and-wife design duo who promise to make your life more colourful

  • Mr Scholten and Ms Baijings in their studio, surrounded by colour porcelain for Arita (2012)

The day MR PORTER meets Dutch design duo Mr Stefan Scholten and Ms Carole Baijings also happens to be their 13th wedding anniversary. “Thirteen is a bit of a strange number,” says Ms Baijings, laughing. “We should probably say 12 and a half, right?” Perhaps it’s also a little strange that on this day, rather than exchanging chocolates and jewellery, they’re sitting in their studio with several strangers, doing an interview and having their pictures taken (though they say they’ll have a glass of wine in their garden later).

But perhaps it’s apt. After all, the wide range of products that surrounds them in their workspace – recognisable for a characteristic mixture of intuitive simplicity, geometric precision and vibrant colour – eloquently testifies to the fruitfulness of their personal and professional relationship. All around their studio, you can read the same story, summed up by their matching wedding rings, slivers of moulded plastic each of which bear the imprint of the other’s skin. For Scholten & Baijings, the practice of design, like marriage, is a labour of love.

  • Hand-painted colour swatches on the office wall; “Colour Porcelain" (2012) and on the rear screens "Colour Plaid 03” (2007)

“Labour” is the operative word here, not because Scholten & Baijings are anything but serene in their sun-drenched Amsterdam studio – a glass box on Westerdoksdijk to the north of the city centre – but because it gives such an impression of hands-on industry. Of course, this is to be expected, given that the duo are currently among the most in-demand talents in the contemporary design world, known for their vivid work for clients including HAY, Maharam and Georg Jensen, with a slew of projects on the horizon as we approach design festival season this September.

But even so, their studio shows particularly heightened signs of activity. On the ground floor, alongside a minimally styled lobby and living room-like showroom, there’s the workshop, suitably paint splattered and strewn with odds and ends of wood, battered sheaves of cardboard and stitched fabric samples. It’s here that Mr Scholten and Ms Baijings bring their designs to life by hand-making prototypes in seemingly endless iterations, until they have the dimensions and feel of each piece exactly how they want them.

  • The office shelves are stacked with prototypes

Quite how exacting this process can be is demonstrated by the set of ceiling-height shelves that separates the workshop from the main lobby. This is full to bursting with embryonic versions of recognisable products, such as the speckled, polygonal cardboard cups and saucers that would later become “Paper Porcelain” (issued by Danish brand HAY in 2009) and cast metal forms of pears, baby steps towards the “Fruit Party” centrepiece of 2008 (which now resides in the collection of Holland’s Zuiderzee Museum). These prototypes and experiments are not only clearly visible from within the studio, but also from without, thanks to the building’s glass façade. “If you’re on display in a transparent building, your work should also be transparent,” says Mr Scholten.

  • Mr Scholten and Ms Baijings at their workshop entrance; Grappa flask for Nonino (2015)

“Still… sometimes we say, ‘Oh, do we really have to make this model?’” says Ms Baijings. “But we always do and we always think, ‘Oh, I’m so happy that we did it, because [you] always [find] something…”

Scholten & Baijings’ atelier-like methods are unusual in contemporary design. But so is their approach to colour, an element that they take very seriously. Past products include the “Colour Bin” and “Colour Wood” tables (made from ingeniously upcycled Japanese wood offcuts) as well as a series of “Colour Glass” tableware with HAY, splashed with gradients of pink, blue, yellow and orange. In fact, almost everything they produce works with colour in some startling new way. In aggregate, you might expect this to become a little overwhelming. But it isn’t, largely because the duo’s love of colour derives from shades they find in the natural world.

“If you look at the colours of the sky and flowers – in Holland we’re fortunate enough to have a lot of flowers – they’re never vulgar,” says Ms Baijings. “It doesn’t matter how bright they are. That’s always a challenge for us: how much colour we can use in a product and still have this balance.”

