Experimentation, Fusion, and Juxtaposition–Designer Michiel Poelmann in action.
By Purva Chawla
Experimentation, fusion, and juxtaposition–This set of words seems fitting, as I begin to write about designer Michiel Poelmann's work and reflect on my conversation with him.
Poelmann creates furniture, lighting, and other design products from wood, metal, and stone. But really, none of his creations conform to the standard molds of tables, stools, cabinets or lights created from these materials.
There is a beautiful Metal Cupboard, whose floating but connected 'sections' are fronted by copper panels with exquisite flares of color on them. The flares are the result of a chemical reaction; welding two different metals–steel and copper–together at their ends. Another instance is Poelmann's Tin Pendant Light (seen above), whose crumbling, twisted and glossy form originates in the collision of molten tin and water.
In addition to these, more bold and experimental creations, there are wooden tables fabricated from imperfect, found wood for the table tops and a single piece of steel that is bent to form each of the legs. These are projects where Poelmann displays creativity and efficiency in the use of familiar materials, as well as ingenuity when it comes to fabrication. This unique collection of creations from designer Michiel Poelmann makes it hard to classify his work, and all the more intriguing for us to follow.
Since 2014, Michiel has collaborated with Form&Seek and has exhibited his furniture and products alongside other Form&Seekers at Milan Design Week and the London Design Festival.
We spoke to Michiel recently and learned about the experimental process behind several of his beautiful works. He also shared with us, glimpses of his upcoming work for the London Design Festival 2016, and spoke about his continuing relationship with Form&Seek.
MD: Michiel, a lot of your work seems to originate in bold experimentation, especially with a variety of metals. Tell us how the relationship with metals began.
Michiel: My first experience with metals was while I was studying at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. For my graduation project, I needed a small piece of metalwork. I had never operated a metal grinder before, but the manager of the metalworking shop allowed me to cut the piece myself. Starting then, I was fascinated with metals–materials which are so solid one moment, and then quickly turn to liquid in just a few minutes, with the effect of heat.
Then I began to experiment with welding and taught myself several metalworking techniques. A significant impetus for me, going forward, was an interest in combining, or welding together two different metals– something which everyone told me was impossible. I experimented and eventually found a way to make this happen.
Since then, two of my works– a metal cupboard and a DJ booth for Hannekesboom have employed this technique of pieces of copper and steel welded together along their sides. The result is a warmer, softer shape in the center of the copper plate. I also like it because the final product is one that I don't have to paint anymore, it can be appreciated as it is.
MD: We are intrigued by the 'Tin Pendant Light' created by you. How was this made?
Michiel:Two years ago, I returned from the London Design Festival, having showcased my Metal Cupboard. At the time, I wanted to try and melt steel and copper, to truly combine them. Fellow designers warned me that this attempt could be explosive and dangerous. So I turned to metal I had access to freely, and one which is soft and melts easily–Tin. I tested its reactions with other materials, and eventually water. The collision of the two liquids made for unexpected and beautiful forms.
I went on to create a 'lift' of sorts, which carried a mold in it. Using this contraption, I could slowly insert the molten tin it into water within a mold. This made it possible to control the form of the Tin as it sets in the water.
MD: Tell us about your work for the upcoming London Design Festival, as part of the Form&Seek exhibit.
Michiel: My work for this year's London Design Festival is the result of a collaboration with antique dealer Michiel Wildschut and graphic designer Baukje Stamm. This ‘Cabinet of Oddities’ explores the intersection of antique materials and craft. A selection of antique pieces is the starting point here, followed by an investigation to see how they are paired best with metalwork techniques. The challenge has been to get the piece in balance–respecting the antique character while also adding elements of surprise. The element of play seen in the cabinets–the colors and patterns–are the work of Wunderwald, Baukje Stamm's design agency. The goal here is to use familiar objects, antique pieces in a refreshing way, but also be efficient and ingenious when it comes to fabrication.
In some ways, the approach is similar to my Cabinet of Curiosities. For that work, I was inspired by a collection of curiosities owned by my grandmother–a collection which was eventually displayed in the cabinet at the Salon del Mobile in 2015.
These works illustrate how fascinated I am with the pairing of old and new, and also with the story of an object. I like being able to tell a story through my work.
MD: In addition to more experimental work with metals, we see your wood and steel tables and stools. They appear to have a distinct style and method of fabrication. How do you approach that?
Michiel: The way I create the wooden tables and stools is very unlike the slow, continuous experimentation with metals. I collect the wooden tops from various places–often these are imperfect pieces that carpenters discard. For the bent steel legs, I have developed a single mold that can be used to fabricate legs of any height. This accelerates the process immensely, and a table can be created in as little as 4 to 6 hours. I have created over 30 pieces this way, and each is unique, but also efficient in its production.
The first piece I made this way, was the Paperclip Stool. I roughly sanded and smoothed a piece of wood, and for the legs, I only cut a 6-meter long piece of steel in half and welded and bent it to form the legs- no other cutting. This is an interesting approach for me too and is in complete juxtaposition to other work I have done, like the metal cupboard, which took a long time to create.
MD: Michiel you have been associated with Form&Seek since 2014 now. Tell us about your relationship with this talented collective of designers.
Michiel: When Form&Seek approached me to join them, in 2014, for the first time, I felt incredibly proud. It gave me a sense of validation, and that my work was appreciated.
Now, as I continue this association with Form&Seek and such a dynamic group of designers, it pushes me to work harder all the time and propels me forward.
MD: Where do you see your work going next, Michiel?
Michiel: For my future work, I am keen to continue testing the collaboration between antiques and my current metal work. But what I want to continue exploring, are processes, rather than any single kind of form or product–This means many more possibilities, and that the material itself will determine the shape. I am also keen to bring in more 'play' back into my work. Often, while completing a lot of commissioned work, there is little time left to participate in play during one's design and fabrication process.
MD: Thank you so much Michiel, for speaking with us, and sharing insights into your process and fascinating work!
Readers, click on the image below to head over to Michiel's website.