Marcel Wanders


Firing on all Cylinders

With a sense of theatricality and a remarkable use of space and textures, Marcel Wanders larger-than-life interiors have garnered international acclaim. But what really puts the fire in the creative belly of this Dutch designer?

More romantic than renegade, Wanders talks about looking into people’s hearts to understand their needs. Perhaps his mission statement summarises him best: “Here to create an environment of love, live with passion, and make our most exciting dreams come true.”

Wanders certainly enjoys passing on the design gene. Graduating cum laude from the School of the Arts Arnhem in 1988, it was there that he began to form his philosophy on design, more focused on people than things. “You don’t design for industry, but for individuals,” he explains. Teaching at several art academies in the Netherlands, his hope has long been to impart his philosophy to the next generation of designers: “Many people notice design only when it fails,” he says. “I want to inspire designers to make things that people will love because they work so well.”

A cofounder and artistic director at design label Moooi, his current work portfolio is a testament to this philosophy. Spanning a variety of international clients including Cappellini, Alessi, KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines, Magis, Google, Target, and M.A.C. cosmetics, his wider body of work ranges from fashion accessories to lavish hotels represented in museums around the world, including the Museums of Modern Art in both New York and San Francisco and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Moda Flagship store in Bahrain, and private residences in Amsterdam, Mallorca and Jakarta, many of his designs have also been selected for the most important design collections and exhibitions in the world.

But it is perhaps his collaboration with YOO, recalling the materials, techniques and values of traditional Dutch design and making them relevant in the twenty-first century, that has enabled him to push the boundaries of ingenuity with most abandon.

His latest project with the company Mira Moon Hotel in Hong Kong has, to say the least, created quite a stir in the Fragrant Harbour city. His aim – to interact with and re-interpret Chinese traditions, was, he explains always going to be a ‘challenge’ but it is one that has yielded a fascinating and rewarding result.

“The philosophy behind the hotel was to contribute a certain aesthetic from a western perspective and blend that with an overall Asian sensibility,” he explains. “The location Wanchai, has a real feel of rich and colourful history, a dynamic vibe and exotic aura that is a fabulous backdrop. It reminds me a little of Holland’s Rotterdam. Ultimately the idea was to impart an effect that was romantic, inspiring and poetic, which I think has been achieved so beautifully.”

Interiors specifically draw on the inspiration of the Chinese Moon Festival fairy-tale - a legend in Chinese mythology about the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The main characters in the story, the Goddess, the Archer, the Jade Rabbit and the moon, appear recurringly throughout the hotel in various charming semblances.

Influences can also be seen taken from traditional Chinese craftsmanship. Ceramics, carved timber and cut crystal are used throughout, creating a heady cultural mix which is made relevant today with a warm colour palette of orange, brown and light green, successfully combining heritage with modern artistic expression.

References to Chinese culture are also expressed through the choice of modern furnishings with antique Chinese fabrics and prints, details found in the peony flower walls, tailored carpets, digitally composed Bisazza tile graphics and a lucky charm feature wall in the lobby.

“All the furniture pieces and accessories were designed and tailor made by Wanders & YOO,” Marcel explains. “For example, the lanterns in the foyer are symbolic, embellished with gold balls and embossed with the characters from the fairy tale. The idea was to have these lanterns move up and down in synch with the daily motion of the moon. It was a device to help convey in a more playful way the Moon Festival story in the details of our design.

He adds: “As designers we have to lie like poets, and pair the unexpected to convey our imaginative vision. We can enhance the world with a dream, a pairing. I love these little moments. They are always welcome in my world”

In the Design Hot Seat

Where do you sit on the ‘form versus function’ role played by design?

Functionality is the lowest standard in design. Don’t get me wrong, I find functionality to be the fundament of design. But what makes great design is not that it functions, what makes great design is something else, a different qualifier. Of course you need a good foundation to build a great house, but a good foundation is not what makes a house great. A house is great because you and your loved ones feel connected to it, you feel how special it is and you want to live in it. Functionalists qualify at the lowest standard in design.

Always give people more than they expect, that is what makes design great.

Does great design always have to start with a great idea?

Yes, absolutely. We don’t start designing unless we have a great idea. The concept is hardest part of the design process. The why. Why do you need a new hotel? Why should there be another teaspoon? That is a designer's real work: to make something that has a right to exist. If you can do that for a teaspoon, you can for sure do it for a hotel.

Our approach is pretty much conceptual; only if we have a great idea will it guide us to the end result. It’s like making a sculpture. There’s a block of marble, and it’s got this concept and idea hidden away in it, and we are trying to find this one idea in its ultimate existence—its ultimate way.

How would you define the evolution of your work since the 90s?

I have always directed myself towards experimentation, to explore creativity as widely as possible and risk everything while aiming for an excellent end-result. That wish to experiment has been often viewed as rebellious. The drive to do something I haven’t done before and experiment has stayed very strong. In 2014, I had a retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum, a presentation of about 25 years of work. It’s was great to reflect on my work of the past 25 years and be proud of what I have realized. Still I noticed, there is this hunger and restlessness, I don’t ever feel like I’m done. The year after that I have completed an MBA at Insead. It armed me with the tools to understand business and design better, and it was the most unexpected thing I could do at that time. I never want to be entirely comfortable with what I’m doing or where I’m going, I consider that boring.

What key note changes in design techniques have you seen over this period?

I think one of the biggest trends I am seeing is the extension of the living space in a way that connects the interior with the exterior. Whether through the architecture or creative lighting, interior designers are extending the entertainment space. There is also an emphasis on flow that I would like to see continue. The idea of a boundless experience appeals to me when I approach an interior project.

Is 2017 shaping up to be a seminal year for you?

I'm on a project. It's very secret. It's super interesting. It might fly or it might not. I am looking forward. We are also opening two hotels, one in Doha [Qatar] and one in Mallorca [Spain] next year. Further we are realising a pre-fabricated home. I see photographs of the prototype evolving every two days. It is super exciting.

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