Marcel Wanders studio time, by Tristan Rutherford
Camper & Nicholsons SEA+I Magazine, February 2021
Gabriele Chiave once spent a year flying around the world in KLM Business Class. The Creative Director of Marcel Wanders studio was asked to design a new table service for the Dutch carrier. “Every airline’s offering wasn’t very exciting,” says Chiave. “All square white plates. Our studio worked on the project for four years to balance function, security, weight and stacking, creating a sophisticated restaurant service.”
Marcel Wanders studio’s KLM table service is a modern Dutch classic. Porcelain, linens and glassware sing with elegant simplicity. Filigree cutlery pairs functionality with heft. Yet the new table service is far lighter than the original, reducing both airplane weight and CO2 emissions. “I spent weeks in the galley watching the cabin crew work,” Chiave recalls.
The Amsterdam based studio takes an “intensely humanistic” approach to design. When styling private residences, teams have been known to spend weeks with clients “to understand what triggers them,” in Chiave’s words. Nearly 2,000 designs have instilled playful functionality into sofas, rocking chairs and pepper grinders for clients like Roche Bobois, Yves Saint Laurent and Alessi. “We design everything from a hotel to a toothpick,” says Chiave. “We create objects that travel the world. They are storytelling designs that carry a brand’s messages and values. They have legs.”
The studio’s story started in 1995. Its founder, Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, crafted his famed Knotted Chair using high-tech aerospace fibres. It’s a romantic, decorative and, most importantly, comfortable recliner. The iconic seat now resides in New York's Museum of Modern Art. Over 25 years on, Wanders says that the Knotted Chair distills his studio’s design ethos: “It will never be out of date because it draws on the traditions of yesterday while using the technology of tomorrow. Our studio creates work that may seem familiar at first glance yet is ultimately surprising and contemporary because nobody has ever seen the like before.”
Just like the Andaz Hotel in Amsterdam. This unique establishment sits a ten-minute cycle ride from both Marcel Wanders studio and the Rijksmuseum. At first it appears as luxuriously appointed as any top hotel. Yet delve deeper and guests will find armchairs that look like tulips. Blue and white motifs inspired by Dutch Delft ceramics. And reams of books that recall the hotel’s previous incarnation as a public library. “By weaving traditions into a design - through typology, shapes, craft, colour schemes - we embrace heritage,” says Wanders. “While at the same time, we reimage and play with it.”
Imagery around the Andaz Hotel speaks of the Dutch Golden Age. During the 17th century, Holland ruled the world in science, art, trade and tech. The roots of this economic boom can be understood by any armchair economist. The Dutch used free energy to power windmills and sawmills. Which allowed well-nourished craftsmen to construct massive fleets. In turn, these ships pioneered trade with Asia. The world's oldest stock exchange (now part of the Euronext Index) allowed enterprise to pursue long term profits. Perhaps most importantly, a huge migration of skilled labour - protestants from France, Jews from Iberia - imported new ideas to the Dutch Republic.
Gabriele Chiave understands the resonance today. “For hundreds of years, Holland embraced different cultures and different products,” muses the studio’s Creative Director. “I think this helps Dutch designers embrace polarities and combine them to create architecture and design.” Like Chiave, who grew up in a diplomatic household with stints in Buenos Aires, Dakar, Caracas and Rome, the 52 staff members at Marcel Wanders studio are drawn from around the world.
Dutch yacht design has embraced similar world-beating values. The new Feadship site in Amsterdam claims to be "the most eco-friendly superyacht yard in the world". Fuelled by waste-to-energy sources and 2,000 solar panels, it also has an enviably low electricity bill. Oceanco's 107m sailing yacht Black Pearl can cross the Atlantic on just 20 litres of fuel (by using its spinning propellor as a turbine generator) at speeds of up to 30 knots. Amels and Heesen have pioneered similar eco-chic projects.
The current Golden Age of Dutch yacht building begs another question. Like designers Norman Foster and Philippe Starck, could Marcel Wanders studio create their own superyacht?
“I think it would be super interesting,” says Chiave. “Our studio does interior design on all levels, from six star hotels to large private residences. The other part of our studio designs products from lighting to furniture to accessories. So a yacht would be like any of our super big luxury projects which combines all our expertise. This one just happens to float!”
“Starck created a statement (with the 119m superyacht A),” continues Chiave.
“People remember it.” As did Norman Foster with 43m Ocean Emerald, a stylish metallic swoosh that charters in South East Asia with Camper & Nicholsons. Of course, any prospective yacht design from Marcel Wanders studio “would be supported by the best experts in the field” of naval architecture. Fending off a designer’s ego is also key. “A well-delivered project needs to reflect both the DNA of the designer and the company,” agrees Chiave. “Their influences need to be recognised in the final result.”
How would a possible yacht look? “At the Monaco Yacht Show the boats I see are all very high-tech, sleek and technologically modern,” says Chiave. “The feeling inside is similar.” On some vessels, the proximity of the ocean seems distant. “Although you’re floating on the sea I don't think that (many yachts) transfer the beauty of nature, which I believe could be far more connected. We could create a further sense of cosiness and warmth through a certain design narrative and natural materials. That could be something interesting to explore.”
A prospective yacht design could also tell stories through maps, objects and furniture. Just like the studio’s new VIP area at Amsterdam Schiphol, which opened in 2020. “We believe that ignoring the past today will not make our future,” concludes Chiave. Tomorrow’s Marcel Wanders studio superyacht could be with us sooner than you think.
Luxury yacht writer Tristan Rutherford regularly writes for Camper & Nicholsosn Magazine about travel, architecture and culture.