Out of love for materials
Jul 4, 2012
The Dutch "design publisher" Thomas Eyck is fascinated by materials and craftsmanship, photo © Thomas Eyck

Materials provide the starting points for his collections. But actually designing the glasses, textiles, copper vessels and tin plates is something that “design publisher” Thomas Eyck leaves up to designers such as Studio Job, Christien Meindertsma and Scholten & Baijings. His gives them a carte blanche, leaving them to develop an entire series of objects all made from the respective material entirely to their own taste, which is then produced by a traditional craftsman workshop. Eyck actually studied Art History and Architecture before his fascination with craftsmanship and its techniques turned him into an entrepreneur. Juliane Grützner spoke to the Dutchman about his interest in materials and craftsmanship.

Juliane Grützner: What is your job description?

Thomas Eyck: I’m a design publisher. I commission designers to create products from certain materials. For me, the starting point for these pieces is always material, not the design.

How do you go about doing that?

Eyck: I go to a company that works with a material that I like. Glass, porcelain, paper, or wood, for example. Then I ask a designer if they would like to make me something from this material and whether they can see themselves working with this company. This way the designer is free to design whatever occurs to them. I never specify which product should be made, like a vase or plate.

Most products in your collection are manufactured using traditional techniques: Why are you so fascinated by this way of working?

Eyck: For me, craftsmanship means the greatest possible concentration on the material. I spent seven years working at the Dutch ceramics manufacturer, Royal Tichelaar Makkum, which has collaborated with Hella Jongerius, Jurgen Beij and Marcel Wanders, among others. There I learned to appreciate craftsmanship because the company makes all of its products itself. They break down the china clay, develop tools and manufacture products. I was really impressed by the whole operation.

When did you establish your own company?

Eyck: At the moment I felt like working with different materials. That was in 2007.

Your “t.e.” collection is made up of products like glasses, textiles, vessels made of copper and pewter as well as smaller items of furniture. It is a case of preserving traditional craftsmen techniques, enabling them to live on into the future?

Eyck: For me it is first and foremost a matter of telling stories using different materials. It is for this reason that I would never take a product out of my collection just because it isn’t selling well. It is part of the material’s story, which is always made up of several episodes; such that a single piece can’t be missing.

Which stories are you trying to tell with your products?

Eyck: Stories about the beauty of the material and the production method used to make the products.

It is their personality that sets your products apart from the rest. They stand for themselves; the signature of the designer who created them remains imperceptible.

Eyck: Then I’ve achieved my objective!

Which craftsmen techniques do you require to produce the collection?

Eyck: I work, among others, with rope makers, basket weavers, carpenters, blacksmiths specializing in copper and tin, and glass blowers.

What kind of difficulties can arise when working together with the workshops that make your products?

Eyck: I often come into contact with companies that have passed their technical expertise down from one generation to the next. They always work using the same methods and techniques, which sometimes means that their works looks a little old-fashioned. When I then come along with new design ideas, I have to first convince these companies to take a fresh look at themselves.

What can you tell us about the relationship between craftsmanship and design? And what effect does this have on the production process?

Eyck: The production process of course takes a lot longer and the products are therefore more expensive. In other words, my collection is not conceived for the society of built-in obsolescence, but for people who will hold on to it for a lifetime. Perhaps they will pass it on down the generations; that’s what I would hope for in any case.

Particularly in these times when our lives are determined by rapidity and a loss of identity do you think that there is a longing for the local, for the traditional, for things that possess greater worth and permanence?

Eyck: Yes, I think so.

How important do you deem sustainability when it comes to product development? Do you know of the “cradle to cradle” principle?

Eyck: Yes, I know it. If we aimed to design 100%-recyclable products alone, we would no longer be able to make anything. I consider “cradle to cradle” a business model. I don’t believe in it. My products are sustainable thanks to their longevity.

How many copies are made of each of your product?

Eyck: They are always produced as limited editions because they are just so elaborate in their production. Otherwise, the companies that produce them for me would have problems managing their own production.

Who buys your glasses, copper watering cans, wallpapers and wooden furniture?

Eyck: They’re made for the high-end market. For museums and prestigious department stores, such as Bon Marché in Paris, Selfridges in London, and the Japanese wholesaler in Hong Kong, DFS Galleria, which operates retailers in several Asian countries.

Do buyers look upon your products an investment?

Eyck: Definitely.

You also work as a curator at Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen. What is the museum’s main focus?

Eyck: It’s an open-air museum that exhibits old craftsmen techniques. That fascinates me.

Did you work on their current exhibition, “From craftsmanship to abstraction” too?

Eyck: No. I am only working as an external consultant at the moment; my own business occupies so much of my time that I have very little time to work with the museum. But we do meet up several times a year to discuss themes for coming exhibitions.

How do you select which designers work on your collections? Which skills do you look for in particular?

Eyck: As I mentioned previously, I chose the material – that is how I influence my collection. Then I look for a designer who has experience working with this material, and ask them whether they feel like designing something for the collection. You develop a feel for such things over time, bringing material manufacturers and designers together.

Which material are you currently working with?

Eyck: A series of leather products is in planning for 2013, to be created by Dick van Hoff.

Why do you work exclusively with Dutch designers?

Eyck: Because it is easier for us to get together to discuss the progress of a new series. We meet 20 to 30 times to coordinate the project with the workshop. That wouldn’t be possible if I were working with a designer from another country. I had doubts that this would lead to the end result coming across as being too superficial.

How do you live yourself? In a chic city apartment or an old farmer’s house in the countryside?

Eyck: I live and work in an 18th-century farmer’s house close to Oosternijkerk, which only has around 900 inhabitants. My workplace is also a gallery where I exhibit my collection. After one of the many long business trips I have to take, I just love returning to this countryside idyll.

The Dutch "design publisher" Thomas Eyck is fascinated by materials and craftsmanship, photo © Thomas Eyck
Plate of pewter "t.e.015" by Studio Job, photo © Thomas Eyck
Candle holder of pewter "t.e. 019" by Studio Job, photo © Thomas Eyck
Colour cushion "t.e. 037" of merino wool by Scholten & Baijings, photo © Thomas Eyck
Serviette ring "t.e. 050" of woven willow by Scholten & Baijings, photo © Thomas Eyck
Jar of glass "t.e. 055" by Scholten & Baijings, photo © Thomas Eyck
The "t.e. 077" luminaire is suspended from a woven, flax cord and was designed by Christien Meindertsma, photo © Thomas Eyck-
Wound from a flax cord: stool „t.e. 079“ by Christien Meindertsma, photo © Thomas Eyck
Copper watering can "t.e. 08" by Aldo Bakker, photo © Thomas Eyck
Installation of 63 different beetles of glazed porcelain "t.e. 099" by design office RaR, photo © Thomas Eyck
Carpet "t.e. 119", chair "t.e. 112" and table "t.e. 116" by Christien Meindertsma, photo © Thomas Eyck
Cupboard made of oak wood "t.e. 117" by Christien Meindertsma, photo © Thomas Eyck
Wallpaper "t.e. 126" by Irma Boom, photo © Thomas Eyck
Thomas Eyck lives and works in an 18th-century farmer’s house close to Oosternijkerk, photos © Thomas Eyck