  • An early prototype of "Paper Porcelain" for HAY (2009); rolls of material stacked in the workshop

The ability to subtly reinterpret such natural shades is a feature of Mr Scholten and Ms Baijings’ work, which strives always to mix the geometric with the irregular, the synthetic with the organic, introducing an element of each product’s hand-made origin into its final design, even if that happens to be mass-produced. The “Paper Porcelain” set (incidentally, the first project the duo worked on in their current space) is a case in point. It took a great deal of research before Scholten & Baijings were able to find the right Japanese artisans to recreate their models in mat porcelain, with the same colour and speckled grain as the original grey cardboard. “Sometimes it takes five years to get things done,” says Mr Scholten, proudly.

Since Scholten & Baijings started working together officially in 2000, they’ve worked on a mind-boggling wide number of projects, ranging from the most everyday of domestic items (such as 2011’s tea towels for HAY) to a “Conceptual Concept Car”, reimagining the Mini for BMW in 2012. What’s next? “I think now fashion would be good,” says Mr Scholten. “Or maybe a phone,” adds Ms Baijings, completing the thought. “[You could] really create an interesting piece, that’s more human… because you wear it all day,” says Mr Scholten, looking over the iPhones clustered on the table. “It’s a black device… we all have the same. It’s difficult to personalise this product. We feel there’s a huge need for that. Here’s where we think we could do some work.”

  • The designers’ Phaidon monograph, Reproducing Scholten & Baijings; “Bloom Vases" (2003)

Presumably they will – if they can find time. Because they’re currently rather busy. First off, they’ve been appointed art directors for the 400th anniversary of Japan’s Arita porcelain. This will see them collaborate with a series of international designers on special products, events and installations in 2016, beginning at April’s Salone del Mobile in Milan. This year, product launches include the “Dot Chair” and “Colour Vases” for HAY and the “Chromos”, “Iris” and “Pastel” glassware for Verreum, all of which are set to debut at Maison & Objet Paris (4-8 September). Then there’s the fact that they’ve recently become parents – their son, Rem, is now one and a half. Ms Baijings calls him “a design with a mind of his own, which is very special”. All in all, interview done, it feels as if they probably deserve that glass of wine.

Scholten & Baijings’ Designer Eats

The design duo recommend their favourite culinary finds from their round-the-world travels. To follow in their footsteps, be sure to check out their Instagram feed @Scholtenbaijings.

01 Sukiyabashi Jiro

Tokyo, Japan

“The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells the story of the sushi master Jiro Ono and his legendary mini-restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi-only restaurant seating ten diners in one of Tokyo’s metro stations. Eighty-nine-year-old Ono’s restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars for eight consecutive years. Reserve at least three months in advance.”

02 Ougiya

Arita, Japan

“In this renowned hotel in Arita, Japan’s porcelain city, you can dine in a private room where you will be served a traditional 14-course meal. Each dish is more beautifully presented than the previous one. Before you know it, you’ll become totally absorbed with taking pictures of these gorgeous creations.

03 Le Chateaubriand 

Paris, France

“Mouth-watering food cooked by a rock’n’roll chef, who would be awarded stars were it not for the minuscule toilet near the kitchen, which he stubbornly refuses to move. Reserving a table is a must, but if you want to pay a spontaneous visit, stay for the second seating, which starts at about 9.30pm. Enjoy a drink at the bar across the street while you wait. It’s definitely worth it.”

04 Le Bain 

New York, US

“This rooftop bar at The Standard hotel has fabulous views, good music and in summer there’s a plunge pool on the dance floor and a crêperie on the Astroturf-covered rooftop. It’s worth mentioning that the building’s façade is made entirely of glass, so going to the WC may be a challenge if you suffer from a fear of heights.”

05 Villa Necchi Campiglio

Milan, Italy

“This is where we go to relax, with a drink next to the swimming pool. It is a hidden gem in the heart of Milan, where the beautiful movie Io sono l’amore (I Am Love) was filmed. Make a reservation in advance.”