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Marcel Wanders: “We Are Fundamentally Poetic Beings”

This Dutch designer has left an indelible mark on how we view the role of design in our lives. Through his ingenious housewares, elegant furniture, and playful interiors, he's part of a pantheon of talents that has ushered design into a more artful discipline.

February 21, 2024 By THE GRAND TOURIST


This Dutch designer has left an indelible mark on how we view the role of design in our lives. Through his ingenious housewares, elegant furniture, and playful interiors, he is part of a pantheon of talents that has ushered design into a more artful discipline. But his ideas and thoughts on what it all means are downright serious. On this episode Dan speaks with Wanders on his early career creating lamps for the Dutch postal service, how his famed Knotted Chair came to be, his new collection for Poliform, and more.

Listen to this episode


Marcel Wanders: The whole point of design is that everybody’s making something different. If you do something different, they’re like, yeah, yeah, he’s doing it this way. Yeah, of course I’m doing it a different way. That’s the point of design, not to do the same as everybody else. And then I can fail, but don’t blame me from doing my own way, because that’s the whole point of all these designers. And nothing original comes out. I’m like, okay, shut up. Make your objects and be happy. But don’t talk, because it’s a waste of energy if you have nothing original to say.

Dan Rubinstein: Hi, I’m Dan Rubinstein, and this is The Grand Tourist. I’ve been a design journalist for nearly 20 years, and this is my personalized guided tour through the worlds of fashion, art, architecture, food, and travel. All the elements of a well-lived life. Designers today have incredible freedom when creating anything from a dinner plate to a hotel. Function is always a given, of course. But today, we allow and expect our creators to add a bit of the human touch and a little bit of humor into everything they envision. But it wasn’t always this way. In the nineties and early aughts, modernism was having a well-deserved resurgence after the over-the-top decades of the seventies and eighties. Thanks to a new generation of talents, design didn’t simply backslide into clean lines and right angles. Because of designers like my guest today, a highly personal form of design grew and changed history. At the forefront of this was the Dutch master of creativity himself, Marcel Wanders.

For 30 years, Marcel has put his signature style, sometimes subtle, sometimes truly in your face, all over the built environment. Curvaceous sofas, Delft blue porcelain remixed for the twenty-first century, one of his signatures. Elegant vases with floral motifs, or baccarat, or a lattice-like facade on a Louis Vuitton flagship in Miami’s design district that glows at night. And many, many interiors from hotels and homes, to restaurants and beyond. Wanders founded his studio in 2002, and he’s produced more than 1,900 projects to date. In 2021 he was in a bad car accident and had to shut down his studio for a short period of time. But he’s back in the saddle, and one of his latest projects is a line of elegant outdoor furniture for the Italian brand, Poliform, which we’ll speak about.

I’ve interviewed Marcel before, and while some might not look past the flowery designs or wild shapes, underneath that is a thinking man’s designer with a beautiful worldview that I believe the creative world can always learn from. I caught up with Marcel from his home to talk about his first gig, a design for the likes of the Dutch Post Office and the national airline, KLM. How his famed knotted chair came to be, and how the sixty-year-old thinks, or doesn’t, about retirement.


In doing my research and my homework on you, I found very little about your early upbringing as a child. You grew up in a small town in the Netherlands and Boxtel, is that how you pronounce it?

Yeah. Boxtel.

Yeah. And what was that like? What did your parents do?

My mom and dad, they had a shop, like a simple shop for home appliances, toys, luxury goods. This is a simple shop in a village, but they’re passionately working on that. I had two brothers, two sisters, so a lot of mouths to feed.

And were you the youngest, or the middle child?

I was the middle one.

Middle one.

I was the middle one.

And what were you like as a kid? I mean, today you’re now known for your sketches and your drawing. Were you a creative child?

Yeah, I guess I was in a way. I loved to draw, but I loved also to… I remember at some point we had some sculpture lessons, and of course as kids, that’s difficult. And so what I did, I had this plastic blown skeleton in my room, so I made a little hole in it. I push it full of clay and I took the wrapping out. And so I made this skeleton in a very different way using the mold in a way from my own toy. So for me, that’s kind of interesting because I always found ways to do things. Also if they’re not-

If making a mold out of something is not

If that’s how it is, then that’s how it is. So it’s not just endlessly trying to figure out something, it’s like try to find a different way and just get a result in a different way. In a way, to me, it’s creative to draw, but it’s more creative to find a way not to draw and get the results in a way. So it’s kind of like that. There’s also something mischievous in there. Yeah, I did that. I like it. So for me, it’s that. But I had my own little workshop in the house with some hammers and screws and nails and simple stuff, nothing fancy. And then at some point when I was a bit older, I started to work on my bike, crazy stuff with my bike, like high steering wheels, crazy saddles. And at some point I made my bike in such a way that when I pedaled backwards my bike would go forward. I have no idea how I did that. Now I have a hard time to even think how I did that. I don’t even know how I did that.

