One of the most influential names in the history of Dutch Design(ers), Jan Des Bouvrie is known for painting the Netherland white. With his sleek design and minimalist approach, he aspired to bring a change in the traditional fashion of Dutch interiors.
He always portrayed himself as a craftsman instead of being called an artist, though art played an integral role in his life and design process. It seems like he wisely made use of his constraints and turned them into opportunities to deliver a better design as he mentioned several times about his dyslexic condition to be the rationale behind his success as a good designer.
He mentioned in an interview that he could barely read, and that made him look and listen all the better. Bouvrie was a rare combination as he used to describe himself as the master of networking things, and someone who is both business-like and creative.
Bouvrie was born into the domain of design, as he took birth in a family of furniture retailers at Naarden in 1942. He later decided to attend the Gerrit Rietveld Academy for fine arts and design in Amsterdam. At his academy, he started collecting notable artworks and encountered leading avant-garde artists and this custom became a source of inspiration for his design and architecture.
After completing his training from the academy, he started working for his parents, but soon he ventured into furniture designing. In 1969, Jan Des Bouvrie became a renowned name after his iconic design of the ‘Kubus’ (Cube) Sofa for furniture brand Gelderland, which was later added to the permanent collection of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and in the Central Museum in Utrecht and is still in production today. He moved his design studio to Naarden in 1993 and together with his spouse and fellow Interior Designer Monique des Bouvrie, he set up Het Arsenal. An archetype of a studio, a restaurant, and a lifestyle showroom, all within a beautiful former 17th-century military building.
He was named as a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2009, the country’s oldest and highest civilian order of chivalry. He became a household name, as his scope of work dealt with almost anything and everything that could be possibly named under the domain of design, from ostensibly mundane objects to large-scale architectural projects. The dark oak changed in the 1970s and 1980s, he brought lights and space into Dutch Interiors with his sleek, symmetrical, and white design.
Before his arrival in the design industry, Dutch interiors were mostly dark, stuffy, and moody, but he wanted to bring back simplicity through his design. From his choice of materials to his layout each element designed had clear details that defined and reflected his style. He became the advocate of white, clean lines and open spaces, by breaking the boundaries of traditional Dutch interiors.
Jan’s seeking for light and lightness becomes blatantly clear be it in the use of the color white in his product design or the open, airy, and sparsely designed contemporary interiors, and also make a statement about his design aesthetics and main focus. Bouvrie believed that there is no creativity without passion and he wanted to be a part of the entire interior process as long as it has to do with living. For him, the basics were fundamental to the design. Light, art, symmetry, white, and space became core terms in his conversations and work.
“I was born in a little room above a shop with no window, I have always sought the light.”
– Jan des Bouvrie
From the very initial stage of his career (after his training at the Rietveld Academy), he created light and space in order to recapture the lost simplicity both in shape and color. He mentioned in an interview that when he started his career, he had a hard time with all the colors, motifs, and materials that were used in that period. He wanted to create more open and friendly spaces. But though he is recognized to be a man who thinks and drinks white, he is not only limited to working with whites alone.
Some of his residential projects share a steady color scheme with white and black. Still, nobody had an influence like him, it all started with painting masonry and scrap metal white but soon lily-white stucco walls became the standard. The essence of his design and his motive could be pictured with the white and sleek furniture. He introduced the concept of the open kitchen, and it is said that about 25% of Dutch homes now have open kitchens, he declared himself to be the pioneer of the open kitchen in the Netherlands and credits himself for new preference for light, airy and living spaces.
With that Verandah became another concept he promoted through his design in the Netherlands. He always remained true to his personal style but yet was conscious about the changes happening within the domain.
Though he was the first major designer in the Netherlands to start collaborating with mainstream brands such as Gamma and Wehkamp. Jan des Bouvrie and his design had a certain sense of empathy involved, as he designed both for the poor and the rich, he contends that designing the affordable product is also an important aspect. He also mentioned in his interview with the Interiorator that one of the essential working methods is to listen to the client very carefully, they often know what they’re looking for and even if they don’t know how to actually make it a reality. That is where he alleged designers come in and one should never try to talk clients away from what they
“You can never tell your clients that something is not possible”.
– Jan Des Bouvrie
He was a modernist with a preference for sleek, geometric, shapes and minimal use of colors, mainly white. He cited Mondrian, Rietveld, and Le Corbusier to be his greatest source of inspiration. He believed and as he said – “White gives people flowers and art the opportunity to shine”. His students at the Jan Des Bouvrie Academy are taught to become lifestyle advisors, where they should ensure the material product knowledge.
His ideology was particular in its very nature where the design should be functional, pleasant, and of high aesthetic values. Simple, sleek, and timeless was his style, and he was most proud of the fact that he learned to live in the Netherlands differently.
“Jan Des Bouvrie, was colorful as he was, made the world light and white”.
– Jan Des Bouvrie Studio
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