Located on the historic Hembrugterrein in Zaandam, just a short ferry ride from Amsterdam’s west port, is the design studio of self-proclaimed baker, artist and public space designer Frederik van Molenschot. Studio Molen resides in a 1,000m2 former munitions factory that’s currently being transformed into an all-in-one studio, home and gallery. The door opens and Frederik waves us in. “Let me show you around so you have a better idea of what we do here,” he yells over the buzzing of drills and the hammering above.
We can barely keep up, his pace and enthusiasm are overwhelming as he points out the bespoke numerals he created for Huys 404 (a Piet Boon-designed building in New York City) and a gigantic, rollercoaster-like mould he used to make one of his famous CityLight Chandeliers. There’s an electric energy in the space that seems to suit Frederik well. When we finally sit down, his thoughts spill out in an unsurprising vigorous flurry that’s as engaging as it is entertaining.
He slides a large book titled ‘I Am a Baker’ across the table. I ask him if he actually makes bread and he laughs, “Not right now, but my first job was working in a bakery in my hometown of Breda. I loved watching how simple ingredients were moulded into something new, a handmade object more than the sum of its part.” What he does at Studio Molen isn’t much different, he’s just using ‘ingredients’ like bronze instead of flour. As Frederik flicks through the pages of the book, a publication he made for Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 2016, I notice smudges of ink on his hands.
He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, whether it’s a sketch of a new idea, a water-reactive patio tile (Solid Poetry, 2007), a wheelbarrow kitchen for portable cooking (Molenkitchen, 2010), or a ginger root inspired chandelier (Ginger Blimp Chandelier, 2014). His creations aren’t conventional and that’s the point. “I don’t find it very interesting to explain my work in detail,” he admits. “It’s more about the aesthetics. I’m someone who wants to be authentic and original”.
Frederik is a pretty tall guy and much of his work, from public art commissions to design concepts for buildings, is monumental in size. ‘Big’ is something that comes back quite often, in his work and in his life. “I’m from a large family” he explains. “My father’s side of the family ran a business in industrial scales for more than 150 years. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been more interested in big, powerful objects like boat anchors, tractors, trees and large structures like buildings and airports.” At the same time, he grew up in a small city in the south of Holland, and admits to experiencing culture shock when travelling outside of the country to Munich and Shanghai, to take part in the Siemens Mobile Design Lab after graduating from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2005.
Impressed by the immense size of Shanghai, (“I grew up in Breda, a city of 600,000 people, and all of a sudden I was one in 16 million!”) he started mapping out the growth of the city, a project that later inspired his work CityLight Chandeliers. The rollercoaster-like shape of the sculptures – fit with lamps in varying sizes to reference the anamorphic effect of passing streetlights on a highway – mimics the shape of Shanghai’s dizzying seven-lane highways. Twenty-five metres long and weighing a total of 300 kg, the chandeliers are a force to be reckoned with: “I want people to see my work and feel overwhelmed.”
For someone who dreams as big as Frederik does, he’s surprisingly grounded. He travels often for work, to exhibitions and fairs around the world thanks to his collaboration with London, Paris and New York-based Carpenters Workshop Gallery, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be moving any time soon. “Amsterdam is the best home ever, I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he says. “The Netherlands is super small but that’s what I like about it – we have so many opportunities to be ourselves, to focus on our own work and live our own lives.” And while he moves, thinks and talks fast (“I’m a five-minute kind of guy!”) he admits that he doesn’t really like change. “I make design-related decisions quite quickly, but decisions about life or the business I make cautiously. It’s not about speed, it’s about finding your own rhythm and balance in life. My focus is on the long-term, not on quick success.”
Check out the studio’s website www.studiomolen.com, or follow along at Instagram at www.instagram.com/studiomolen.
What do you eat for breakfast? One and a half slices of bread with young Dutch cheese. And two cappuccinos, one after another. I go to Berry in Amsterdam Oud West every morning – if I skip a day, they’ll ask me where I’ve been (laughs).
When’s the last time you did something for the first time? I bought and renovated a house - this house (points to the studio). And my girlfriend and I recently travelled for a month. We drove from the Redwoods to Palm Springs in California.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received? I’ve received compliments in the past and thought, that’s nice. But once some journalist after my first show in Miami said that the CityLight Chandelier would fit right into a Tim Burton set. That was cool. And I heard that someone in New York was looking to decorate a library and was debating between an Alexander Calder mobile and one of our works. I could have never dreamed that we’d be in the same consideration set as Alexander Calder. Oh and we made it on the cover of The New York Times with Obama – that was pretty cool.
What are you addicted to? I’m addicted to cuddling with my wife and eating sushi. I’m loving the steak sandwich at l'Entrecôte et les Dames at the Foodhallen right now. Peanut sauce, yep, love that too, and champagne. I also love game nights with friends. Really simple shit (laughs).
Can you name someone who inspires you? I’d have to say Alexander Calder again. I admire how he created these beautiful works that are loved by so many people. I’m interested in how a work can appeal to someone, or not, but we can’t really explain why. It just moves you in some way.
What’s the best thing you can cook? Soup. I just think soup is the best product in the world. Especially when there’s a good balance between what’s edible and how much liquid there is. It seems healthy and it’s easy to digest. And if I had to choose a kind of soup? Pea soup is definitely my favourite, even though I’m not very good at making it.
Do you have a hidden talent? I’m an entertainer – but that’s not really hidden. I love being around people and hosting friends and family. How about circus director? Yeah, let’s do that. Circus director. Ha!
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