And another part of the mythology of your early career was that you went to Eindhoven, but you got expelled and you went to different schools afterwards. I would love to hear from you, how did you get expelled from Eindhoven?

It was fairly easy. No, Eindhoven was back then, it was not the school it is today. It was, let’s say, an old-fashioned kind of design school. It was guiding people to become designers at Philips, in a way-

More technical.

Yeah, no. But Philips is not a design company, they would just make an iron board and stuff. It’s like humble design stuff. And it was important that the radiuses of objects were right and nice and clean and well done. And for me, the whole point of this design idea was like, oh, this is going to be cool, is going to be… I can do something really interesting. I can experiment. I’m going to do something cool. So I was experimental in my own simple version of experimental. But also in some way the knowledge that failure was not something I was afraid of, because I’m like, I want to study. I want to do a good study. I don’t want a good result, I want a good study. And if my good study leaves me with a failed result, that’s great. I don’t care.

It’s like as long as you’re in school, you have to fail a lot and learn a lot. And then when you’re not in school, you shouldn’t fail anymore because that’s really not fair for your clients. So you do your experimentation before and you learn there. So I had no need for doing the right things for teachers and stuff like that, I was just doing my own thing. And so at the end, that’s not what we do. And later I did… This is like 15 years later, I did an interview with the teacher that expelled me, which was a worry for him. Because all through the year I had good grades and then at the end they decided, but we still want to get rid of him.

So they had to change my Easter and Christmas scores to get me out. So they had to really go back in time and change numbers that they had given before.

Oh, no.

Yeah, so it’s like—

That’s not nice.

Not completely.

No, not at all.

…happy way to get out. I was really pissed by then. But anyway, so I had this interview with this guy. And it became clear, he said, Marcel, listen, we were in a way old school. We were old school and you were finding a new road, and you’ve proven that you found it. And that’s what it is, right. We just didn’t see that. We were doing the old Bauhaus tradition and you’re against that. So yeah, we were just not made for each other, or so made for each other that it became clear to you what you don’t want. And I’m happy if they’re saying that, because I think that’s also the reality. They were good people. I mean, of course, they tried to do the best for the students. I have no moment that I have doubted that, I just disagreed with them. I thought I should stay in this school and I shouldn’t be kicked off. But then at the end, I think I found my way. I did four different schools.

I read that after you went to these sort of four different schools, I believe one of your first jobs out of school was designing a desk lamp for the post office. Is that true?

Yeah. The post office, let’s say in Holland, we have a situation that a few companies have decided in the context of the big, beautiful world, they took responsibility for culture in the environment. So the telephone cells are beautiful in the Netherlands, and the post stamps are beautiful in the Netherlands. And so the art in the companies is beautiful, but these are also often why they’re companies that half government owned and stuff like that. So this company, the Pay To Date called back then, they had some three, four people on the payroll that were organizing the culture of the company, which is they made the post stamps with artists. They selected the art that they would buy with every year. They bought some art. And so, one of the art was like Marcel is going to design, I think a lamp, and I had to make it so that I could make 25 of them.

So projects like that. And of course, in the beginning I got these a bit. Because once I finished school in ‘88, I already had won three design contests of professionals. So my end exam was front cover news on the National Design Magazine. So I got this kind of cultural project, I got them fairly easy, or fairly soon because for a kid out of the school, I was like super famous, relative.

Sure, sure.

No. So they love to do a project with me. And then I love to do these things also. I just wanted to do also a really serious project, of course.

And what was your first sort of serious project that you think in your mind, after that period?

I did one of the projects that I was asked in a fashion was I was invited by the Minister, Ministry of CRM, which is culture, recreation and something else, whatever. It doesn’t exist even anymore. And they had come up with the idea that the KLM should change their inflight service. And they would sponsor the KLM if the KLM would also pay half to do an interesting project and a little exhibition for inflight services. And so KLM would invite to studios and the ministry would invite to studios. So KLM invited Landmark and the owners to serious design studios of good quality. And then the ministry invited the most, let’s say, celebrated designer at the moment, Borek Sipek, that lived in the Netherlands. And they invited the youngest designer that they knew, which is me. And so the four of us went on this project, and obviously KLM had to choose what was winning.

And of course these studios, they won. But then out of that project, I got to know these two design studios. And both of them, they asked me if I want to work for them. And for me it was interesting because I had my studio and so I said, I’ll come work with you. I will have my own studio also. I’ll stay only for three years. I want the highest salary of all your employees, and I want to do the KLM project. And then I worked there for three years and then left them also. So it was funny.

I didn’t want to do only the typical cultural things, I wanted do the real things. So I did. In those years I made pregnancy testers and stuff like that. And testers and stuff like that, like industrial design, which is healthy to learn to do things, and beautiful to do. I worked also, I started working for KLM already that early. That’s why also, and then of course, with this company, we failed. KLM didn’t continue to do it. Then, I started, years after to work with … No, no, right after, after three years, I left and I started working for the biggest competitor from the company that my client, the studio that I worked for worked for, which is a super small company that, then, four years in a row, won, with my designs, the Inflight awards for design, three years, four years in a row. So then, the company was bought away, they couldn’t handle that stuff. And then, at the end, KLM asked me. These in-flight services have always been on my radar and it’s a beautiful territory that I love to work in.


The Knotted Chair by Marcel Wanders. Photo: Courtesy Marcel Wanders

I wanted to ask about the knotted chair for Cappellini, from back in 1996. It’s probably one of your most famous pieces and really kicks off your career. And for those who haven’t seen it’s, it like a net that’s been suspended in midair and it made such a statement about craft and how it was made. And if you haven’t seen a video of the originals being made, it’s really something everyone should see. Tell me a little bit about the knotted chair and how that came to be.

We were already working on this idea that there was this novel idea of … But these super strong fibers, they were on our mind. We sketched ideas for it because, of course, that was the new idea, and as designer, you’re always interested in the new technologies that are out there. Otherwise, it’s hard to find a reason for it. And sometimes, you find something and you try to learn. While you learn, you find new things.

Now, one, then, at some point, I was asked by Droog Design if I wanted to be part of a project that they were going to do and they were going to do with the aeronautics department of the technical university in Delft, which these guys, they were full into these strong fibers, carbon fiber and all this stuff. I’m like, “That’s cool. I like that.” We got one day where we got to explain a lot, and it was a bit strange because they were doing a lot with sheets because they have this mesh, and these meshes, you can make boxes and all this stuff. But I’m like, “This is not really the point,” because the point of this material is that it is a textile.

My girlfriend used to be a textile designer, so I had a good understanding of what it meant to be a textile. It’s a very complex opportunity for the creation of a material. I was super excited to do a textile design. And then, obviously, I want to do a chair, which why not? A chair is always fun to work on, which is complex and it has a face, it has four legs, it’s kind of cool.

The idea was to do a chair, to do it out of textile, the design. Soon after, I thought, if I want to do a chair and it has to be light, then, probably, space frames are not a bad metaphor. Space frames, I think you know what that means. It’s not a bad metaphor because you have your strength lines, but you don’t have to fill up all the voids in between, and I could see that ending in a chair. Now, I had to find a way to make those and I’m like, “Okay, we have to make ropes.” Obviously, we don’t start with … We have to start with ropes. We start to find a person that could make ropes out of this material, which is the first time ever someone made the ropes out of this material. And then, yeah, you started knotting, and we all did macrame when we were five years old or seven, I don’t know. I tried to find my old macrame books. We started to macrame because that was something that you could easily do and it was, maybe, good testing. And I see that the ropes, we had to change it, so we made new ropes, and then, it went from one to the other.

It was interesting that, when you have a rope, let’s say, and you put your epoxy on it and you put it on a mold, then, the plastic around this rope is following the rope, but then, it’s following the mold, so you get all these super sharp lines, which made it really impossible to use molds. Because of this, I came up with this idea to hang up, in mid-air, the ropes, which is, I think, one of the coolest things about the chair that, yes, it doesn’t have a mold, it has a rack. It’s just hung in mid-air. And gravity is the biggest player in the definition of this piece.

