People first become aware of Dutch design through architecture.
Sweeping organic home facades; Jenga-like stacks of rectangular boxes assembled into a skyscraper. Geometric glass facades tipped with Mondrian-inspired blocks of colour; bridges that leap and interiors that enfold.
All with a touch of the whimsical and fantastical.
It extends to Dutch product design more generally, characterized as minimalist, experimental, innovative, quirky, and humorous.
I do get to where I know it when I see it, as sure as the ‘two objects / no curtains’ rule for identifying a Dutch window.
Although Design (form and style that fits function and purpose) often has a contemporary feel in Europe, it has deep roots. The Morris Gallery in north London showcases the Arts and Crafts ideas of designer, craftsman, and socialist William Morris. It emerged from late 19th century pre-Raphaelite romanticism and an anti-industrial return to traditional materials and folk styles.
He achieved a light, delicate look to chairs and tables that is very contemporary, although his tapestries and wallpapers look more Oriental and dated. The museum gives good account of the range of his works and the evolution of his thinking.
Morris was also something of a Utopian, writing News from Nowhere, a fictional account of a man waking into a future society that thrives despite the absence of private property, big cities, authority, money, courts, schools, prisons…
Morris favored a more pastoral, less industrial life “ that the material surroundings of my life should be pleasant, generous, and beautiful”.
In that way, and in the designs through which he expressed his political and philosophical ideals, he predates Eindhoven’s Design Academy and it’s organic, humanist creations.
I was (also) partial to the Interactive Entrepreneur game, in which you try to use limited funds to find commissions, hires designers, buy materials, and deliver products to build William’s business. (You can play it online)
While my brand thrived, my profits were mediocre, earning me a tongue lashing from my wife, Jane (right) who famously slept with another pre-Raphaelite.
Interestingly, the William Morris & Co. Design group still exists (and thrives) by making fashionable textiles and luxury fabrics.