Maarten Heijltjes & Simon Akkaya | Waarmakers
With a name like '
', you can't really go wrong. Delft-educated, Amsterdam-based product
designers Maarten Heijltjes and Simon Akkaya started working together right out of university and have built up an impressive portfolio of work. All the while, they have 'kept their
word' and envisioned products that matter. Their designs are manifestations of a belief that everything can be reimagined and redesigned for a more sustainable future. And
lamp, made of salvaged wood from trees in Amsterdam, is a great example. The duo breathe new
life into these age-old trees by creating beautiful but simplistic light fixtures that stay true to their origins. We talked to Maarten about 'being your own boss' and where
he sees them going in the near future. -
Text and photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us about yourselves.
I’m from Nijmegen and Simon is from Den Bosch. We both studied at the Technical University in Delft and met each other in the third or fourth year of school. We had similar ideas with regards to design and realized quite quickly that we wanted to work together. Right after I finished school (Simon was a year ahead of me) we started Waarmakers. Our first product was Goedzak , a garbage bag of sorts that can be filled with items we no longer use but may still be of value to others. When placed out on the pavement, these items are made available to other people in the community. We were awarded the Aanmoedigingsprijs (or ‘Encouragement Prize’) of the Doen Materiaal Prijs at the 2010 Dutch Design Week. This was a few years ago, but we’re still seeing interest in the product today. In the east of Amsterdam, we’re talking about doing a pilot this summer.
What has it been like, running your own design studio?
We are really passionate about what we do. It’s a pretty steep learning curve when you have to do everything yourself. We have had to make a lot of choices and that hasn’t gone without trial and error. The trap is – and I know, because I’ve done it myself hundreds of times – procrastinating when it comes to making choices. But in doing this, you learn a lot, about yourself and about your work. For creative people especially, it’s always a challenge to balance your own projects with commercial projects. We run the risk of putting too much time into our own projects and realizing two months down the line that we don’t have enough money to pay rent or finance our next project. One thing we’ve done is approach companies with our own ideas, like the bicycle we designed for Azor – it worked.
Why the name ‘Waarmakers’ (or ‘those who fulfill, realize’)?
I have to give Simon the credit for that. ‘Waarmakers’ has something dreamy about it, but it’s also pretty solid. To us, ‘waarmakers’ means doing things that go beyond our dreams but it needs to be realizable. The name also means that we really have to get things done; you’re making a promise that you have to follow up on. Everyone tells us, “You make things happen!” and I think we really do, or try to.
What defines your work?
We regard our designs in the broadest possible context: How is a product used, where does the material come from, what is the production cycle, and what influence might it have on the user? There’s a story to each of our products. Sustainability and social engagement are not ends in themselves but are inherent in our design vision and methodology. A good example of this is our product Ninebyfour , a lamp made from a piece of salvaged wood from trees in Amsterdam.
What inspired the Ninebyfour lamp?
We were working in a basement space on the Eerste Helmersstraat. There’s a reason why the place is now a wine cellar, Vleck. We had these ugly fluorescent lights hanging above our heads and went to look for an alternative. We wanted to find a lamp that was affordable but didn’t look cold and industrial, and we couldn’t find it. So we thought, why don’t we make one? We wanted to do something with wood because it’s really a beautiful material and great to work with, but you can’t combine it with regular lights because they get too hot. LED lighting, on the other hand, was a perfect match. But the idea that we had to chop down a tree to get to work didn’t feel right. So when Stadshout came along, we knew it would be a great match. They arranged the salvaged wood and off we went.
How is it made?
We head over to Stadshout to pick out a tree. We’ve used wood from trees originally placed along the Albert Neuhuystraat, the Paulus Potterstraat and the Vondelpark. A partner in the north of Amsterdam takes care of cutting out the form and we’re involved in finishing, sanding and oiling the pieces. What I love about the lamp is that each piece is unique. When you’re working so closely with a certain material, it’s easy to develop a bond with the product. We’ve seen that our interns often fall in love with a piece they’re working on. We see that with our clients too. Recently someone bought a Ninebyfour lamp from us and turns out he had lived on the Albert Neuhuysstraat for 30 years. He actually remembered the tree (from which his lamp was made) from the time that he lived there.
So is it easy to find out where the tree was originally located?
Yes! You’ll find the geographical coordinates of the tree stamped on the cork that we send with the lamp. Just enter these coordinates into Google and you’ll find it. Sometimes Google Street View isn’t up to date and you’ll still see the tree in that location (laughs).
Do you think you appreciate the city of Amsterdam in a way that most of us might not? How do you regard the trees in the city?
You really get to know the trees in the city, that’s for sure! There’s definitely an appreciation for the elms in Amsterdam – no other city has so many of them. I think it’s great to be working with something that’s so typically ‘ Amsterdams ’ as an Amsterdam-based studio. And when I bike through the city and see rows of trees being cut down, I think, oh I could use the wood for a new batch of Ninebyfours (laughs), but I also think, this is a shame.
And would you say that the city inspires you?
Yes, definitely. There are so many opportunities here, and it’s hard not to be influenced by your surroundings. We’re part of a great collective of Amsterdam-based initiatives (with Strawberry Earth , Charlie + Mary and Berry) and that’s been incredibly inspiring. But I do think that Amsterdam can be de-motivating – you often get the feeling that everything has already been done by someone else. I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with the city, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the Netherlands.
What are your plans for the future?
We’re going to continue our production of the Ninebyfour lamp. We’re our own worst critic, so if we think it’s a great product and we use it ourselves, then we should be on the right track. We’ve also developed a new product, a response to Ninebyfour, called R16 . It’s a cardboard version; we used the packaging of an LED tube, cut into the two sides and created fittings. We hope to minimize the amount of waste created. As I mentioned earlier, Goedzak is going to run as a pilot in the east of Amsterdam this summer, so we’re looking forward to seeing where that takes us. And we’re going to keep doing a lot of things at once, because that’s how we work best.
Thanks Maarten for this interview! Check out their website for more information about their work and be sure to follow along on Facebook , Instagram, and Twitter . This article first appeared (in Dutch) in the second issue of Amsterdam &Co magazine. Our interview with Kevin Corcoran and Dimitri Mathijs of Nieuwe Mosterd appeared in the first issue of the magazine. Find out more about Amsterdam &Co or order a copy of the magazine online .