It kind of reminds me of a young Dutch designer who used, instead of letting gravity decide, in a way, he made the bone chair. I’m completely forgetting his name now.

Yeah, Joris Laarman.

Yes, thank you. It’s like using, I don’t know what you would say, computer graphics, which is how bones are made, but it reminds me of that in a little bit. Obviously, the knot chair, did you bring it to Giulio Cappellini originally, or how did that work?

Well, let’s start with that Joris Laarman is a genius.

Yes. That’s true.

If he’s listening, compliments, Joris. The chair was made. The day that I presented it was in Milano, in the Droog Design exhibition. I hung it up. It was a chair, but I hung it up a little bit so it was standing on one foot, so you could see it really beautifully through the mesh, but it was mainly because I was not sure, if someone was going to sit on it, it would survive. And I had only one prototype for this exhibition. I was like, ” [inaudible 00:22:45], let’s leave it this way.”

Anyway. At the end, it did work. That’s what’s so great. This chair was first in the Droog Design exhibition. The exhibition was called Dry Tech. And then, something like in February or so, Giulio calls me up, and strangely, it was my mom’s birthday, so I’m at my mom’s home. I’m never there. Four times a year, maybe. So he calls me at that moment at mom’s house. My mom takes the call on Saturday night, 8:00, whatever, and my mom comes to me and says, “Marcel, there’s an Italian gentleman on the phone. He’s very nice, but he seems a bit troubled. You have to be nice to him.”

And this idea of looking back and using stuff in the past like calligraphy and ornament and all of these things that I’m sure your teachers at Eindhoven didn’t want you to talk about, this brings me to this idea of your work with traditional Delft porcelain, which you still do to this day, and it’s manifested itself in a million ways, or probably literally 500 ways in your career at this point. Where did that idea to use porcelain and these traditional makers?

I think what I said in the beginning is, when I was a kid, I made little gifts for people. And I’ve always had joy in making gifts for people, not only when I was five years old, but also when I was 10, also when I was 20, and also when I was 40. And through the making of gifts, I’ve learned a few things. And the two main things are that if I make for you a gift and you open that box, there’s two things in that. One, you will see what’s inside and think, “Oh, my God,” if it’s a good one, if it’s a good gift, “Oh, my God, that’s so me. How did he know that? And I didn’t even have … This is great. That’s so me. He’s really thought about me.” And you will also think at the same time, “Oh, my God, that’s so Marcel. Only Marcel could come up with something like that. That’s really a Marcel gift.”

What’s happening, if you do a good gift for someone is you are now celebrating the relationship between two people because it is clear that you have seen each other. Through the gift is the proof that you have seen each other, that you have understood parts of each other, and that you are open to share each other. Now, that is extremely beautiful. Now, that is a gift that I can give to one person. Now, my work is a gift that I give to an undisclosed amount of people. Not to you, but to all. I give myself, and I hope that people will feel that what I make for them is something that speaks to them, and it’s like, “Yeah, that is something that really, we didn’t have, but that’s something we could want, and it’s something that touches me.”

Now, for the part that you recognize Marcel in it, you maybe recognize my culture, you maybe recognize the history that I want to put in things, and I want to step back in my culture. Now, my culture, [inaudible 00:26:39] is an important thing. We imported chinaware a long time in the 1600s until we couldn’t get chinaware anymore. The Ming Dynasty closed the doors, so we started making our own chinaware, which obviously, we didn’t have porcelain. We had really silly cheap fat ceramics and our painters made a mess, but we made it ours.

And it’s a really simple, a little bit farmery, kind of undeveloped. It’s very simple, but it’s warm. The ceramic is not so white, it’s a bit grayish, and the blue has beautiful watercolor blue and it’s the color of the sea. Altogether, it became something, over the years, that really speaks for my culture. Obviously, the last hundred years, people have started to hate it because it’s old fashioned and we can’t look it because it’s old fashioned. We don’t like it. So I started, originally, when I came from school and I had my vision correct, let’s start with this. I started, against all odds to make, but I did I started against all odds to make, but I did NACE patterns, also. I always tried to do what designers think you can’t use, I used it. Macrame, I use it immediately. I used what designer thinks it’s kitsch, I start immediately using. There’s just something invaluable there.


