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This week, we did an interview with independent artist & table maker Koen Van Eeckhoutte (20), who creates unique and handcrafted tables primarily out of materials found on the streets.
Where does your interest in furniture come from? Do you come from a creative family?
My grandfather used to be a technical draftsman, he passed away in 2004. He had a workplace at home. He lived in a small apartment with my grandmother in Apeldoorn. There he had set up a workshop in a shed for woodworking. That sparked my interest in furniture. I also got my very first tools from there. As a result, I had the basics, and I still only work with them now. I actually started with furniture through my brother.
My brother has always been my greatest inspiration to me. He has been an entrepreneur since childhood and has always wanted to introduce me to entrepreneurship. He tried in many ways, but I was always stubborn. If I just didn't like it, I just didn't.
One day he left home, he had arranged a flat somewhere. And what do you need in a house? A sofa, chairs and other furniture, but you need a coffee table or side table anyway. And he said to me: Let's go make it. Then we started making a table together. I found it fascinating how you can create something that did not exist in that capacity before.
If you didn't have the idea, the action, and the creed, it never would have existed. I found that idea so interesting that I continued to philosophize on it. I never stopped doing that and now I am building my life around it.
Do you still work from that philosophy?
I actually discover more and more ideas over time that I can connect to my philosophy behind tables. I can't just make a piece of furniture. It must always have a story and be made from a certain belief. If you came to my house, we were guaranteed to be at a table. It brings people together and creates conversations.
It's funny! Recently there was a shop from Amsterdam, 2nd Culture. The owner talked about the community he was building around the store. I said directly to him: If you want to build a community, you need people who talk to each other. Then you need a table here anyway that can support the conversation. And immediately I saw a sparkle in his eye. He suddenly had a completely different view of tables.
So I hope that I can always make that clear. That's how I make "Table Talks". Then I sit down next to one of my new creations and talk about the table. That is of course an additional thing. The essence is still making tables.
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my last series as figurative. It is difficult to really describe the style. I always try to create something at the table. This could be a drawing, comic strip, or storyboard, in which those tables also appear. I am now also working on a series of paintings. These are also works in which those tables again appear very recognizable so they are part of that world. I am not necessarily a great draftsman, which is why those tables appear very figurative. You can also see that in the tables. The figures and shapes are often very medieval or knightly. That's why I also work with a jigsaw. It is actually a bit like drawing in the wood because you are very flexible with it. When sawing, it is more like drawing instead of sawing.
What does your design process look like? Do you start drawing or do you just start building from a thought?
Usually, when I'm about to make something, I make a drawing first. No more than one or two sketches. Usually, I think about what the complete picture will look like during the construction process. What it often depends on, and there is also a bit of a sustainability aspect in that, is that I work in my designs with the materials that I have at my disposal. I find 90% of the materials I use, on the street. Think of old glass plates, sofa legs, or wooden plates. Sometimes people also put some beautiful, useful materials at my door. In this way I let myself be guided very much by what is at my disposal. Recently I found a glass plate with a very nicely polished hole in it. So I thought, what can I do with that hole? Then I realized that I was going to make that table as if arrows had been shot at it and that one of those arrows was shot right through that hole in the table. This is how a design can be created. I never really start with an extensive technical drawing. In most cases, it is a short comic, a joke, and two sketches.
Who do you make tables for? Can you tell us a bit more about the customers you have had? What do these people have in common?
In any case, they are always people with a certain creative interest. The funniest part is defining my audience. I can imagine that young people like my designs, but they generally have a little less budget for furniture. My tables are not cheap, but this is of course also relative. For me, it is still probing what my best audience is. Nowadays I do sell the tables anyway, so I don't worry about finding my audience anymore.
Usually, I sell my tables when someone sees it the first time and instantly gets a sparkle in their eyes and falls in love with it. Then they can hardly do anything else than take the table home.
All your tables are one-offs, have you ever had a request from someone to recreate a particular design? And if so, have you considered that?
Yes, I did. That was for a friend of mine. I made him a table. Looking at the price now, he got it for a bargain by the way haha. He came to me a few months ago and said he had bought a new racing bike. He wanted a system that would allow him to hang his racing bike on the wall. Then I made a table for him that he could hang on the wall, on which he could also hang his bicycle. I designed it in the same style as his earlier table. I like to do something on assignment but based on something they already have from me. In general, I prefer to work autonomously and from my own inspiration.
Besides tables you also make other things, for example, I see the ‘Ugly Mirror’ in your previous projects. Can you tell me more about that?
That's a mirror that I made in 2018. At that time I was really fascinated by the entire construction process. That was actually at a stage when I made very few tables. I focused a lot on other projects.
The Ugly Mirror is actually a mild smile mirror that distorts your face. I don't understand why so many people in our society consider themselves so ugly. We don't all see through the same eyes. The challenger was making something which captures the insecurities provided with the digital age and microscopes them, whilst downgrading them to less than nonsense. The ugly mirror only lets its viewer see a slightly distorted image, making it almost impossible to see the pretty selfie-face many people so desire.
Are there places where people can see your tables?
I am currently in Amsterdam choosing galleries where I want to present them. The tables are highly sought objects so I am actually in a luxurious position where I can be picky. At the moment some tables can be watched in FWB Gallery Studio, a new gallery at the Rijnstraat in Amsterdam. That’s great to see. But there are actually many more options. That is of course something positive, but it also slows down the process of growth a bit. The tables will from tomorrow also be available for viewing in Amersfoort at Operaplein 23. I recently have my new studio there, where I will stay until January. Then I want to look for a place in Amsterdam. That is where the next great opportunities lie for me.
You can find all Koen's work on his website kve.one
Check his Instagram for more footage.