Dutch furniture designer Piet Hein Eek is walking through an art gallery and pointing out the intricate joint work on Paul Heijnen's "Construction Cabinet." Wrapped in a patchwork of joints and levers, the dark blue wooden block is furniture as exoskeleton. A pioneer in utilizing found material and salvaged wood, Eek takes a pull on the handle, and, laughing, says, "I couldn't do this myself, it's too much energy."
For design week, Eek has taken over The Future Perfect, a New York gallery, to show his own pieces alongside work by a cadre of up-and-coming Dutch designers he supports. Eek even went so far as to recreate the Wonder Room, the space they use to showcase projects back home in Eindhoven. As far as Eek is concerned, industrial designers should "look at materials and take advantage of their circumstances," a style that eschews overcomplicating and high-tech machining and focus at the story inherent in, say, a discarded piece of wood or a lump of clay. Don't transform or alter castaway pipes for instance, instead, arrange them in an artful manner and create a striking table. While talking through pieces from throughout his career, including a new series of metal lamps, Eek provided a primer on his philosophy of reclaimed material.
Eek started with his first piece, a wooden cabinet made from salvaged wood from a lumberyard he worked at after graduating design school in Eindhoven. When he built it in 1989, Eek wanted to create a real piece of furniture, not a prototype, like his fellow students, and show that old was just as good as new. Made on the cheap, all it required was "his own energy," he says. This focus on material as a catalyst for problem solving makes his current workshop, an old light bulb factory, such an interesting place for material experimentation.
His new work, a series of metal lamps made with a punching machine, looks more finished, but takes the same playful approach. Eek had picked up the old machine when he wanted to buy some tools, and the dealer tossed in the industrial relic for free. While designing metal lamps for a bakery, he discovered the punch was useful; by adding holes to metal panels, he could bend them by hand, creating shapes that machines can't reproduce, and create lamp shades in steel, copper and brass that can't be made with laser cutting or water jets.
For Eek, it's as much about originality as it is about going where the material suggests. From "flowers" fashioned from discarded blankets and tarps, to a warped metal bench with a wavy top created through the welding process, the pieces on display at the Wonder Room show weren't about reclaiming as much as they were about reinterpreting.
The Wonder Room show at The Future Perfect in New York is up through June 20.
· All NY Design Week coverage [Curbed]