Where does that connection with sustainability come from, a theme that is so prominent in your designs?
Conscious behavior has always been a part of my life. For example early on in my childhood I made the choice to become a vegetarian. I also founded my own Nature Society together with my cousin where we, as a group of young biologists, would go into nature to watch birds, do research at night and catch and release all kinds of things, purely for study. That was a lot of fun.
What does nature mean to you?
For me it is important or almost necessary to spend time in nature on a regular basis. To put it this way, It is a place where I can be in reality. In essence, reality is everywhere but in order to be in that place and to work from there, I always need to be in nature, to reflect. Look, if you really want to make something beautiful, you also have to work from your heart, from you passion. You can think of something that might be beautiful but it is completely different from experiencing reality and I experience that more easily in nature and that is what captivates me.
Does that also explain your relationship with natural materials?
That's where it comes from, but while I was designing and experimenting, I also learned that it doesn't necessarily have to be a natural material to be sustainable. It's about how you handle the material. For example it is very important that when you choose a pure raw material that you keep it pure.
Can you give an example?
Suppose you were to create a technical cycle from a type of plastic, then you can reuse it almost indefinitely. Something that is no longer possible if you mix it with different plastics, then you make a kind of down grade, but if you keep it pure, it will work. Same goes for natural materials.
Circularity is a process that starts with design. In the case of furniture design, if you know that the raw materials will be used again, you choose to connect them in such a way that they can always be separated so they don’t get wasted.
In 2009 you chose to become certified as a Cradle-to-Cradle® designer and design consultant. What was the reason to embrace the Cradle-to-Cradle® design philosophy, to make it a part of the identity of Melle Koot?
Because I thought I was working sustainably, but when I started to delve into C2C® design philosophy, I saw my own limitations. The realization that I could make very big steps so easily. It became a kind of manual for me, a manual on how I could design even better and even work more sustainable at the same time.
Once you understand, it becomes easy but today's design is full of old ideas of how things should be. Just like my own belief that a design should always be clean and sharp. For example, if you always think that something needs to be glued, and you always keep thinking in terms of working with glue you will not get any further. But if you allow yourself to experiment with the option to click or to create a puzzle pieces, then the final image will look very different.
So, as a designer, I started to represent the C2C® philosophy by emphasizing the way of connecting. I started using the C2C® philosophy to speak my design language, so to say.
By embracing the C2C® design philosophy, have you had any challenges or are there limitations that you impose om yourself?
When I first started, yes. For example I would have liked to have a good epoxy but it just wasn’t there. I just had to let go of a material or a technique if I wanted to be true to the Cradle-to-Cradle® principles. To maintain it I've tried all sorts of things and looked for all kind of alternatives and couldn't find it. This took me a lot of time and eventually came up empty handed because I insisted on doing something the old way.
Trying to hold on to those old ideas was a stumbling block for me. It gives you certain limitations, but those limitations actually provide you with a lot of opportunities. The very techniques that you can use are actually so simple that I started imagining and using it as a of concept in itself. By letting go and embracing it and doing something fun with it, it changes from a limitation to an imagination of enthusiasm.
Take The Herbarium. The fabric is clamped instead of glued down so that the fabric can be easily replaced and remains intact so it can be reused. To accomplish that I designed a frame that clamps the fabric and at the same time functions as the seat of the chair, the wing nuts emphasize that technique.