Photos by Cleo Goossens
Words by Linda Moers

 

Bing! is one of those sounds that typifies the age we are living in the signal that someone has entered a digital meeting room. This particular Bing! on a late October afternoon heralds the arrival of Sabine Marcelis on the screen to talk about her internationally acclaimed work as a designer with her own design studio for materials, installations and objects and reveal glimpses of her many roles as boss, mother and daughter.

 

Studio Sabine Marcelis  a studio for material, installation and object design. Forever in search of magical moments within materiality and manufacturing processes to create unexpected experiences.

 

 

 

 

So here we are sitting behind our screens. Tell us where you are right now.

Sabine Marcelis

I’m at home in our guestroom. This is the only actual room we have in the house, because all the rest is one big open loft. In fact, I’m not working from home regularly these days; I just got back from the studio. Though I am spending a lot more time at home than usual.

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Is that due to Covid-19?

Sabine Marcelis

Because of that, and also because I had a baby in February. It was the perfect moment to have a baby because while I had to be at home, everyone else was at home as well. The world slowed down a bit, and I felt like it gave me breathing space to take a step back from my work. At the same time I didn’t feel any FOMO (Ed.: fear of missing out), because nothing else was happening while I was taking this time out. But I feel like I am living someone else’s life this year. (laughs) The past few years I’ve been travelling non-stop, running from one event to the next, also travelling a lot for different projects, or simply hopping on a plane to attend a meeting, for instance. In 2020, I haven’t stepped onto a plane all year. That’s quite strange for me, but also in a good way. I’m certainly never again going to travel as much as I used to. It is completely a) irresponsible and b) unnecessary.

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Is your studio nearby?

Sabine Marcelis

Yes, I live in the west of Rotterdam, and that’s where I am now. My studio is about ten minutes away both by bike and by car, more to the west towards the harbour. It’s in the old fruit harbour where fruit used to arrive from all around the world. Now as the city is expanding, it’s sort of swallowing the old harbour and pushing it more towards the ocean entrance, but it’s still a really industrial area. I enjoy having my studio there. The company that produces most of my work is in the same building, so that means we are really close to the production operations. It also underpins the unique point of view that I have as a designer, as we actually work from the production process instead of sketching an idea and then letting someone else think about how to make it.

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Let’s take a step back out of Rotterdam. You spent a large part of your life in New Zealand. What made you come back to the Netherlands?

Sabine Marcelis

When I was ten, my parents had a sort of early midlife crisis, and the outcome was that we emigrated to New Zealand, where I lived between the ages of ten and 23. That was where I started to study design, but it was quite a traditional approach: like really hardcore industrial design, where it’s about optimising a production process. How to make an injection mould for a little component. It was only preparing you to be an employee in a company that designs washing machines, say, and this just didn’t interest me that much. There was no space in the design thinking process for being poetic. After two years I definitely got a bit restless. I wanted to expand my horizons within my studies, but also within where I was living, because I believe it is all very much connected. If you stay in one spot you end up in a bubble. And as I have a Dutch passport and the Design Academy in Eindhoven is a very well-known school with its own unique approach, I thought I would love to go to that school and finish my studies there but always with the idea that I would move back to New Zealand straight afterwards. I just wanted to experience a different point of view at the Design Academy, graduate and then go back to my life in New Zealand. Well, it didn’t really pan out that way. (laughs)

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What was it like at the Design Academy in Eindhoven?

Sabine Marcelis

It was super-nice, such a different approach. You could find the area that fascinated you most and you were encouraged to explore that further. When I was there I re­alised that I’m really interested in material properties and in zo­oming into what happens to materials. My graduation project, for instance, was a winemaking kit. It was all about what happens during the process of winemaking and how you celebrate those changes in the materials. You start with a liquid and you add yeast to it, then the fruit sugars, and then you get it bubbling away, so it’s sort of an aquarium on show instead of a dirty secret you’re hiding in the basement. I think from there onwards I just began to feel OK with the fact that my design input is not from the starting-­point of: how do we make the most efficient reading light out of egg-based material? It’s much more: OK, we have this material, so what is amazing about it? How can you do something with it, make something even more amazing come out of it? And when you have that, how do you shape that into an object or a space, so that whoever sees it enters into a kind of emotional experience with it as well as with whatever function it has? Instead of going back to New Zealand after graduation, I moved to Rotterdam, as I already had a few projects going on at quite an early stage. I just started doing them, and I kind of hung around.

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So you came back to stay.

Sabine Marcelis

Yes! And I brought my whole family back. My sister moved back a couple of years ago. Then my parents were like, OK, if you guys are both back in the Netherlands again, then we’ll both come back again as well.

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Why did you decide to open your own studio?

Sabine Marcelis

During my studies I did a few internships one was in Sweden at Front, which was a studio with four women at that time. They did some very interesting projects with an approach that was quite different from what other design studies were doing. I enjoyed being there a lot. When I left I remember this so well one of the designers, Sophia, said, Don’t get a job. You have to start your own studio. I believe you can do it. And don’t be tempted just to earn money by working for another studio, because once you do that it is very difficult to take a step back from that again and strive to set your own course. I always had that in the back of my mind while I was graduating, and even after I gradu­ated it really never occurred to me to go and apply for jobs. When I finished studying I found there was some interest in my graduation project, so I tried to launch it on the ­market. Then I ended up dropping it after a while as my interest waned and other projects were in progress. I moved to Rotterdam, found the studio space and realised: this is my studio, and now I am going to work. I think I am very clear about what I want once I figure it out. I also have to say that I had the luxury, you could say, of living in a squat. A few years ago in Rotterdam there were a lot of empty buildings. The law allows squatters, but obviously people don’t want this to happen, so there are agencies who rent the buildings to students and other people at really cheap prices. With such a low cost of living, I could really invest everything I earned from other jobs some teaching, some production development for fashion designers   and could directly invest it back into my own work instead of having to get a job just to pay the rent. It was a great situation.

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