Dutch industrial designer Bertjan Pot’s lighting, baskets, masks, seats, and rugs reflect his experimental material approach. Using simple components and iterative techniques such as handweaving and machine stitching, Pot’s constructions embrace structure, pattern, and color. To mark his first series of textiles designed in collaboration with Maharam, Pot spoke to longtime friend Marco Velardi from his Rotterdam studio.
Marco Velardi: I love your studio. It used to be a school gymnasium and it’s surrounded by water.
Bertjan Pot: It’s on a residential street, and a canal runs along two sides of the building. People visiting my studio for the first time think it’s like it has a castle moat. Most of the studio work is done in the former dressing rooms because the big gymnasium space still has no heating. But it’s a great place to set up trials for exhibitions or try out something big or store large things. There’s also an archive of all the things I’ve made—boxes and boxes of stuff. We recently went through them all to figure out what was worth keeping, because there were too many boxes. We went from 104 to 31. 104 boxes for 20 years of running a design office.
MV: It must have been an interesting memory-lane moment. Looking through them, did you find anything that you really cherished? Like, “Wow, I miss working with these materials.”
BP: Sure. There’s a whole list of materials I still want to do something with. I found this marbling paint that you pour on water. It’s used on book covers, but you can also pull a larger 3D object through the skin of the water and it will catch the paint. If you go on YouTube, you can see people do it to guitars and car parts. I’ve put a few IKEA chairs through, but I’m still waiting for the right project to apply it to. There are a few tricks to making a really nice marbling pattern—you don’t just throw paint in there and swish it around. And if you dip two or three times to layer different colors on top of one another, it becomes super beautiful.
MV: Do you have a color library with which you work?
BP: I have a few favorite ways of using color, but it always has to do with contrast. If you use contrast within a weave it helps to explain it. A pattern appears. For people who weave, it becomes a way of explaining the puzzle of the textile, but for people who don’t it becomes dazzling and actually hides the technique. And I like that contradiction.
MV: You’re trying to show people how things are done through your use of color and technique.
BP: Yeah, but it also gives it more of a human touch. If something has texture or structure, you will always discover something new when you look at it.
MV: Curiosity drives a lot of your work in that sense.
BP: Being open to seeing, and to discovering.
MV: I imagine your process has changed a lot over time by constantly trying new things and learning new tricks.
BP: There’s not a lot of thinking involved. Most of it is just doing, seeing if something is useful or something I can work with. I do something to a piece of paper, to a piece of textile, to a piece of rope, and the outcome should surprise me. If there was a process, it would really be about creating coincidences. I’ve said in the past that when I work, I want my hand to surprise my head. I really like that idea. I think that’s even why I became creative—I had a hunger to see new stuff. Growing up in a small town in the east Netherlands, there was a limited amount of new stuff to see. So, at a certain point, I started making it myself. I started doing things to see what would happen—visually, practically. For me, it’s about surprise.
MV: Is it still very important to you to make mistakes during this process? Or do you get annoyed when you keep trying things and they don’t work out?
BP: Very often the mistake is the discovery. When it comes to experimentation, I tell people in my studio to always try the simplest thing first. People tend to think too long about the experiment they’re planning and make it overly complex. “We could do this, we could do that.” Stop thinking, start making, and do the easiest thing first. Because if you strike gold—if you find what you’re looking for—why make it more complicated?
Marco Velardi is co-founder of Apartamento publishing house and creative agency.