A Design with a Mind of its Own

by Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings

Creating the perfect design is nothing more and nothing less than an amalgamation of how we think, how we feel, and how we see—essentially, who we are. A creation initially starts as a clean slate: everything is new, everything is open. Our personality traits and skills converge; the design takes shape and gradually starts to come alive.

At this early stage, we dream up all sorts of things in our minds, but what really counts is the gut feeling, knowing instinctively that the essence of the design is viable. Just like novelists who are inspired by the exterior universe, as if their stories had existed for centuries, we sometimes feel that our designs have been floating in the air and that we have been given the privilege to execute them. We constantly keep tabs on the growth process: Is everything going the way it should? Is our personal signature emerging? Once the design has taken shape, it is time for others—the professionals—to look at our in-progress creation and tell us what they think. You could call it an interim presentation. It’s an anxious moment, because we realize the design is not yet complete—and because expectations may not coincide with the ultimate result.

We take the necessary time, as truth can be elusive. If you go in search of it in a hasty, restless way, you will only distance yourself further from it. In our view, this also applies to the beauty of a design: let it sink in; it will come to you by itself. The male element in our designs is essential, mainly because our work is usually mild and gentle in character. It’s never soft or saccharine, and never what we call half-baked. Neither should a design be dowdy. This applies, for example, to textiles, which traditionally have been female territory. Harmony is definitely important to us, but then with a twist, with an edge. We combine mellow pastels with distinctly vibrant colors—just spicy enough so that men don’t mind being seen with our tea towels.

The final presentation: the moment when our creation sees the light of day. As a designer, you feel exposed and put on the spot, especially when it concerns the perfect design, the crown jewel, our most beautiful creation. Each and every time, we hope that our design will be able to stand on its own feet, lead a life of its own, away from its makers, and that the universal beauty and strength of the design will stand the test of time.

Recently, we were deeply touched by a retrospective of our work. Each design was different, from the teacup to the bed linen, yet also very much the same. Our touch was evident in all of these products. But the elated reaction we felt on this occasion was in no way comparable to the overwhelming emotions experienced at the birth of our most perfect design. His name is Rem Martin Scholten. Now six months and sixteen days old. Will our son follow in our footsteps later on? He doesn’t have to. Our perfect design has a mind of his own. But the qualities needed to become a designer were bestowed on him by nature. Open, curious, inquisitive. He explores each thread of a carpet, each hair, every leaf, flower, texture, pattern, color, and taste by touching, sampling, and looking. He does so in both a playful and serious way, with the concentration of an artist. And he remains fascinated by the wonder of it all. Each day anew. And, as with all our designs, that’s what we want to continue to see—the sparkle that lights up the eyes. The joy of being alive.

Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings are the designers and founders of Amsterdam-based studio Scholten & Baijings. Chromotography: The Colour World of Scholten & Baijings, an installation presented by Herman Miller and Maharam, will be on view at Corso Garibaldi Giuseppe, 70 in Milan, April 4-8, 2017.

This text is an excerpt from Maharam Stories (Skira Rizzoli, 2015).