Lucky us. Award-winning architect and interior designer Bart Eyking has recently relocated from the Netherlands to London to set up his EYKING office, and a signature furniture line. Combining a passion for art and antiques alongside his design and build studio, Bart continues what he has in the past identified as ‘a good British tradition’ – creating a link between inspirational exteriors, and stunning, liveable interiors.
The Clarks Blog caught up with Bart to find out more about his design passions and philosophy, plus the gorgeous hunks of marble that are his Upside Downs table series. And he enlightens us on why furniture is to interiors, what underwear is to haute couture.
Tell us a little about your design approach and how you started?
I’m classically trained as an architect and I kind of got into interiors by accident. When my former business partner and I started our first office together in Holland we got an opportunity for a pitch with a big interior, and we thought we would be crazy if we didn’t pick it up. We won that pitch without any experience, just with ideas. But I design interiors much the same, very much like an architect. It’s really about one vision or one big idea for a whole interior and then within certain limits or design rules you try to variate between the different functions within it.
The client is the most important element in the whole equation. You have to grow a little bit older to understand that you need to listen more than you have to draw! You must also read between the lines for what is not said, and for the constraints of the interior that you have to work on.
You can have a lot of talent – but that doesn’t make you a good designer. By putting in all the hours, then you actually become a designer. I mean, you can think of yourself as the best alive but if nobody recognises it, it’s a pretty lonely existence! And you end up crazy!!
It is very important to take lots of projects and work with other people to really get to grips with it. You can be lucky when you’re young and you can make something beautiful - because a table doesn’t talk back, right! There are a lot of fantastic young UK product designers, but if you look at interior designers they’re all 40-plus. It just takes way more time to master something. And over time you become incredibly humbled by all these people who have been working, say, with wood for 20 years and they can tell you everything about it. You start appreciating a Hermès handbag in a completely different way, or a pair of handmade shoes. You become very aware of all these things. But that’s a bit more philosophical. To show the beauty and the force of the nature in the project, and let that speak – it is very intriguing.
I also think a lot of designers and architects are stubborn people as there is already so much stuff so why on earth would you think that what you do makes a difference right, so you have to be quite high up your own horse. It’s true!
So do most of your ideas come from a place of need or just from something that inspires you?
Yes…or from something that I’ve seen or something where I’ll think, ‘I would like to have that’. For example, when we started the furniture company we were making a very big restaurant for a law firm and we wanted tables that could just go on and on and on without you seeing that there was a cut in them. You could order sets of tables of 3 metres and put them all together, but that was not what we wanted. So in the end you end up looking at the budget and thinking, well, for that amount of money why don’t we make something ourselves? And that approach comes back constantly – you’re looking for something and it’s just not there.
It was the same principle in designing the side tables for Meryl (the Upside Downs). It’s a completely different approach to a lot of other furniture designers who are commissioned by big companies. Another example is, I’ve been walking around with an idea for a mirror for three years and now I think I have found the people who can produce it! Because that’s another issue. It took us two years to develop lamps in our collection because basically there was no one producer who could help us. In the end you have three or four producers and we have to get all the parts in a box and put the manual in and send it off!
So collaboration and finding the right people to work with is important?
It’s completely crucial I think. You learn a lot from other people, about looking at the other side, and what the options are. Otherwise you’re not getting the full picture. And that’s why clients are also fantastically important. They encourage you to do things you wouldn’t even have thought about – they push your boundaries. You know, at the end of the day I’m still a guy. I enjoy cooking, but 9 times out of 10 I make a kitchen without a cupboard for the vacuum cleaner!? It’s a stupid example you know, but I made that mistake twice! And you must have these practicalities. Storage is never-ending – especially in London, storage is always a problem. Half of the time I’m drawing cupboards! I have them coming out of my nose…
Do you think people have become more design conscious? Are there differences between the UK and Holland?
Definitely – I think if you compare it to 10 years ago, it’s really growing in the UK, especially if you see the amount of design stores that are popping up in London. There’s a very nice Dutch tile brand named Mosa, and they’ve just opened up a flagship store, and a lot of Italian furniture brands opened showrooms recently.
I find that British clients are still slightly traditional or they’re über-modern, you know. It’s either Norman Foster or William Morris. For their interiors here in London people will spend a lot of money. I find that the Brits I work for want more quality in what they have. I think in the 80s and 90s people did up houses pretty badly with a lot of DIY-ing and a lot of cheap products. So basically a lot of jobs are gutting it out, cleaning it up and building it up again.
In Holland we have a big contingent of middle-60s to stark 90s new dwellings, and now there are a lot of other national building projects going on. I’m designing a family house in a small pocket like that. There are a lot of rules and constraints – it’s like a Grade II listed area in the UK – but it’s fun.
We did Oldroyd with the three of us, it was great. The thing is, if people are inspired and they want to go for quality – it almost always works. Especially with the restaurant, it was easy to work with them. It’s always great when someone has a lot of experience of cooking and of how a kitchen works. So it was like, why don’t you carve out the space you need for the kitchen and tell me what else you want and I’ll make you some drawings and see if it fits or not.
One of the main things of course was, the restaurant is very small downstairs and that’s a negative and a positive – the positive is that it very quickly becomes very cosy, and that’s amazing. We really wanted that feeling and I think we succeeded.
In terms of the Upside Downs – I love the table. A coffee table can be horrible, it’s like a television! People always make the mistake of hanging the television first and then make the decision of how they want to sit in their living room – which is completely wrong! You shouldn’t think about the TV. You should start by thinking about the layout of your living room and then when you know where is the best place to sit, you can think about hanging a TV – there’s the tip of the week!
Sometimes I sit with people and I think ‘Why is everything so unhandy!’ Obviously it’s very handy to put a cup of coffee on the table if you’re sitting and reading a book or watching the TV, or to put a bowl of apples on it. But I never understood why it should be in the middle. Then of course as a designer you think it should be part of some sort of a series – a coffee table, and a side table.
I’m fascinated with marble, and the more expensive stones. I was walking around with this idea and thought it would be so nice to have this block of marble that just floats, and you could put something else against it –because everything looks so incredibly pretty against a block of marble. A golden tool of designing of course is that you can buy almost everything from Ikea – but with a few good pieces or a few antique pieces that are really genuinely you, you can lift up the entire interior. It doesn’t have to cost anything. I like that principle myself and I’m happy for my pieces to mix and match.
Furniture is a good way to stand out from the crowd, or people to relate to and pick up on your work. It’s like underwear for haute couture! It’s your way to get more noticed and to move towards better work.
So the Upside Downs are currently sold in Meryl’s East London shop, thethestore where she handpicks everything and features lots of independent designers. How important is it to you where they are sold?
That is key. It’s collaborative again, and I think that is very good! I get feedback from her and her customers – and I can brainstorm things that may come next. I said to Meryl, ‘We’ll embark on this journey for a long time and we’ll just do this!’
Finally, thank you so much for styling yourself up today in your trusty Clarks Desert Boots – sum up what you love and appreciate about them from a design perspective?
They are a fantastic example of, at the time, using the techniques available – you can just tell it’s a very smart design. Just one or two pieces of leather, four lace-holes and a beautiful cut – that’s it! Lots of other shoe styles have been built out of it but the Desert Boot still remains the better shoe…
Find out more about EYKING.