André Verroken portret
© Mich Leemans

André Verroken’s creativity rests upon the unity of contradictory opposites. Regardless of all the rules, the designer equals the objects’ inutility and functionality, and thereby declares the absolute logic of the absurd which is the conception of creating and existing of his furniture. The weighty opinion of the furniture design analyst Frans Defour is: “André Verroken fits in that narrow category of furniture designers who think and deal straight and clearly put independance at the top of their list of priorities”.

The persistent Belgian thinks that design is his “belated vocation” although at the age of 29 he opened his own interior design office in Brussels. For a long time he was a freelance designer for the furniture manufacturer N-LINE INTERNA TIONAL. In 1988 Verroken demonstrated the possibilities and peculiarities of his furniture at his first personal exhibition in the Galerie XXI, in Antwerp. The clear geometry of forms emphasized by sudden, unexpected contrasting combinations of black, red and yellow, or yellow and blue, or pink and transparent- blue, or black and white are manifested in the Kwadraat and Nightanday tables, the Sweet Belgium sideboard, the Stack bookcase. The critics easily trace the influence of constructivism in this.

Verroken is characterized by a fine feeling for colour. Through the laconic forms of the Japanese style design one can see the “firm hand” of Charles Rennie Mackintosh who also liked to balance the opposites. A plenty of mixed essences and logical puzzles make a culture medium for Verroken- philosopher’s ideas. But then he needs to unite non-standard but neutral notions, which suited the great predecessor -traditions and contemporaneity, the light and the dark, the Yin and the Yang. He hazarded the unique treasure of the XX century and all the previous centuries- the thing’s functionality. The fear foundations collapse is justified but, as we‘ll see further, unfounded.

André Verroken is afraid that his furniture will disappear in the flow of sensational new objects and aims to give it a guaranteed defence. “In the world of objects words are always superfluous. Silence is the language of objects. Today more than ever, now that objects are in ever-increasing danger of disappearing in the stream of sensations flowing over us from every angle”- that’s the unassailable fortress where “dwell” tables, cupboards and shelves designed by Verroken. “How absurd”, you may say, “then why to create them?” Stop! One of the designer’s purproses is to destroy the usual train of thoughts. A very important technique for doing this is giving original “double-bottomed” names. For example, the name Millipede, given to a storage system with six drawers, not only obviously points to a good many drawers but is also associated with the insect movement.

Later Verroken agreed with viewers and consumers and named it more exactly -Centipede. Yes, the complicated conception has an element of humour. When you look at the multiple legs, the objects seem fleeing from reality. But the names speak of direct relation to reality. And not only names. Verroken himself thinks that although functionality is almost completely denied, it remains the main component that provides objects’ connection to reality, their place in the world which is however accessible to us. The analysed objects are based on the theory of ideas, in the style of Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Amadeus Hoffman’s tales. The Centipede storage system, as well as the Homenaje a Eduardo Chillida table (Homenaje a Eduardo Chillida II), dedicated to the famous Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, indicates Verroken’s belonging to the latest furniture design trend – “honest ecological design”. Its main characteristics are the use of natural materials (for example, wood and veneer sheet), accentuated texture, and clear logical structure.

André Verroken decided to follow this particular way: he presents Trapkast, Dresser with blue drawer, Dresser with 12 drawers in which he plays up the parallelepiped shape; the book-cases and tables Booker Prize, Homage to the Architecture, From Duo to Octet, Octet for 8 tables, which configurations can be changed. And, at last, there was an incredible success -the Kontener combinable dresser, which delighted the japanese and was awarded the International Furniture Design Competition Asahikawa ‘96 award.

Verroken is the master of natural colour contrasts and of combinations of exotic and usual kinds of woods (for example, indian rosewood and harewood). It is more clearly seen in the latest models: Table Van Den Daele, The Tables of Multiplications, where less attention is given to details, but the forms become more massive, and the airness and plasticity become less important. From André Verroken’s original point of view, his “Things-in-Themselves” (“Choses en Soi”) are not only “in themselves” but also “for themselves”. They create themselves by themselves, the designer doesn’t have any power over the final embodiment of their forms. He is only able to follow the dictation of objects.

Angelina Vin

Originally published in Russian magazine “Four Rooms”, Nr. 8 2001