Kamiel Blom & Martijn Blom | Blom & Blom
In a beautifully refurbished warehouse in the North of Amsterdam, just a few minutes ride by bicycle from the ferry on the IJ River, you’ll find the airy showroom and design studio
Blom & Blom
. Founded by Kamiel and Martijn Blom, two brothers who share a passion for forgotten items from
forgotten places with stories to be told, Blom & Blom hosts a collection of striking reclaimed lighting fixtures. Switching career paths at around the same time, the brothers
now collect, restore and redesign industrial lamps and furnishings - often found in abandoned factories and military complexes in the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische
Republik) in East Germany - and give these authentic objects a new life while preserving their rich history. We visited the brothers, and their adorable dog Volta, to talk about
their passion for these unique objects and their plans for the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Kamiel: After my studies I ran an online design agency with two friends. I lived in Berlin for three years, and that was part of the reason this came about. When we were busy starting a new business, I started to think about whether I wanted to stay in the digital world. That’s when I decided to start Blom & Blom with my brother.
Martijn: It was the right moment for both of us. I was just finishing my last degree. I worked at Brunel, a project management and recruiting company during my studies. I had been working at Brunel for three years and was starting to think, is this what I always want to be doing? I studied business, communication policy, and strategy and had been in the business world for quite a long time. Before that, I studied architecture. When we decided to start Blom & Blom, everything came together: design, architecture (in the rebuilding of the shop), and business (I’m more in charge of the business side of things).
Why industrial lamps?
K: Good question, it has just kind of happened. I never thought I would have a fascination for lamps. When I was living in Berlin I visited a lot of old factories to photograph them, and developed a certain curiosity for them. I saw so many of them hanging from the ceilings of these factories. They were in really bad shape but if you looked through them you could see a certain beauty in them. Imagine I fix them up, I said to myself. They’ll be beautiful. That’s kind of how it happened.
M: We have always said that we will collect those things that we consider to be beautiful, but 90% of the time they’re lamps. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that lamps can still be found in old factories. With lamps there’s another important element, since light can strongly influence an atmosphere. It’s something you can play with. We sell aesthetic objects that can really have an effect on a space.
Can you tell us about the process of finding new lamps?
K: The thing that’s so great about Eastern Germany is that all the places we visit have incredible stories to be told, and by way of the lamps we can tell those stories. Visiting the locations is the most fun. We’ll just drive around, take a weird exit off the highway and look for chimneys or train tracks until we find someone who is responsible for the factory and can be approached to sell what others might consider old junk.
M: That’s the second challenge. The average East German is relatively conservative but we have found various ways to approach buying the lamps. We either show people what we do with them and that we really make something great out of the old objects, or we tell them that we will photograph the original location and tell its story, or we literally put a wad of cash on the table. The funny thing is that every time we go on a trip, we have no idea what we’re going to run into. We find ourselves in the most bizarre places, meeting the craziest people.
How would you define your aesthetic?
K: I’m not sure there’s a specific style. We think it’s important to show the original exterior of the lamp so we don’t spray them or sand them down. It’s always a choice to leave something rough or make it shinier, and rust, for example, can be quite beautiful. We always try to clean the glass as best as we can and polish enamel pieces. But it always depends on the lamp, and most importantly, we want to keep preserve the history of the lamp.
You started as a web shop and recently opened a shop. What was the reason for that?
M: We’re both from the Internet generation and thought, yes, a web shop, that’s what we should do. We’ll focus immediately on the global market and don’t need a shop to do that. Interest in our products and our brand was generated quite quickly, and questions about a physical space soon followed. We had a showroom in a former slaughterhouse before opening this space but it was open on appointment only and was really a separate location. We thought to ourselves, if we’re really going to create a space for ourselves, it’s going to become our second home. It will be place where people feel welcome. The web shop is still going well but the shop has added so much extra value to Blom & Blom that we never expected. In the shop we can present the lamps in the best possible way, and we are able to show our aesthetic, how we think, how we work, how things should look according to us.
Would you say that the city of Amsterdam inspires you?
M: It was first our idea to be located in two cities, in Berlin (Kamiel lived there at the time) and Amsterdam but it was practically speaking quite impossible. Berlin still feels like a second home to us and it’s a great source of inspiration. I do think there’s a great energy in Amsterdam, and the entrepreneurial spirit is something that can be traced back through the city’s history. I have noticed it more recently, probably because we’re part of this movement ourselves. And perhaps it’s due to the economic crisis that people are saying, fuck, I don’t have a job, I’m going to create one.
K: People are thinking more creatively about what they want to do. You can continue to apply for jobs but you can also decide to start something for yourself.
M: The crisis has also resulted in the fact that economic success, your work and a sense of security and safety has become extremely relative. We didn’t just start Blom & Blom to do something fun; we really want to build something. We want to wake up in the morning and feel proud of what we’re spending our days doing. I can imagine that making and creating is the direct consequence of that. When I was 17 I thought, I’m going to study engineering and then I went into a completely different direction, business. But during my studies I asked myself, why didn’t I study engineering? Now I feel this need to create, to build, to make something physical. I think I have always had that in me but I’m just able to give it a place now.
What does a typical day look like for you?
K: I start with a walk in the Vliegenbos with Volta. We both live in Amsterdam Noord, I’m at 300m distance from here and Martijn at 800m. We start at 9am but our days are never the same. We have a lot of help in the workshop and in the office, which means that we’re a little more structured these days. We work primarily on the orders that have been placed, which means creating a passport and preparing the lamp for transportation. We’ve had orders from around the world. Around 35% are international orders, to the UK, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Germany. Some even go back to Berlin, and we think that’s so great. The first order to the US was to a famous Hollywood photographer, that was a real milestone. And we’ve sold as far as Hawaii and Australia and Asia. It’s crazy to think that a lamp we found in an old factory in Berlin and took back to Amsterdam to fix up is now hanging in a home in Hawaii. When we have time, we work on the odd project. We have so many lamps that require a little more time and creativity. Those are the most fulfilling projects.
Can you name a few of your favorite places in Amsterdam?
M: I’m always happy sitting around the campfire at Noorderlicht. Café de Ceuvel is a new favorite, they have sunshine on the deck from 10am till late in the evening. And it’s on the water. It’s a great place.
K: I’m a big fan of the Vliegenbos for long walks with Volta and my friends. There’s also a great woodsy area in IJburg where I often go for a walk. Or you’ll find me at Brouwerij de Prael. I love that place.
M: Take over the world, of course! We often talk about the greater story. We would like to create products in addition to the lamps. The balance between that what exists and adding your personal touch to creating things from scratch. Our passion remains with authentic materials and objects that tell a story. We have found that in collected lamps from abandoned factories but there are thousands of things that have that same quality and that can be taken from their original context and provided a new life. The sky is the limit.
Thank you Kamiel and Martijn for this interview! You can find out more about Blom & Blom on their website , and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter .