Dutch design duo Kiki + Joost on the power of co-creation
Kiki and Joost invite us into their whimsical world to talk through their collaborative approach to unconventional design.
Two of the most highly-acclaimed Dutch designers of the moment, Kiki van Eijk and Joost van Bleiswijk know a thing or two about working together. Not only are they real-life partners but they are also the creative duo behind Kiki & Joost, a Dutch design firm that is simultaneously a solo and collaborative practice. Over two decades, the pair has shifted swiftly between individual works and collaborative projects, producing work that includes carpets, lighting, furniture, ceramics, glassware and textiles.
Their collective identity is defined by experimentation — experimentation with materials, form and function. Imagine Meccano-style furniture alongside plump ceramics with a leather-look surface; or tea towels donning colourful sketches of a vegetable garden drawn together with their son. The studio is as much about self-expression as it is about the final product.
Still, while this common thread links their work, the aesthetic of each designer is distinct. Kiki’s world is lyrical and personal, infusing everyday objects with a whimsicality that reflects her rich imagination. She adopts a free-form approach, as can be seen in Ceramic Wall Stories (2020-21), a series of hand-built ceramic mirrors in which slabs of glazed ceramic are placed around a mirror to create a 3D collage.
It’s a perfect match for Joost’s conceptual take on craft. He still straddles the gap between experimentation and production but from an architectural perspective. Some of Joost’s most iconic pieces are archetypal objects such as clocks, sideboards, and candelabras reduced to two dimensional components, assembled by slotting the pieces together.
We visited Kiki & Joost at Dutch Design Week 2021: the festival was centred around ‘The Greater Number’ theme, calling for a critical look at our way of producing and consuming.
Introduced back in 2007, it’s a now-iconic technique he calls “no screw, no glue”. More recently, he applied it to a collection for Dutch furniture company Moooi, which Kiki and Joost unveiled during Dutch Design Week alongside several one-off pieces including a surreal series of Kiki-designed vases for Maison Dada.
Called ‘Meanwhile’, the exhibition highlighted the healing qualities of the making process, touching on the myriad ways Kiki and Joost draw inspiration from the process to produce work with an abstract or non-uniform appeal. With that in mind, we spoke to the designers about creative partnership and the importance of maintaining a strong identity, both as individuals and as a creative duo.
Firstly, where do you harvest your ideas? Do they start with a vision of a product or with a process?
Kiki: “The most important tool you have as a creative it’s your intuition that you feed reading, sharing, studying, experiencing. How to hold to it, nourish it and protect it from the conformity of life is a gift and can be learned. The process of visualization of our idea comes later and it’s often by hand sketching in 2D or 3D, with paper or different materials.”
You work together but also apart, how do you decide on which projects to go solo and which ones to join forces?
Kiki: “We have very different aesthetics so we usually see every project with different eyes. The majority of time we work separately. Of course sharing a studio, a team and a family makes us always connected. Often we are editors of each other.
We usually accept projects together when it’s multilayered. Joost is incredible with construction, fabrication and solving technical problems, and I am more of a romantic visionary that believes in the healing process of the imaginary world.”
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Can you describe your process as a studio from idea to production?
Kiki: “We train ourselves in letting ourselves be guided by the process and not vice versa. So most of the time we don’t know the outcome of a project at the start of it. We don’t industrialize production, we are not interested in that in our studio. Machines and computers are the ‘how’ for us, not the ‘why’. Everything starts from the heart and the hands.
We have a team of talented craftspeople that take great pride in what they do. We play loud music, we laugh, we have lunch together every day and we work. We rarely outsource production. For the majority, we are able to produce in house. The craftsmen are all educated in design, that’s why they are also very good at thinking with their hands. This teamwork is really a crucial part of the design process.”
What is your favourite project you have worked on?
Kiki: “Always the last one. Until the next one.”
What projects are you currently working on that you can share information about? Any dream ideas for the future?
Kiki: “We will have a show together at Spazio Nobile in Brussels next year during Collectible. Together we are also working on the interiors for about 3000m2 for the North Sea Jazz festival in Rotterdam July 2022. For the future we hope to continue it with the beautiful flow we have at the moment. In general we like the mix of bespoke autonomous pieces and the more industrialized designs for international manufacturers.”
What advice would you give to a new design studio/duo embarking on working together and wanting to hone their craft?
Kiki: “Find your own voice, be nice to people, be generous and don’t trust social media. Don’t be afraid, try to live and make in the moment. And most of all: ENJOY!”