Designer Profile: Michiel van der Kley

Designer Profile: Michiel van der Kley

Designer Michiel van der Kley likens design to jazz: “I sometimes like a design because it makes a large gesture, and sometimes I like a design because its details turn it into something special.” This relationship between the whole—the “large gesture,” in van der Kley’s words—and the parts is an apt characterization of jazz as well as the designer’s work. As a saxophone solo or an upstart trumpet can elucidate and expand the meaning of a song, so too can a subtle curve or a small strip of wooden laminate capture the essence of a particular product.

Michiel van der Kley Icon Desk partial view with American Walnut and books and pens on top of the desk
Icon Desk for Iconicals

van der Kley’s Icon Desk is a nice example. A streamlined desk with a futuristic aesthetic, Icon is made of oiled solid wood, thermoformed Corian, and stainless steel legs. With its slim, aerodynamic aspect, Icon evokes high technology—the wing of a spaceship or an extraterrestrial’s elongated form. The inset wooden strip, available in American Walnut, Natural Oak, or Smoked Solid Oak, exemplifies how the detail enhances the whole—as if it were van der Kley’s sax solo.

MIchiel van der Kley Icon Desk with Smoked Solid Oak iin office with chair and books and papers atop desk.
Icon Desk with Smoked Solid Oak

Softer surfaces are subject to the same kind of interplay. With the Bird Sofa, however, it isn’t the contrast between materials but rather between monolithic and negative space. The bulk of Bird is comprised of the swooping C-shape of the foam cushion, which definitely has an avian aspect, but Bird gets its personality and its name from the inscribed gap between seat and back, creating an ergonomic contour simultaneous with a captivating aesthetic.

Michiel van der Kley Bird Sofa front view in lime green
Bird Sofa for Artifort

1st Class (2012) is an acoustic lounge/privacy sofa that anticipated today’s trend of portable privacy options. The piece serves as a meeting booth for two or more. Facing units create a booth for private meetings and conversations. And an optional connecting wall joins units together for full enclosure on three sides.

Michiel van der Kley 1st Class front view in room with multiple units in purple
1st Class for Lande

I have a particular soft spot for van der Kley’s Globus Mobile Office Pod, which I wrote about in 2008. This was a Pod before pods were cool, and to my mind a more accurate usage of the term than seen today with the phone booth style units. Globus doesn’t enclose the user but rather offers a portable workstation with a space-age aesthetic. It converts from enclosed pod (a shiny white spheroid) into a seat and desk space. And it’s on wheels so it’s a cinch to relocate.

Michiel van der Kley Globus Mobile Office Pod view with pod in open position
Globus Mobile Office Pod for Artifort

van der Kley is fascinated with 3D printing—he’s made several forays into harnessing this technology for product development. To wit, the Bob’s Your Uncle Lamp explores the way 3D printing can link mass production and customization: “You produce objects one by one, so you can easily add variety to these objects.” The lamps in the collection exemplify this flexibility, displaying a menagerie of swirling shapes and sizes bedecked in bedazzling colors.

Michiel van der Kley Bob's Your Uncle lamp many lamps in different colors displayed on open shelving
Bob's Your Uncle Lamp for Studio Michiel van der Kley

Like Bird, Isobel is seating with a twist. The twin armrests, in the shape of triangles with rounded-off edges, give Isobel form and structure while providing a visual focus, as well the option of sitting through the armrest, at least for those flexible of limb.

Michiel van der Kley Isobel Sofa front view in red with single pillow
Isobel Sofa for Artifort

Michiel van der Kley has designed products for Artifort, Arco, Iconicals, Softline, and van Esch. He has pioneered 3D printing technology with the Bridge Project, an exploration into applications with printed concrete; and Project Egg, a collaborative 3D printing project in which building materials were individually printed by different designers. In 2018, he won the Platinum A' Design Award for 3D Printed Forms and Product Design for Project Egg. To read more, see Michiel van der Kley.

Posted March 25, 2020 by Joseph Starr

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