Architecture&design Infusing emotion into their design creations, the duo behind Brand van Egmond has enjoyed more than 20 years of critical acclaim.
A passionate collaboration
It was 1988 and Annet van Egmond, then working full time as a sculptor, had just returned from a trip to Namibia with her husband, William Brand, a successful architect and product designer. The pair shared a studio in Naarden, northern Holland and, although they worked side-by-side, their careers were mainly autonomous. "We had our studio for eight years but, as creatives running our own affairs from deliveries to book-keeping, it was a struggle," she admits. "But we were both determined to work only for ourselves."
Looking through photographs from the African trip, van Egmond was drawn to a pile of calabash, noting the skin and grooves of the indigenous gourd, and started to draw: "Hundreds of drawings, layer on layer; the images melted into one and eventually an entirely new object emerged." Van Egmond originally intended it to be a floor sculpture, moulded in iron, but decided instead to suspend it from the ceiling, adding chunks of roughly hewn glass. From her drawings Brand created a prototype lighting installation that they simply called "Chandelier" and with it, the duo burst into the design world to great commercial and critical acclaim.
Fast-forward 21 years and Chandelier is still one of Brand van Egmond's best-sellers, while the designers have become renowned for their daring and innovative approach to lighting and furniture design. Their Nightwatch chandelier from 2006 epitomises the way they fuse van Egmond's sculptural forms with Brand's architectural precision - while also making a joke on baroque. "Our collaboration really was a turning point," says van Egmond. "For me as an artist to make that switch from the gallery scene into the design scene was just fascinating."
However, despite the pair's international commercial success - and the fact someone else now makes the deliveries and does the book-keeping - the couple is still keen to remain independent: "We are very much a design studio, not a factory," says van Egmond. "The fact that we are in control of every single element of our product, from initial ideas and drawings to art direction and photography of the finished result, brings a great freedom as well as responsibility - to each other and the people who now work with us."
For van Egmond, the design process begins not so much with an idea, but with an emotion: "When I am designing I conjure up feelings of joy or of festivity or the pleasure of hearing flowing water or seeing sunlight dancing on a stream. I then write those feelings down, almost like writing poetry, so the initial concept becomes a very important element of the design. Only then do I begin to draw what I feel."
After the initial concepts have been decided, Brand starts to develop a prototype, which van Egmond then photographs, using her drawings and those initial concept emotions as inspiration. "All of the applications stem from the same emotions and I feel that it is important that whoever buys our designs feels it too," she explains. "That is why, when every product is shipped to a customer, I always include the text I have written so they will know how and why it was created."
Despite their collaborative success, Brand and van Egmond still pursue solo interests. Brand still works on architectural projects and van Egmond writes - she is currently in the finishing stages of a book about the company, to be published this year - and, not surprisingly, given the drama of her sculptural work, she enjoys making statement jewellery. "It was just for pleasure at first but many people comment on it when we are at furniture fairs, so maybe one day I will produce a truly special limited edition collection."
That love of jewellery is evident in at least one of the two new collections Brand van Egmond will unveil at the Milan Furniture Fair later this month. "Coco is a real flirtation between product design and fashion," explains van Egmond. "The design looks as if it is been made from strings of pearls and I have tried to evoke the atmosphere and glamour of the 1930s within it." The second collection, La Vie En Rose, is a little more complex, based on the feeling of love and spirituality a performer experiences when the opera has ended and they are being showered with roses.