Willem van Hooff grew up in Eindhoven the Netherlands and seeing the Dutch Design Week every year was a big inspiration for him. When Willem was 16 years old he asked for an internship at Piet Hein Eek in Geldrop in the Netherlands (where he was based before 2010). This was for Willem the first experience in design thinking.
During his internship at Piet Hein Eek, Willem learned a lot of workshop skills and saw how he brings his products to the people:
‘He has a very big range of sales from big unique art pieces, to a simple cup. I think it was very interesting that he does all of these things in the same place. His products have a rough look but a very clean finish, which has to be executed always in the same way that makes his ‘image’ coming back.’
Hooff studied in the department ‘Public Private’ at the Design Academy Eindhoven. As he describes as a ‘mix of public space and living’.
‘You learn to work extremely hard, it’s the general vibe off the school to be there from morning till evening. There are so much different nationalities come together doing very free assignments. Mostly you learn from each other — the different ways of looking and working on a design. I’m very ‘hands-on’ in working!’
Willem continues: ‘Design Academy Eindhoven lets you discover yourself. Which can be very difficult if you always need to ask yourself ‘What do I like, what do I want to do?’. It helped a lot with finding my own style. As for me, I always work with the opposites. Starting with my hands, feeling the material and possibilities. Afterward, I start with research — to give it the right meaning.’
Work on new designs for Willem starts with sketching the ideas, brainstorming — deciding in which direction he wants to go.
While working directly with materials, almost all the time the idea develops during the phase when he starts experimenting. It can be the technique or look that feels interesting for the materials. Only after manipulating with materials and exploring their possibilities, Willem brings back the starting point of his concept.
‘In my designs, I love to bring materials, colors, and functions, together and to surprise people with these connections. Last year I started my research that led to the grid with the word ‘contrast’. I’ve made sketches about contrast and material samples of very big contrasting materials and placed them next to each other. Then I also grouped grid and concrete — even though these two materials always work well together they are opposites from each other.’
For a concept of the ‘Elements of construction’ Willem got inspired by simply looking at the city around him:
‘At one point in Eindhoven, they were building a big concrete parking lot in front of the airport. By a mistake, the parking lot collapsed on one side… I saw this broke open building, and took pictures of it — there was this grid structure coming out of the concrete.
I thought this was interesting and started looking at buildings before they would get covered in concrete. The transparent graphical structures were a big inspiration to start showing the aesthetics of the grid. And giving it a new function then, not only strength inside concrete.’
Colors of these pieces are powder-coated on the grid. The grid gets neat look and a soft touch so it’s pleasant to use.
The color palette for this project also resembles the city:
‘I tried to make an Urban vibe when the pieces stand tougher. Gray, red, blue, black — were my first choices. Now I’m also very curious about working with more colors because every piece is custom made and I’m open for changes.’
Production-wise grid parts are first to be made. Willem starts with a plain sheet of the grid which he bends and welds till the desired shape is there. Afterwards he powder coats metal parts at a Dutch company. As soon as all parts are ready for ‘use’, Hooff can move to the next stage which is quite fascinating.
Fascinating enough that he has a little ‘beach’ in his studio! It is an island of sand which is used to dig objects under the sand. He sand shapes each mold with bare hands. As the grid is buried halfway in the sand it gives him an opportunity to pour in the middle of the grid concrete shapes.
Sneak peek of the process making (video on the right). 👉
One of the favorite recent projects that Willem had a pleasure to participate in is from the Dutch Invertuals (the example of work is below on the left photo). He was invited to join their exhibition to design for less:
‘The world is over consuming so what can we do as designers? With an exaggeration, I tried to make the most useless and ridiculous objects that we as humans really don’t need. They are altars referring to our human basic historic needs’,
Hoff continues, ‘It was my first project out of school, and I saw that you don’t always need to think of the function or use so your outcome could be very different than a product.
For example, in my grid series I’ve discovered this new technique of turning the materials of the reinforced concrete inside out giving it a new function.’
As Willem shared, this ongoing play with contrasting materials and techniques makes it possible to create a finished look for his objects. It’s not surprising that most of his customers are intrigued by the process making, which creates a ‘wow’ factor.
Just think of it, Willem van Hooff as a brand was launched just a month ago!
‘I always wanted to create my own design studio, and now I feel it is the right time to make this step. I’m done studying, of course, I can still learn though I believe I learn from experience. I hope that I can focus more and more on my own business where I want to enjoy myself with my work and continuing new projects.’
Mostly affected by his off-study time, Willem is sure that ‘at one point at life it’s okay to start taking a risk’.
That is exactly what he is doing now — taking a risk and focusing on his professional growth as an artist and designer. What as he described is the reason for Willem van Hooff existence as yet small, but professional company.
Thinking ahead and being focused on the visual quality, Wilem is hoping to share his functional art to many homes to share his view on a new Dutch style. For now, he is continuing investigating different shapes for his series ‘Elements of construction’ (see products below).