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.”