&Tradition© Alexander Hollsberg

“As a designer, you must always stay true to yourself and your style”

An interview with Els Van Hoorebeeck — Head Of Design at &Tradition

8 February 2022

After studying interior design at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels, Els Van Hoorebeeck initially worked for the Swiss furniture brand Vitra in Belgium as interior designer with a focus on the living area, before joining The Office Group (TOG) in London, who specialized in the development of modern, collaborative work environments. 

As TOG's Head of interior design Van Hoorebeeck accompanied every process from acquisition through concept development to realisation. In collaboration with Norm Architects she designed the Co Chair for the Scandinavian manufacturer Menu. Two years ago she joined the Danish brand &Tradition as Head of Design.

MAD had a talk with Els van Hoorebeeck. 

"&Tradition will never produce for the sake of producing. A new design piece must come about for a reason and will always have an added value."

Els Van Hoorebeeck


& Tradition is a fairly young company, founded in 2010. What distinguishes & Tradition from other design brands? In other words, what do you think is the DNA of &Tradition?

"&Tradition is very eclectic and unites craftsmanship, sustainability, and quality. The founder Martin Kornbek Hansen is a collector himself. He buys antiques, but also invests in new design. This is reflected in & Tradition: there are design pieces in the collection from 1920, but also contemporary pieces, and yet the collection is coherent and timeless at the same time."

"We work with some classics like Arne Jacobsen and Hvidt & Mølgaard, but also more challenging designers like Jaime Hayon. Their style is very far apart, it is up to us to fill in the space between them. As this playing field is so wide, we often come up with surprising new designs. Together with Lucca Nichetto, we are launching an architectural wall lamp called Tabata. We didn't have a piece like that in the collection, and it's a design you wouldn't expect from us. However, when decorating spaces, you notice that such differences make our collection interesting." 


In mid-February, the new collection will be presented in Belgium. How does the creation of a new collection go and how do you make the selection of designers? 

"Every launch is different, and so is the design of every piece of furniture. It takes two years to get from idea to finished product, and that's even pretty fast. When we look for new designers, we look for upcoming talent as well as classics and established designers. The idea is to establish a long-term relationship with them and build a good collaboration. We need to understand each other, we need to feel their style and way of working, and they need to know the DNA of & Tradition by heart. We always choose someone with a very outspoken style, but also someone with whom we can work well together and have a good dialogue with."


Can you give an example?

"Two years ago, we started working with two new designers. However, their style is very different. Matteo Fogale is one of the two designers. We approached him with a specific idea in mind. We wanted to expand the technology of our portable lamps and even had specific dimensions for this. For the design, Matteo did some research. He was interested in redesigning a lamp that had not evolved with time. This is how he came up with the banker's lamp, the green lamp with the vertical lampshade is a typical design that everyone knows. He reworked this design into a modern, elegant and portable table lamp, called the Caret."

"The second designer is Louise Liljencrantz, a high-end interior designer. We approached Louise because we wanted to design a luxurious design piece. At that time, she had the idea of designing a sofa that was destined to become the central piece in a room. We did not yet have this in the &Tradition collection, but the idea really appealed to us. This is how our collaboration started, and the result is the Margas sofa and lounge chair."   

"Individuality is the most important — what makes you who you are as a designer?"

Els Van Hoorebeeck


Due to the pandemic, people are spending much more time at home, is this something you take into account when creating a new collection?

"We did respond to it, but it was certainly not conscious. It was out of our own discomfort that we often talked about the fact that many people did not have a proper desk at home. People worked on the dining table, but had no place for all their papers, or no place to eat. The idea to do something with this shortcoming arose. The final design will be launched in September and February 2023." 


In COVID times, what are the biggest challenges for a company like &Tradition? 

"Of course, many problems have arisen in the way of production; for example, it has been difficult to obtain wood, and the prices of various materials have also risen enormously. The most annoying thing for me was that everything happened online from now on. I worked together with many designers I had met online. If you meet in real life and work together physically, everything goes much faster. The online thing is good up to a certain point, but it slows down the design process. We are in the design business, we draw a lot, we choose fabrics and materials and that’s not easy online. Only after I had worked with a designer for a year, or even longer, did I finally get the chance to meet them." 


In an interview you said "if we create something new, it has to be permanent". Is sustainability something you value highly and how does that translate into practice? 


"Sustainability is of course extremely important to &Tradition, and we translate this in two ways. Firstly, & Tradition aims to become B Corp Certified. During Corona's first year, we have put a lot of effort into this. Of course, this certification means a lot, from consuming water and food more consciously, to environmentally friendly and conscious production. For example, we have made an internal list of materials that we will never work with. We communicate this to designers so that they can take it into account from the start of the collaboration." 

"A second aspect we are concerned with is after care and circular economy. For example, we have launched the Rely chairs, in collaboration with the designer Hee Welling. The shell is made of recycled plastic. The frame is only attached with 4 screws. The assembly and disassembly are thus simple and makes recycling very easy. & Tradition will never produce for the sake of producing. A new design piece must come about for a reason and will always have an added value."


What advice would you give to young designers at the start of their careers? 

"You must stay true to yourself and your own style. When designers work together with a company, they often tend to adapt their style to the needs or wishes of the other. It is so important to keep your individuality and make it clear what you stand for, which is probably why you were chosen for the collaboration. Individuality is really the most important: what makes you who you are as a designer?" 



  © Filip Aure
  © Filip Aure
  © Filip Aure