Blom & Blom interview

"Plants and trees grow through floors, rainfall has slowly eaten through ceilings, and even wildlife returns." Kamiel and Martijn Blom rescue industrial fittings from forgotten places and give them new life.

Interview by Casey Hutton

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i. Blom & Blom Video Portrait by DigitalMessage.nl 
ii. Abandoned factory
iii. – vi. Before/after photographs

All photographs © Blom & Blom 2013

Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?

We grew up in Ilpendam, The Netherlands – a little village just 5km north of Amsterdam. This is also where our workshop in The Netherlands is based. Formally, Martijn lives in Amsterdam, Kamiel in Berlin, but we kind of live in both cities.

What were you interested in as kids? Have you always been collectors?

Yeah, kind of. We grew up in a house with a lot of space. When we were young, we always ‘made stuff’ in our father’s shed. He gave up the place for his sons. (His old shed is now our Blom & Blom workshop – our father still loves to help.)

You’re brothers – are you surprised to be working together as adults?

Yes and no. Ever since we were adolescents we always had a good relationship. We travelled together for half a year (through Australia actually), and we visited each other frequently in Berlin or Amsterdam.

The reason why it is certainly not surprising we teamed up is because we are very complementary to each other. Kamiel is the craftsman (background in furniture-making/photography/video-making) and Martijn is the manager (background in architecture and business). We have our own qualities, and they fit together perfectly.

"Imagine a factory abandoned suddenly, and untouched for more than 20 years."


Would you describe your family as creative?

Mmm, in a way. Our kid sister is studying at the leading fashion academy in The Netherlands, and our parents constructed our family house almost on their own.

Your product design business Blom & Blom collects, restores and redesigns industrial lamps and furnishings. What were you doing before, and how did this idea begin for you?

Three-and-a-half years ago, Kamiel left for Berlin to start a healthy online design studio together with three Dutch friends. After being successful for almost two years, they felt the urge to start something new. As a result, they made plans for a ‘marketplace for authentic experiences’ – plans that later resulted in Gidsy, a company that raised a $1.2 million seed investment, and is one of the leading Berlin startups.

Although Kamiel knew this was going to be something big, he decided to ‘resign’ from the online world in order to go back to what he has always been interested in: making stuff using his hands.

As a result of his degrees in architecture, business and social sciences, Martijn pursued a career in business. After a couple years of working in the world of suits and meetings, it appeared that he also had an urge to actually ‘produce something real’.

A phone call between us – in which Kamiel put forward his ideas of dropping out of his current company and doing something with the extraordinary objects he had found during one of his photography sessions at abandoned factories – was the 15 minutes in which Blom & Blom was founded.

"The passport we provide with each of our products hopefully keeps their rich history from being forgotten."


You’re not only salvaging forgotten items; some of the pieces you rework are from abandoned German Democratic Republic/East German factories. Can you tell us about this historical dimension and why it’s important to you?

For us it is one of the most important aspects of our collection. Although the lamps and furnishings are themselves special because of their distinctive DDR design, the history of the sites where they come from is what makes them so intriguing. The passport we provide with each of our products hopefully keeps their rich history from being forgotten.

How does your own personal history fit into this particular history?

Hard to say. Since our parents always took us to the Eastern European countries (instead of the regular France, Spain or Italy), we have always been interested in the historical aspect of the former Soviet countries.

Your lookbook has some lovely photographs of some of the abandoned spaces you collect from. Can you describe the atmosphere of these places?

As you can hopefully see from the images, it's simply amazing! It is like going back in time.

Imagine a factory abandoned suddenly, and untouched for more than 20 years. It kind of feels like a human society that has been taken over by nature again. Plants and trees grow through floors, rainfall has slowly eaten through ceilings, and even wildlife returns.

We do our best, but actually it is indescribable.

How do you find and gain access to the abandoned buildings?

Finding our sites is a combination of research and a lot of ‘driving around’. You can do some research to find industrial areas in general but eventually it just comes down to scouting for signs like old chimneys, or railway tracks. Once a site is located, we undertake a lot of research to track the people responsible for it. Asking around in the neighbourhood and finding information in libraries or archives are our common methods.

It always takes some persuasion to actually get permission to ‘rescue’ the objects: sometimes two smiling faces; sometimes a piece of Dutch cheese or a bottle of wine; sometimes just cold cash.

"They are often made for extreme industrial use, and yet their designs are so pure and sophisticated."


Take us through the typical process of creating one of your pieces.

Once an object arrives at our main workshop in The Netherlands, the restoring process starts. Each object is carefully cleaned, restored and modernised to current standards. It takes a lot of effort but when we see one of our lamps – which is more than 40 years old and has long been ‘written off’ – shining in a modern interior, it’s all worth it.

What attracts you to lamps in particular?

The lighting fixtures show such extraordinary craftsmanship. They are often made for extreme industrial use, and yet their designs are so pure and sophisticated.

Do you have a favourite find?

Haha – we have too many, all for different reasons.

What inspires you?

I think we could name a dozen people who all do great stuff and are certainly an inspiration, but we think what inspires us most is Nature, and how it influences Things. Materials that are formed by the elements and by the passage of time are a huge inspiration.

A good example is a lighting fixture that we are currently developing. This desk/table lamp will be made from a docking piling. After years in the water, being exposed to all sorts of conditions, the wood of these pilings has been formed in such a natural and beautiful way that we just needed to do something with it. (And so we did – we present the result soon...)

What do you think is the most important thing for product designers to consider these days?

In our current world of wealth, luxury and mass production, a lot of people feel a tendency toward authenticity. Something real, something that counts. What we – as people – sense, defines what we do.

QUICK QUESTIONS:

Best music to work to?
Mix tapes of FalscherHase. http://soundcloud.com/falscherhase/falscher-hase-the-machine-cast

Beverage of choice?
Hefe Weissen (German beer).

The secret to a good friendship?
Haha... brotherhood maybe.

Future plans?
Easy – create awesome things!

www.blomandblom.com