Marcel Wanders is one of the true design celebrities of our time. His relentless energy, imagination and sense of humor define his practice, as does his philosophy that objects should not tastefully blend into the background, but should instead move us — to fantasy, to laughter, to recognition.
One of the hallmarks of Wanders' career is his insane productivity in nearly every medium. He has designed for more than a dozen companies, including Cappellini, Flos, Bisazza, Baccarat, and Puma, as well as Moooi, a company he co-founded and now art directs.
Wanders' work tends to be beautiful, often referencing historical forms or patterns in unexpected ways. His first 'hit' was his Knotted Chair for Droog, produced in 1995 (image 2), which he made by draping woven fibers over a mold and infusing them with epoxy resin to create a functional, sturdy chair out of macramé. Now in the permanent collection of MoMA, the chair perfectly represents Wanders' interest in tradition, his innovative explorations of new materials, and his playful sensibility, always toying with expectations. It also references lace, a historical Dutch material that comes up again and again in his designs (Wanders is Dutch.) But in Wanders' hands, lace is not delicate and gossamer; instead it is solid and durable, or pixellated into mosaic (image 3), always a respectful but tongue-in-cheek use of tradition.
The fertility of Wanders' imagination is staggering. His birdhouse simply places a colorful roof over a plate, providing a civilized restaurant for winged creatures (image 5). His swing, on the other hand, has cavities for soil and seeds, so that vines can climb the swing's supports, turning an already unconventional seat into an indoor image of nature's abundance (image 6).
Wanders' work often explores this tension between the primitive and the cultivated. His mosaic coffee tables, for example, use sparkling Bisazza tile to create patchwork images that might have been conceived by a child (image 7). His famous Zeppelin pendants, inspired by a design by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, sheath a traditional-looking chandelier within a ghostly cocoon (image 8).
Wanders' intelligence and sense of humor is readily apparent in any statements he makes. Here are some thought-provoking gems from recent interviews:
“Design is way too modern. People cannot cope. Modern composers make music we can’t listen to. We push the boundaries too hard, and the public loses track. The world is too focused on youth—I want to remember that I have a mother as well as a daughter. I want to make work that looks to the future, but also back to the past. I want to use new techniques, but also reintroduce that lost quality of beauty." — from Dwell
"I don’t want to make furniture that’s not functional. But the problem with modern design is that it defines functionality too narrowly. The more functional a chair, the less we feel it in our butts. The ‘I don’t know it’s there, so I don’t have to care’ approach is fine with a pacemaker. But a good chair you feel in your heart.” — from Dwell
"I work with durability in design. products worth bonding with for a lifetime. It is important to make ‘aged’ products, objects that feature conventional elements with modern, lasting materials … which will last time as well as concept. In the face of a throwaway culture that consumes meaningless products, I want my creations to have more quality … and more qualities." — from designboom