The Mad Out collection of outdoor furniture by Marcel Wanders for Poliform. Photo: Marcel Wanders

And you told The New York Times once, you were talking about a bathtub design of yours, and you said that the word “fantasy,” that you hardly ever hear it in the world of design. They were talking about the bathtub being kind of like, a fantastical bathtub. I forget which one it was. And you said that you never really hear the word fantasy. You said, “That’s very strange. You should hear it a lot. I think fantasy is a very important value that designers and artists should bring to the world.”

Yeah, it’s a bit two stories that you’re trying to ingest.


I made for [inaudible 00:30:26]in collaboration with [inaudible 00:30:28], I did my first hotel and in this hotel I wanted to do a unique bath. They had a beautiful space and I wanted to do a fantastic bath. So I come up with this idea to make a bath out of hand soap. So, to really create a huge, glycerin soap, carve a hole inside, have a girl sitting in there and it’s like, a bath out of soap.

So, we made that and then also we tried to… And of course that bath was also in the shape of hand soap. So, basically I made some drawings that there’s this big giant, and he holds in his hand a hand soap. Carve that there and there’s a little girl sitting in there. That’s the sculpture. Sits there in this hand soap; he’s taking care of that. So that’s a beautiful vision.

And so we made that soap bath and the soap series, we made it with [inaudible 00:31:38] fantastic company I’ve been working with for a long time. And obviously that’s a fantasy and it delivers an object that, you know, the shape you recognize it and you’re like, is that a soap? That’s poetic. For me, it’s poetic. And so, on the second note, yes, I think fantasy is a relevant subject in design, but at some point I’m reading the word fantasy in a design article and I was like, “Ah, yes.”

And then I thought, “But I hardly ever, ever read that word in design.” And I’m like, “That’s not great. That’s not really good. That’s really strange in a way,” because come on. We’re talking about poetry. We’re talking about we’re going to surprise the world. We’re going to do something different. Let’s do something different, right? Because that’s the point of design. It’s not that we’re all doing the same stuff, but we’re going to just like, surprise the world a bit, no? We’re going to do something that makes people happy tomorrow and we’re going to do something that hasn’t been done.

So fantasy is a very, very important word, I would guess, but not in my world of design anyway. so it’s a bit pity, but you know, there’s a lot of designers today that have changed the world a bit. I think the world of design has changed a lot over the… I mean, since we started working, my generation, I think.

Dan Rubinstein:

And you mentioned the book of “10 Ideas on Design.” Can you remember one of them that maybe you haven’t mentioned, that you’d like to share?

Yeah, I think I remember all of them, but for instance, the last one. It’s a funny one. The last one, its name is a bit silly, but it’s called something like, Everybody Wants to be Lassie. Lassie is a strange word, but maybe you’ll remember that there was this series of a Collie, a dog, Lassie. Right? And so, obviously over generations I think everybody knows Lassie. And I remember really well, that I was looking at Lassie with, you know, 10 kids sitting on the sofa. We’re all on the tip of the sofa, we’re like, so exciting, right?

And all these kids are like, “Ah!” They’re screaming for Lassie, “Come on Lassie! Run! Run! Run!” And no one of the kids ever was against Lassie. Ever. This doesn’t exist, a kid that’s against Lassie. And I think fundamentally, people want to do the right things. They want to do the things right, and they do want to do the right things, and they want to do it right. Though it’s not always happening, people are not always doing the right thing, but I believe that they want to do the right things.

And I think there lies a fantastic option for design, because as a designer, it’s like, why do people not do the right thing? I think it’s because they’re afraid or they have another responsibility that’s leading them to something, or they cannot be certain enough, or you know, or it’s too expensive. All kinds of stuff. Now, I think if you’re building, if you’re making designs for a company, I think you, it’s your task as the designer, to use creativity not only to make an object, to make it so great that everybody is welcomed to take the right decision.

So, be aware of all the fears in the thing, all the opportunities and impossibilities in the things so that everybody can make the little step to do the right thing. Because people want to do it, but you have to help them, which is not always easy. Not for no one, and also not for the people who work. So you have to help them a little bit sometimes. Maybe you have to explain it a little better, maybe you have to redesign a little bit, maybe you have to think it through one more time, but you have to find… It’s your responsibility.

Because that is also the way that you get stuff done that, otherwise, you’ll never get done. People want to do the right thing, but they’re scared. It’s also not always easy, because the right thing, at least is different than what other people have done. So it’s like, yeah, it’s a bit scary, no? So you have to help them. You have to convince them in a sweet way or you have to take them on your journey. You have to make them [inaudible 00:36:38] or make them see that there’s not so much to fear or have to find a way. And that’s beautiful and I think that’s part of the creation. It’s not only conversation, it’s part of the creation.

