"Brussels makes us more aware, as people and as makers. That boosts our creativity too"

Interview with makers collective vormen

30 January 2020
Emile, Edouard en Leon — vormen
Emile, Edouard en Leon — vormen © Richard Duyck

Staying true to an initial idea and having the conviction to make it reality. Although their approach is not lacking in strategy, Edouard, Emile and Leon rely mainly on their intuition and their desire to create things together. And that works. Our interest was aroused not just by their pure, modest, poetic objects, but also by their quest for the essence of collaboration as a collective and their growth potential. The two brothers and cousin have been working together for six years in the makers collective, which recently established itself in its new studio in Brussels. A move that brings with it changes in several areas, as became apparent from our conversation. Meet vormen!

Why did you decide to move to Brussels?

vormen - Well, there were many factors. On the one hand we had to vacate our studio in Ghent where we’d been based since our collective was established, and on the other hand it was time for us to step outside our comfort zone. Brussels was one option. An artist friend had suggested we take up a unit that had fallen vacant next to his studio. From the first visit both he and we thought it felt right. So a few months ago we decided definitively to establish ourselves in the capital. A decision that we haven’t regretted for a moment. 

Do you feel the city has a particular influence on your design process? 

vormen - We haven’t really been active long enough in our new studio to be able to notice any particular influence of the city on our working process. In Ghent we produced all our designs ourselves. We want to use our new studio in Brussels more as a place to design objects without having to produce everything ourselves. So the move has indeed changed our attitude to what vormen can be, and added to that Brussels with its immense diversity does of course have a direct influence on us. Things are rougher here. In Ghent it’s quite normal to do something creative, start up a studio. Here what we do is less self-evident, we feel greater resistance. Here there are more questions asked about what we’re doing, so we have to explain ourselves more, not least to ourselves. We’re becoming more aware, as people and as creators. That boosts our creativity too.  Apart from that, Brussels is attractive for studios like ours. There’s a whole history of hidden studios and small factories woven in to the city’s fabric. And we’re clearly not the only ones to notice that Brussels acts as a magnet for know-how. 

What for you is the main advantage of working in a collective?

vormen -The fact that you’re not alone. At first everything was very organic. Then as things progressed, the tasks were gradually distributed, without any predetermined plan. We each took on particular aspects of the work. The great advantage is that we complement one another – over and above individual responsibilities. In terms of design too that’s really positive. As an individual you have your own picture, your own vision of an object or project. The advantage of working in a collective is that you get feedback almost immediately, when making prototypes for example. Every step is immediately called into question.

The advantage of working in a collective is that you get feedback almost immediately, when making prototypes for example. Every step is immediately called into question.


How important is functionality to you? 

We often start off with a drawing that isn’t functional in itself but that stems above all from an idea. We keep this idea as clear as possible and try in this way to arrive at a kind of ‘self-explanatory’ functionality. We always design from the starting point of simplicity and ease of manufacture. 

We see that same simplicity reflected in the name of your collective, and in the names of your objects. 

Yes, our approach to names goes hand in hand with our way of working. The names of our objects are literal and obvious. We want to avoid being obscure at all costs. We name the essence of objects and we don’t want to give them any extra name. For example the 3M Lamp is a lamp made from 3 metres of steel. Stoel.01 was the working name for this object and we kept it like that: our first chair, with the idea that we would make more. The name of the ‘Gomito' armchair is a bit less literal. Although it refers to the elbow, which serves as a support while sitting. So even this name is actually quite straightforward. Even so, choosing the name is always difficult.

How does a new object come into being? When do you decide to start on a new design? 

It’s often an intuitive decision that just kind of develops among us. It’s a dynamic that has come about through having worked together for six years. There are always lots of ideas swirling around, but it takes all three of us to feel the energy to go for one in particular. If one of us isn’t sure, it always takes a bit longer. Some objects or ideas that we think and talk about never get to be taken seriously. There isn’t necessarily a decisive factor, the main thing is that all three of us feel that there’s something in it. Wanting to create, that’s what we're based on. Having an idea in your mind, having a love-hate relationship with it, wrestling with its physical attainability. That whole process is simply vormen’s drive.

Can you tell us something about the choice of materials? 

We look for what goes best with the design and the idea, but the material does have to be sustainable. The choice of material is often functional. In general we aim to stay as faithful as possible to the drawing and not to force a material in its use. For one new object that we’re developing for example, we want to work with a combination of flax and resin so as to maintain the elegance that comes to the fore in the drawing. Even in the design phase we were able in this way to pass quickly from drawing to object; with an open mould and chopped flax fibres. For us the choice of material was a success thanks to its functionality, adaptability and aesthetic properties.

Wanting to create, that’s what we're based on. Having an idea in your mind, having a love-hate relationship with it, wrestling with its physical attainability. That whole process is simply vormen’s drive.


How important is sustainability for you?

Sustainable and natural materials are very important to us. In the choice of materials it’s essential for the object to last a lifetime and to age beautifully. So that in time a sort of patina is formed, as a result of which after a certain period the object really tells a story. The seating and back surfaces of our outdoor chair for example are made of aluminium. Thus the chair can be left outdoors in wind and weather. The chair is light and after a while the seating and back surfaces acquire a patina. The more they’re used, the more beautiful these objects become. We ourselves expect a lot from our items of furniture because we’ve developed a relationship with them. We’re well aware that huge volumes of furniture are produced. There are indeed enough things in the world. So if we’re still determined to create something we can at least make sure that we do so aesthetically and show respect for the materials used.

What’s next? What projects are in the pipeline?

Shortly after the move we held an open day. There we presented four new designs that are still in development. We can’t produce all these objects ourselves, which is why we’re looking for producers. We’re also busy with a few projects but we can’t tell you much about them yet. We’ve only just settled in. The intention now is to start creating and put ourselves on the map.

Through MAD you’ve been able to obtain a grant. What are your expectations in this regard and how do you see vormen growing?

The really useful thing about MAD is their connections and network of experts. Talking with people from the sector and being able to consult them as a sort of guest teacher is enriching. We’ve noticed that this encourages us to work more professionally. As I said, vormen has grown in a very organic way, not directly with a vision of how a profitable business operates. It’s important for us to find a balance between on the one hand doing what we like doing and what we're good at and on the other hand making sure we can make a living from it. At first we were too focused on the creative aspect. Thanks to MAD we’re confronted with the economic reality. One of the experts confronts us for example with situations in shops and financial pitfalls. Things that you would otherwise learn the hard way, but which we can now anticipate. MAD is also a place where anyone can drop by with an idea or a proposal to check whether it’s feasible or of interest. That’s how they stimulate entrepreneurship and creativity. 


IG — @vormen_

  © Eline Willaert
  © Eline Willaert
  ©  Eline Willaert

Thanks to Jack Farrazijn & Sylke Thas.