vormen - a family affair
Vormen is a family affair. The collective, composed of Leon Duyck, Emile Duyck and Edouard Devriendt, takes its name from the agency for graphic design and visual communication founded by Leon and Emile’s parents, which existed from 1987 to 2001. Born into a family of designers, artists, and art lovers they were raised in beautiful houses, surrounded by furniture, art, and objects by designers such as Achille Castiglioni or Jasper Morrison. Kinship, not necessarily skill or profession, is what united the three around a shared passion for design and craftsmanship and their dedication to learning new skills. Their family legacy is one of resources, inspiration, and artistic expertise.
Ghent was the backdrop against which the story of vormen organically unfolded, and which long acted as the epicentre of a sentimental landscape: the Higher Institute of Fine Arts, where Leon and Emile developed their wood- and metalworking skills; the town house of artist Berlinde De Bruyckere where vormen showcased their first furniture pieces, the home to Edouard’s father, the late artist Lucas Devriendt who acted as vormen’s main supporter and whose work inspired their icons (1), the series of pictograms representing their collection of objects.
In 2019, the collective moved to Brussels where the focus shifted from running a production workshop to a design studio. The move implied the possibility to make new connections and gain fresh perspectives. How to characterize vormen’s design practice as it stands now in a few words? Intuitive and honest, process-driven, poetic and functional.
Intuition and Honesty
The intuitive play with shapes and materials, and their poetic potentialities, has been at the heart of vormen’s practice from the beginning. Their collective impulse to conceptualise, design and construct, first materialised into a lamp. An immaterial idea on paper was translated to a steel counterpart in three versions: first the 1Mlamp, followed by the 2Mlamp, and finally—and most successfully—the 3Mlamp (2) (2014). With no initial references or research and little feeling for proportion or scale, vormen’s ode to the light bulb was marked by an intuitive process of trialand-error in which the material would become the main guide. Material honesty—the idea to let the substance speak for itself—has guided many designers, and with their very first endeavour vormen intuitively decided to focus on
the lamp laying bare exactly what it is: steel, a wire, and a bulb. By highlighting the essence of lighting, an iconic and timeless design was achieved.
The attention to materiality is also evident from Bernd (2014), a bed which vormen designed for EYES/NIGHTS ONLY, an exhibition concept by DIFT based on a hotel set-up in the context of Interieur Kortrijk. Vormen came up with a simple composition, built from stacked solid wooden Douglas pine beams; its ends resting on and hooking into each other. Again, the bed’s heaviness and dark patina is defined by its material, reminiscent of Bernd Lohaus’ monumental wooden sculptures, while its frame, low to the floor and characterized by a minimalist Japanese aesthetic, bears resemblance to the bed Donald Judd built for his home on Spring Street in New York. For their more recent project, Platform (4) (2019), uniting a low table and a chair, yet another material was explored, experimenting with the possibilities of flax fibre and epoxy. Vormen clearly goes beyond seeing objects as mere visual shapes, something which we increasingly grow accustomed to through the proliferation of digital imagery and photographs. To understand an object, they need
cues about how heavy it is, whether it is flexible and stable, how the colour behaves, and what the surface feels like. For vormen, tactility is only understood through material research, not through modelling or digital prototyping.
Vormen, in Dutch, can be understood both as a noun and as a verb. As a noun, it means ‘shapes’, whereas used as a verb it means ‘to form’ or ‘to mold’ something or someone. While each design stems from a simple shape on paper, their projects have emerged from a process of continuous learning. Each coming from a different background, but
united by a common set of aesthetics, the members of vormen ‘formed’ themselves over time as designers and craftsmen. As a collective with diverse backgrounds and sensibilities, they constantly discuss, test out, refine, and adapt their ideas to strive for the best possible outcome of an idea. Needless to say, less successful designs have come out of the collaboration, which the collective has decided to no longer present, but from the flops, mistakes, and failings, they have nevertheless taken useful insights. The process of determining the best material or method to obtain the desired outcome by recognizing and removing errors or failures has been key to vormen’s practice from
the very beginning. Design as a very delicate and sensitive process becomes evident from mirror (5) (2017) in which the act of making the object is ‘fixed’. Having quickly come to the realization that a mirror could be made from a stainlesssteel panel, they polished a halo onto a plate, making visible the functional part (the object), the material (the metal)
and the process (the delicate circular motion) all at once. In a similar manner, for each version of Litho (6) (2017), a spherical light bulb clasped in a stone pedestal, a different type of stone is carved.