Because I think you can design things in such ways that, you know, it solves the internal problems of the process. Because then you can. Yeah, you must.

And speaking of that process and being Lassie, one of the partners you’ve worked with for quite some time is Poliform. And your Mad collection for them is super successful and is sort of iconic for them, and now you have a new line called Mad Out, which is outdoor furniture. Tell me a little bit about this collection and how you sort of enjoy this new, I mean you know, so much attention now going into post-pandemic of outdoor furniture and everything to kind of live and breathe in the garden, and outside and everything like that. Tell me about the collection and how that kind of, what your thoughts are about it.

Right, people always think that, as you’re saying, that’s a big set and that’s great and it’s wonderful, but I start working with them in, I don’t know, I think 20 years ago. And it’s like a very long time and then you do a lot of things. You work hard together for a long time, and sometimes you’re lucky. You make something that does really well. But you know, these companies, they work their butt off to make amazing things and they do it for 20 years together and then they are lucky ones together. We’re lucky.

So, I think it’s always important to understand that there’s a lot of passion going in making new things, and sometimes it’s recognized; not always. Anyways, this collection, it’s a beautiful collection and yeah, it’s kind of a… It’s almost a little bit of a collection that we made with the idea to do something that was between new and vintage. So it had this kind of warmth of vintage pieces around it. We really thought it would be cool to have that vibe, that [foreign language 00:39:12] feeling, that feeling of international success and the good old days. So we made a collection with that spirit in mind, and it just became really beautiful. I mean, the workmanship is really done perfectly well. It’s comfortable, it’s simple, but also very beautiful. Yeah, it’s just a beautiful collection. I don’t know, I can’t even explain better why it’s success. The thing, nobody knows those things. I mean it’s just like, things speak to people.

And then at some point we were like, “Yeah. This whole idea of outdoor, for me it’s almost strange that we needed a pandemic for us to understand that the house is important and the outdoor is important? To me, that’s the biggest surprise. It’s not a surprise that we want outdoor furniture. It’s not a surprise that we want our homes to be amazing and giving, and you know, a place for community.

For me, it’s really mesmerizing, the idea that we needed a pandemic to understand that together. So, yeah. It’s kind of funny, but it’s one of these things. I mean, you can always be surprised, even at this. I mean, we think that’s one of these things. The modernism, we think that you know, we can make all these rational choices because we are human beings, but we’re so unrational. We’re so unrational and that’s the beauty of people. The beautiful thing of peoples. All this idea that design is rational. Humanity is so irrational in its behavior and I think that’s one of the beautiful things about people.

I mean, we invented high heels. We put Christmas trees in our houses. If we find a flat stone, we skip it over water and we like it. We even have a little competition, who does more skips than the other. I mean, that’s what people do. It’s wonderful. We are fundamentally poetic beings. We just sometimes forget it.

And you know, one of the… You’ve obviously, you know, been highly influential with your designs, but you’ve also been influential with your sort of sense of entrepreneurship with your designs, but you’ve also been influential with your sort of sense of entrepreneurship, and your time with Moooi, and other projects. This sort of marriage of entrepreneurship, running a business and creativity, looking back now, running a big studio, developing hundreds of products. What lessons would you give to younger designers now, when they’re wanting to understand what did you learn about this time, being also an entrepreneur and working in the world of industry?

Let me start saying that there’s no successful company in the world that survives without creativity. If you’re a designer and you work for companies and you have no idea about business, or what companies need, please listen to your clients, or try to educate yourself. Because you are responsible for the people in the company, that they have work, they have money to pay their kid’s school and go for a holiday once a year. So if you’re not willing to be part of that universe where you play a role in a company to make sure that the company can survive, if you don’t want to do that than maybe you should do something else. If you’re a designer that is part of your responsibility. And of course, you don’t take full responsibility, you’re not alone. But if you’re not willing to take the responsibility that you have, you should not be allowed to design. I think if you’re an entrepreneur and you have no interest in creativity, then you will probably not make it for a long time also.

