Marcel Wanders

by Radmila Durasinovic

Marcel Wanders

Dutch designer Marcel Wanders has been termed an anomaly in the design world and the Lady Gaga of Design by the New York Times. He finds inspiration in the likes of Phillipe Stark, Antonio Gaudi, Issey Miyake and Frank Gehry – all designers with an inclination towards extravagance, which is also a defining element of Wanders’ work. Beginning his career as a furniture designer, Marcel Wanders developed an affinity for interiors and has over 1,900 designs in his portfolio to date. 

Career Beginnings – Furniture and Product Design 

Marcel Wanders grew up in Boxtel, the Netherlands and graduated from the Academy of Arts in Arnhem in 1988. His career began as a freelance designer in the field of product and furniture design before establishing his own company, Wanders Wonders, in 1995. Already the following year, Wanders gained international attention with his Knotted Chair designed for Droog Design. The chair was created from aramid braided cord with a carbon fibre core, which was hand-knotted in a traditional macramé technique before being soaked in resin. The structure was then hung in a frame to solidify. Today produced by Cappellini, the design is one of Wanders’ most iconic pieces. It foreshadows his distinct approach to design on numerous levels. Firstly, it combines technologically advanced materials with handcraft manufacturing methods - merging industry and craft, innovation and tradition. Further, it aims to surprise through the unconventional use of materials. Here, the stiffness of the knotted cord provides the user with an unexpected experience of the chair. The end result is an object both traditional and surreal, which Wanders accomplishes by taking something familiar and reinterpreting it in his own innovative and unique way. 

This unconventional approach became a central motive for co-founding design company Moooi with Casper Vissers in 2001. Since the beginning, the company has worked with designers to realize their creative visions, resulting in an “eclectic design universe” based on original concepts and materials. With its philosophy defined as “a life extraordinary”, Moooi’s aim is to go the extra mile in terms of beauty and uniqueness, in order to add personality to interior spaces. Wanders has designed several iconic pieces for Moooi rich with cultural references and a dose of surrealism. The Monster Chair was conceived as a symbol of the eternal battle between opposing forces in life. Though available in several versions, the upholstered chair is most recognizable in black with diamond stitching, giving it a gothic appearance. Continuing the thick-legged chair trend is the V.I.P. chair, whose silhouette is reminiscent of a throne. The flared legs conceal wheels, making it a versatile piece suitable for many functions. Wanders has also tried his hand at object design, producing several successful pieces for the Moooi design universe like the Egg Vase and a collection of vases painted in Wanders’ signature Delft blue. 

Wanders has also created numerous furniture designs for other brands. The Sparkling chair created for Magis made its debut at the 2010 Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan. Created using minimal plastic and the highest ambitions, it utilizes a blow molding technique commonly used for water bottles. Named sparkling, it references “a little star, a little large light, a glow in the dark, a direction and a destination” inside every person. 

In designing furniture, Wanders has a penchant for boldness, luxury, and the element of surprise, reflected in the concepts behind his whimsical furniture. In this, his designs can be viewed more as art objects for the home rather than functional pieces. Today, Wanders works primarily within the Marcel Wanders studio based in Amsterdam, and directs a team of 40 designers. The company characterizes itself as defying dogma and “preferring to focus instead on the holistic, romantic, surreal, archetypical, rather than the technocratic. In this universe, the coldness of industrialism is replaced instead by the poetry, fantasy and romance of different ages, vividly brought to life in the contemporary moment. The work of Marcel Wanders studio excites, provokes and polarises, but never fails to surprise, to celebrate and entertain.”  

Interior Design

Today, Wanders is focused more on interior design. The transition came about in 2001, when he decided to branch out from furniture design into a wider field. His most notable projects are in the hospitality industry. In translating his design philosophy into the world of interiors, the most important aspect of any project is creating a sense of place by allowing the local culture to influence the design. With clients all around the globe, this approach has created a diverse portfolio of interiors, each unique and connected to its setting through the use of specific local forms, colours or materials. 

As with his furniture, the “unexpected” is also a central conceptual driver of Wanders’ interiors. With the aim of making interior spaces a memorable experience independent of their function, Wanders layers objects and materials to create a fantasy space. He highlights the power of design to make even mundane activities interesting, through the creation of a unique spatial experience. For instance, each space in the Mondrian Doha hotel in Qatar possesses its own identity, which weaves into a wider story orchestrated by the Marcel Wanders Studio. Inspired by the tale of One Thousand and One Nights, Wanders provides his own interpretation of tradition and contemporaneity through the bespoke interior design. The user is met by massive columns and giant bell-shaped chandeliers upon entering. Wanders has spoken of the symbolism of bells often found in his work – a sign of welcome for people to connect with each other. The theme of oversized elements continues in the lobby, which features gigantic white lamps and a winding black staircase. Another space creates the illusion of being in a luminescent forest. Local patterns and Arabic writing add detail to flooring and furniture and incorporate the character of the place into the design of an international hotel chain. 

The Marcel Wanders Studio has a long-standing tradition in hotels, having designed the interior for the Mondrian South Beach in Miami and the Kameha Grand Zurich, for example. Wanders aims to give the visitor a sense of the destination, mostly through the use of impersonal and often superficial formal referencing. Here, Wanders refers to the universality of these associations as a good thing, for their ability to touch many people, which is another aim of his studio – connecting to many different sensibilities at the same time.  Wanders’ interiors, however, cannot be considered universal. The emphasis on excitement and provocation through an eclectic blend of luxurious shapes, colours, patterns and textures, can be overwhelming for some. In line with his maximalist approach, to Mies’ less is more, Wanders declares “Less is lazy. More isn’t even enough!”. A divisive and loaded statement, much like Wanders’ designs. As an occasional getaway from the everyday, they provide a unique experience. However, their fantastical character can only be fully appreciated in contrast to the typical.

Featured Image: Marcel Wanders. © Magis

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