Dirk Wynants was a kid who decided that when he grew up, we would never become predictable or boring. One day, he started a company in Belgium called Extremis which he describes as “much more than just a line in furniture – it’s a way of life”. Their website shows their design conscious furniture that’s “aimed at bringing people together to enjoy life to the full”. But don’t call it furniture!
We loved Dirk’s vibe so much that The Standard, New York purchased their classic yellow picnic tables parked outside of our New York building. It wasn’t until recently that we actually met the owner of this company. He’s warm, fun, and looks like some rockstar from a 70’s rock band. Did we mention he makes his own beer?
Dirk was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about his “out of box” business model, his music tastes, and why he’s really in New York this week.
(Dirk Wyant Makes Pretty Things To Sit on and Socialize Over)
The Standard: We’re fascinated by Behive. It seems like a design-meets-lifestyle-meets-art-collective. How would you describe Beehive in a nutshell?
Dirk Wynants: I try not to be inspired by other furniture, I’m always looking for inspiration in things that have nothing to do with design. It can be a sailing trip, horseback riding, working in my hops field, drinking beer with friends, whatever… what I try to copy are the atmospheres that I discover while people spend time with each other. For BeHive (be the hive, become the hive… that’s why an ‘e’ is missing), I remember traveling to Marrakesh, Dubai and Istanbul. Locals go to places where they take their shoes off (very important, it puts you in a different mood immediately). Then they lie down on huge carpets with cushions, smoke the sisha (water pipe) and drink mint tea, while discussing daily life with their friends. You see young and old, colleagues, couples and larger groups… everybody spends a relaxed time communicating with each other. That’s what I want to do: to make communication better, more intense, more fun. More communication means more understanding, it can really make this world a better place. That’s why I describe my designs as “tools for togetherness”, they are not just furniture. Don’t you feel the Arabic vibe when you spend time in the BeHive?
Your website seems to have a narrative all its own from any other design firm. Can you tell us the philosophy behind the website?
Furniture is boring and not important. We tell stories, the furniture is nothing more than the tool to do this. My new design “Hopper” tells the story about “bierfesten”, hop fields and my own beer.
(The Standard New York, PikNik tables by Extremis)
Your firm designed the iconic Yellow picnic tables at The Standard Hotel New York. How did this relationship come together, and what was the impetus behind this design choice in general when you created them?
The thing is that The Standard discovered and used our PicNik table before we got to know each other. I consider this as a compliment, as they decided for this piece purely for the design itself, and not for the company or designer behind. When people from The Standard [VP of Design Development Christine Gachot] visited the Milan design fair, they were surprised to discover this piece on our stand, and they were even more surprised that we have so much more… About the PicNik table itself, I wanted to create something for 2, something to use for a face to face private conversation. And I wanted it to be as pure and simple as possible, so that it would not ask for too much attention. It’s there, but very discrete. I worked on durability long before it got into fashion. I will always try to maximize the use of materials. In Europe, the standard size of an aluminum sheet is 3 by 1.5 meter. Cut this in half, and bend it to become a small table with 2 seats. The wave in the material gives strength to the piece. For this technique, I got help from my friend Xavier Lust, another Belgian designer. I think it is an iconic piece that will never loose it’s beauty. We consider The Standard Hotel a very important reference for us — the same level as, for example, the Tate Modern Museum in London, where they have many of these on one of their terraces.
(Issues of Extremis)
We noticed various worlds within worlds in your website — namely a publication called Extremis. Would you call these catalogs or magazine editorials?
Our ‘Extremista’ (= extremis + revista) Burgundian lifestyle journal tells stories. About ourselves, about the origin of beer, the relations between bad sex and alcohol, the best recipe for our local dishes, how to say ‘cheers’ in 60 languages. All important things in life…
What music inspires you most when creating? Tell us the last 3 songs you downloaded on your iPod?
The last songs downloaded on my iPod where intended to create a certain atmosphere on our stand at the Milan fair, so that doesn’t count. Music is very important in my life, but more “after” then “during” the creating process. I’m very picky in what I like and don’t like, but my choice in incredibly wide, from electro (I sponsor a local festival), drum + bass, funk, R+B, dubstep, etc.. but also contemporary opera, Gregorian (I love it, but only with male singers), sort of Louisiana swamp local music, intense Arabic songs…but only the very best in their genre. I think you need different music for every kind of mood you are in. I have many.
You are here for the ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) this week. What is your involvement in the conference this week in New York?
My involvement is mainly to have fun, meet a lot of friends, and get inspired. NY is the best city for this.
What new projects are you working on right now?
I’m renovating a farm, I hope it will be finished in a few months (working on it for 3 years now). I’m teaching at the SIVA (Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts). I’m also starting a new design studio there, the building should be ready next October. I will be working on a government project on small housing for lower incomes. I just starting working on a book on my work. I just started the design of a new building for my company (now working on 5 different locations, I want to bring everything together again). And I realize I should start working on a new design for Extremis soon!