I think there’s a beautiful… Most people say that artists cannot have a business sense. I think it’s complete nonsense. I think business people should have a bit of a creative sense and creative people should have some business sense. More than anything, they have to have so much sense that they’re willing to listen to each other. I mean, one of the things I did in my [inaudible 00:44:22] I set up a school, together with some friends. It’s a school, it’s called THNK, in Amsterdam. This school is really for entrepreneurs to dive in for a year and to educate themselves into creativity.

So as an entrepreneur you really learn how to deal with creativity, to open your own creativity. But also, to have a conversation with creative people. So it’s really like how do these two world that are presented to be so far away, how can we make them work together as a unit? After the school was working for a few years I’m like, this is great. Now they have a school, I don’t have a school. At the end, I decided to do an MBA, which is not exactly a good middle ground between creativity and business. But for me, that was the way to do it, because I also felt the need to educate myself in business. Because if you are a designer and you get more responsibility, because your projects get bigger and your companies get bigger where you work for. At some point it’s maybe a little bit the point that you know what you’re talking about. You can just advise companies, but maybe you should know what you’re saying. So I’m like, let me educate myself a little better. And so I did an MBA at Fontainebleau in Paris.

And when you’re designing a home for yourself, what is the one thing you do for yourself when you’re designing a home that you may not do if you’re designing a hotel, or you’re designing a home for a client? What is something that you yourself need to make for yourself in a home for it to feel right for you?

I don’t know. I think what’s really important is that a project is always… that this project you do for yourself and this project that I do for a client. If I have a client I really… I always say I will take carte blanche, but we take carte blanche because we really listen to people. After that we can take carte blanche because we know what’s the best thing to do. So I really love to listen to people and to try understand what it is they need, or what their fears are. To make something that is extremely great for them.

If you don’t have that version, it’s really difficult to know what you want. Because you can do anything, so you have to try find a bit of a… If you can do everything, basically you can do anything. If you can’t solve a problem, what do you do? You have to… So that’s the difficulty of making things for myself. So I’m happy that I always have something… But this, I’ll do it for my family and then my girlfriend’s going to be very happy. So really, putting a lot of people in place, even if I don’t consult them, they going to be happy this way. And that’s how it’s going to go. You need some kind of… You need to find some way that you know you did something well. If there’s no one that needs this thing, then what are you making?

I don’t know. It’s complicated to work for myself. Because also, in the works that I do for projects, sometimes I want to prove my point. But these are works I’m never going to show outside, probably. Maybe I will, but probably not. So I’m like, I’m not going to prove a point to no one. So I’m a bit lost in what can I do and not do, because I’m not making things just for fun. That’s not how I work. That’s not how I think. I don’t make things for fun. I just make them because they’re important.

Can I ask what kind of things you’re making for yourself?

Now I’m talking back to places where I’m going to stay. So one’s an apartment, one’s a big house. And then there’s a lot of things that are going in there. Tomorrow I can decide I’m going to do the tiles myself, I’m going to find a company, take some ceramics, make some tiles. I can do that. I might.

You definitely have the ability to do so. And my last question. If I were to ask you today, who is Marcel Wanders, how would you answer?

I don’t know. It’s a bit of a strange…

It’s a very strange question.

Yeah. Who is strange, if you ask what, or how. Who is he? That’s a definition that has to come from outside, who. I don’t know. I’m just happy that I was able to find a passion in my life that was so all encompassing. That I got the time to vocalize an opinion and to create a vision on a lot of subjects, and have the opportunities to express myself clearly. I’m happy to keep doing that for quite a while.

Do you ever think about retiring someday, or are you someone who will keep going til the end?

Sometimes I feel I’m not a designer anymore.


Yeah, sometimes I feel that way.


I don’t feel that I have to die with a pencil in my hand designing a chair. I’m just… I’m creative, so I’ll create til the end. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I will create til the end. I think that’s what I do, I make. I also call myself a nest builder. I make nests, so maybe that’s what I’ll do. Make a nest. I don’t know. It’s not that I have to make objects, or I have to work with companies. I can see myself… But I will make. I will make things, I will create. As long as my brain will be active it will spin out things. I’m pretty sure of that. If it works, you never know.

Thank you to our guest, Marcel Wanders, and his entire studio for making this episode happen. The editor of The Grand Tourist is Stan Hall. To keep this going, don’t forget to visit our website and sign up for our newsletter, The Grand Tourist Curator at And follow me on Instagram @danrubinstein. And don’t forget to follow The Grand Tourist on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen, and leave us a rating or comment. Every little bit helps. Til next time!


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