We caught up with Dutch designer and Kooij founder Dirk Van Der Kooij during the September edition of MAISON&OBJET and Paris Design Week 2023.
Dirk van der Kooij opened his studio, Kooij, in 2009 in the basement of the Eindhoven Design Academy while experimenting with the possibilities of recycled plastic. Today, Kooij has curated a series of objects, furniture and lighting that cleverly reuse discarded objects including fridges, CDS, kitchen appliances, leather sofas and discarded wood. At the helm of the studio’s design intent is to create thoughtful, one-of-a-kind pieces that successfully answer the question: “Is this a permanent, worthy application of the resources used?”
We sat down with Dirk in the Maison&Objet press lounge, where he revealed the importance of reframing luxury to include sustainability and how Kooij is paving the way for a healthier future through designing for longevity.
Stay tuned for est living’s on-the-ground reportage at Maison&Objet from Thursday, 18 January to Monday, 22 January 2024.
Designer Dirk Van Der Kooij
Your studio recycles discarded materials and objects and turns them into furniture and accessories. What’s the most unexpected disused object you’ve transformed?
Dirk Van Der Kooij: The fridge itself is quite unexpected; we use fridges together with recycled plastic prototypes and colour tests from the Kooij studio for the Meltingpot table. We used to also make tables out of keyboards. The whole keyboard went in, and with all the keys melted in, it was almost like a media fossil. Of course, the media was only 20-30 years old, but technology changes so quickly. To see a yellowed keyboard melted into a table felt quite ancient.
You established your studio in the Design Academy’s basement in 2009 and have since had pieces join the permanent collections of several museums around the world. What’s next for your studio?
Dirk Van Der Kooij: The next big step for Kooij is a new studio. I just bought a new space 15 minutes north of Amsterdam. It’s a 3000 sqm old bullet storage facility that we’re transforming into a warehouse and studio with multiple machines running, so I can have space to experiment like I used to. We cannot break this building – the floor was literally used to house palettes of bullets.
The Chubby chair
The Buitenhuis chandelier
Are there any new materials or methods that you’re experimenting with at the moment?
Dirk Van Der Kooij: This year, we’ve been experimenting with aluminium in a new version of our ‘Not Only Hollow Chair’. It’s comprised of a single tube that goes around and around until it makes a chair. I’m excited to be in the new space where I can create and play. When you’re working with new techniques, you need space to mess things up and do it wrong.
What excites you about the next 12 months in design?
Dirk Van Der Kooij: Something I’ve noticed in the design scene is reframing luxury to include sustainability. For example, our packaging is entirely reinforced cardboard. When it arrives, it looks far less luxurious than a wooden crate with all the stencils on it. That’s a much less sexy visual, but we won’t cut down that many trees to ship our products across the world. We’re increasingly starting to see clients hold work that is made with sustainability in mind to a different set of criteria. I’ve been thrilled to see our clientele, and I anticipate other people’s clientele, pivoting away from luxury being defined by perfection to luxury being defined by careful action.
The Menhir bench
Why is Maison&Objet a good platform for showcasing work like yours?
Dirk Van Der Kooij: This is our first independent Maison&Objet, which is exciting. The best part is being able to meet new people. We’ve reached different audiences and dealers globally through the power of social media, but this is a whole new set of people. Of course, they’re also on Instagram, but something about selling directly to people helps impregnate the work with sentimental value. We find that the more we can reach people directly, the more likely they are to invest in the piece emotionally and, therefore, not throw it away.
We’re not here for the impulse buyers; we’re here for the people who are thinking long and hard about something that they intend to pass down. When we work directly, we have a better chance of working towards that kind of legacy. To be here face-to-face with so many new people is really special.