Poetic, yet functional
The past years, vormen has focused on developing the so-called ‘pedestals’, a series of minimal, sculptural objects—including sticks (7) (2021), vase (8) (2021), page dial (9) (2021) and fruit shells (10) (2021)—, which keeps expanding. These pedestals are intended to propel or support daily objects in a playful and poetic way, which echo some of the underlying principles of arrangement and composition in Leonard Koren’s well-known book Arranging Things. Rather than perform a clear function (such as encapsulating flower stems), the pedestals make visible daily rituals, such as the watering of flowers or the attention that goes to that one book you are currently reading, or the
selection of fruit you have made. Again, the choice of material was key to execute the objects in the best possible way. Vase, for example, inspired by Wolfgang Laib’s Milkstone (1978), evolved from a marble to a ceramic version, and finally to a porcelain version, while the sticks are carefully made from leftover hardwood, burned, and treated with linseed oil referring to the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban method. Another poetic object is Schouw (11) (2020), which is the first object in a series of ‘lost ornaments’, with which vormen clearly thwart Adolf Loos’ idea that ornament would be a crime.
In contrast to Sullivan’s known axiom ‘form follows function’, form, in vormen’s studio, follows the idea, and foremost derives from the encounter with artworks, objects and people. Their sensibility to noticing and picking-up on particularities in the world, however, doesn’t mean that functionality is unimportant. Inspired by the
functionalism and simplicity of Jasper Morrison’s plywood chair (1989), which essentially can be compared to a sketch of a chair and resonates with vormen’s design approach to physically draw rather than to digitally prototype, they went on to design their first chair. chair.01 (12) (2016) refers to the modesty and functionality of the school
chair in a thought through and elegant design. While the initial drawing had a static ‘feel’ to it, the result, a handwelded steel frame, was enhanced with a flexible backrest, and a comfortable and elastic seat thanks to the use of rivets and a saddle leather seat cover glued onto metal plates. Slowly the steel changes its shape while the leather
patinates. The chair bends over time and adapts to the body of the person using the chair. From this design, vormen went on to select their signature shades, ranging from a deep blue to yellow, based on a Japanese colour palette.
Inspired by the cross frame of chair.01, designed for stability, vormen developed table.01 (13) (2017), a system which allows a variation of four geometrical tabletops—rectangle, square, circle, and oval—Gomito Chair’ (14) (2018), evocative of Maarten van Severen’s armchair, was equally a continuation of the first chair’s
production logic, adding an armrest made from a folded, soft piece of leather turned upside down, which accommodates the back and resting arm and changes its shape over time through the use.
In vormen’s design practice, the common binaries between form and function, art and design are constantly surpassed; divisions that, given their backgrounds, have seemed to be irrelevant from the start. By staying true to their own set of references and design ethics, vormen’s work evades the logic of consumption, conformity, or what
Reyner Banham has called ‘furniturisation’. Their collective energy constantly fuels their own design objectives— slow, sustainable, functional and honest—, and driven by personal concerns rather than the commercial interests of clients, vormen have developed a line of objects that expands both function and performance, avoiding the trap of
object fixation. Rather than only labelling their objects according to common categories, such as chairs or tables, they also choose to refer to more fluid, open-ended denominators or ‘families’ such as ‘pedestals’ or ‘surfaces’. In doing so, vormen can be understood as ‘makers of shapes’ rather than of objects; open-ended forms that can be
adapted, moulded, and geared towards different uses and rituals.
written by Laura Herman