Kiki van Eijk and Joost van Bleiswijk are the duo behind Joost & Kiki, a Dutch design firm that is simultaneously a collaborative and solo practice. The aesthetic of each designer is distinct, and yet there’s a common thread that links the works of these two creatives; each item the team produces, together or separately, exhibits an air of the fantastical. From the steel Corroded Clocks of Joost’s making to the ceramic objects of Kiki’s Soft Series, the collective identity of these creations is one of play — play with material exploration, play with function, and a reinvigorating play with form.
Read on to hear the designers talk about the history of their creative partnership and the importance of maintaining a strong identity — as individuals, as a firm, and when it comes to working with high-profile clients.
How did you meet, and what made you decide to form a studio together?
Joost: We met during studies at Design Academy Eindhoven — in fact, while working in the workshop! Our connection grew quickly and naturally, and then we went on to sharing a workshop in a warehouse, where we started collaborating.
You have both had your work presented in galleries around the world. How do your approaches differ when it comes to designing for a gallery space vs. designing for retail or commercial clients? Do either of you ever feel restricted by the latter?
Kiki: Identity is always a key issue in every work. It’s a delicate balance between you, your concept, your ideas, and the client’s. Of course, the gallery work is more autonomous; it’s self-initiated and you are in full control. Designing for retail or commercial is linked also to a more functional and practical side of the work, so you need to consider more aspects in the final resolution. We always make sure that we are satisfied by the project, but keeping in a close dialogue with the client.
You both work independently as well as together. How do you decide when a project will be collaborative as opposed to a solo endeavour? Are you still involved in each other’s work even when the project isn’t necessarily your own?
Joost: Trust is very important, and we always share ideas and discuss each other’s projects. It is also critical to respect our differences in the creative process, be gentle and supportive. Our method develops around collaboration and mutual influence that of course is the result from an intimate relationship; it is about working together but separately. It’s about respectfully inspiring each other and using our different strengths to push us forward and edit the work.
Kiki, there’s a definite playfulness and whimsy in your work; some projects take us right back to the stories and fantasies of childhood. What stories or films were influential for you at an early age and how do you think they continue to influence your work as an adult?
Kiki: I was a very independent and responsible child. I knew what I loved: to be outside in nature and drawing. Weirdly I was very afraid of dogs, so sometimes I didn’t dare to go outside on my own… In those days I was daydreaming from my bedroom and creating magical stories. The funny thing is that I read Alice in Wonderland only at the age of twenty-one for the first time, and I’m sure I have looked at it with different eyes.
Joost, how about you? What were the early influences that made you want to pursue a career in design?
Joost: I already learned a lot about crafting, making, and technology from my father, being a handicraft teacher living and working in Delft. He made a kid’s workshop with kid’s tools for me and my two brothers at home. We used to spend hours in there creating new objects.
Kiki, you have collaborated with some big-name brands in the past: Hermès, Saint-Louis, 1882 Ltd, MOOOI, Häagen-Dazs, Serax, Bernhardt Design, Nodus. These companies operate in very different industries, from high fashion to interiors to household objects. Is there a particular kind of industry or client that especially sparks excitement and creativity for you?
Kiki: I like and I need variety in my projects. However, what is necessary is high quality and a challenging creative process. You want to grow and learn with every client and every project; this is what makes you alive and engaged.
Joost, your creations gained attention and traction for their “no glue no screw” approach. How did this come about and how did the concept evolve over the years?
Joost: It has been an incredible success and it gave me a lot of satisfaction and recognition. It was moved by a conceptual approach to craft, and it gave me the opportunity to control every step of the creation process — from conception to production — that is very satisfactory. At the same time, I strongly believe that most of my recent works that use a more instinctual and physical approach to design come from a need for freedom. As you see, all works are constantly linked on so many levels.
Photos courtesy of Joost & Kiki.