15 November – Guest 21: Maarten Baas


Object: drawing from when you were a child

The Kairos moment in my career was the moment I launched Clay Furniture. I’ll talk about the moment I had to choose for a direction that was an intuitively right, yet scary, path to take.
(I also have a secret second kairos moment, about which I’ll tell during the talk.)


Picture: Thomas Straub



Maarten Baas was born in Arnsberg, Germany in 1978. From 1979, Baas grew up in the Netherlands. After graduating from high school, he began studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 1996. Baas is considered to be one of the most influential Dutch designers of the beginning of the 21st century. He is often described as an “author designer,” of which his works lie on the boundaries between art and design. His work is known as rebellious, playful, intellectual, theatrical and artistic. He has gained an autonomous position in the design field, and his work varies from conceptual designs, limited editions, production design, installations, public space, architecture, interior design, theater design and performances.
His works are in major museum collections, such as the MoMa, Victoria & Albert Museum, Les Arts Decoratifs, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Die Neue Sammlung, Stedelijk Museum and Rijksmuseum. And in private collections of Brad Pitt, Kanye West, Ian Schrager and Adam Lindemann. He worked for exclusive brands, such as Louis VuittonSwarovskiDior, Dom Ruinart and Berluti.


KAIROS 21 – A Talk with MAARTEN BAAS – 29 Participants






Maarten Baas // Kairos 21

The key overarching theme of the seminar was that of listening to your inner drive as a designer/artist/creator of things. He emphasised letting your instincts and intuition dictate how you work on projects. This way your work is a true reflection of yourself. It is very easy to disregard this voice or drive in favour of what is expected or popular but it is important that you nurture it so that you cultivate a sort of symbiosis with it. Its fragility means it must be reinforced with the utmost commitment. You have to believe in your work. That is why it is important to work on projects that are born out of this inner drive as without this driving force a project cannot hope to succeed.

Maarten mentioned that though you must be completely committed to a project it is only natural to doubt yourself and the project as blind commitment in a project can also lead to bad outcomes. You have to be insecure or scared of your work or you are likely on “safe ground”. Progress or a creative outcome can only arise from “unsafe ground”. You must push through the hardship in order to break new ground and develop yourself as a designer/creator.

The pre seminar task was to bring in a drawing from when you were a child. The motivation behind this task being to put you in touch with the vague memory of how you felt when you created that piece of art. How it was born out of the creative drive, which Maarten refers to, in its earliest, purest form. Untainted and free. A purity and naivety that is lost with your now experienced and weathered world view. This drive birthing a piece of art that is inherently beautiful because of what it represents. An utterly sincere and pure interpretation of the world. And it is the spontaneity and purity of this drive that Maarten tries to utilise in his work.

This naive world view cannot be fully recaptured and dwindles with age but pragmatically we may use it in combination with our new found wisdom and experience to apply a practical application to this romantic idea of a raw and free creativity. It is crucial to strike a balance between the two so that projects are beautiful and raw yet grounded.

“Smoke”: – Maarten’s break into the design world came with his “smoke” series. For this project Maarten took classic chair designs and charcoaled them so that their exterior was entirely burnt before coating the pieces in epoxy resin to preserve their functionality. This creating an obvious incongruity in the objects of transience in opposition to preservation. This linking to nature and human nature respectively: “In nature, everything is in flux, which creates a certain beauty. Yet, it’s a very human tendency to keep things as they are supposed to be and keep them beautiful as they originally were“.

This project has a rebellious facet to its commentary. Of tearing down/burning what came before you so that you can create something new. However, while Maarten realised the rebellious aspect he stressed that the primary focus was that of the transience and preservation duality. In his eyes rebellion in design fundamentally relies on having something to kick against and is inherently negative/anti. It is nothing without what it comments on and thus is hollow in some respects.

From a more business minded and pragmatic perspective Maarten discussed how initially he saw the burning as a sort of niche within the design world he could claim for himself as a sort of calling card that would stake his claim in the design world. He also mentioned that he wanted something that he could make himself and could independently produce, allowing him greater freedom with the outcome.

“Clay”: – For Maartens follow up project “Clay “ he noted how after the success of his smoke project he felt pressure to create something that would live up to what had been built up around his new found design persona. He felt that it would have been easy for him to create a slick modern design as a follow up. But instead he decided to follow the inner child-like drive that he spoke of with the childhood drawings and follow his instincts on where to take his next project. In this case quite literally childish, but only coincidently. It was the spontaneity and intuition of the childish drive that he chased and utilised not the childlike appearance (as this is only superficial). Separate from the expectations placed on him, firmly rooted in a reflection of his true self as a designer. Namely that he made what he wanted to make. Once again he stressed that it was only possible because he believed in what he was doing and committed to it wholeheartedly. It was this realisation in his career that Maarten named as his Kairos moment and would influence the direction that the rest of his career would take

Time related projects: – Finally Maarten spoke on his various projects relating to time. None in specific but he elaborated on his apparent fascination with time in his projects. Namely the perspective that contemplating time can lend to us and it’s ability to show us what we truly value when we see our life in times shadow: “with money you can buy everything but time”. The example he gave was that of his “tree trunk chair” that uses a mould to grow a tree into the shape of a chair over the course of 200 years.

Maarten’s advice for us as designers yet to break into the design world was to utilise our circumstances to our advantage. As a student we lack certain privileges afforded to large designers like funding or connections but we also have a much greater flexibility and freedom. As young designers we can also utilise our position to get companies to take us under their wing so to speak and help fund and collaborate with us in ways more experienced designers cannot. What Maarten really emphasised was not to be defeatist and to make the most of our situation regardless of whether it is fair. Even so you are at your most creative when you are young (again relating to the childish creative drive) and this is something that no amount of money or experience can rejuvenate.

Luke Deighton