I Make You Want to Look Twice
words by Annemiek Leclaire, portait by Jan Willem Kaldenbach
‘I’m fascinated by light,’ says Sabine Marcelis. On a summer evening, in her workshop in Rotterdam, the 30-year-old designer shows me the neon and resin lamps with which she made a name for herself. ‘I wanted to manipulate a line of light by adding another material,’ she says. ‘Covering it in black polyester resin dims the light of the neon tube; using coloured resin changes the light colour and adding a lot of white pigment to the resin makes the light very diffuse.’
After graduating from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2011, Sabine Marcelis soon achieved success. After a couple of prize-winning objects she designed during her studies, including a stackable airplane service for Air France-KLM, she gained fame with Seeing Glass, a series of round mirrors she made together with designer Brit van Nerven. Next came the lights. The ‘Voie Lights’ consist of circular neon tubes on pedestals of coloured resin, the ‘Dawn Lights’, which were on show at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen this year are shaded circular resin panels with integrated neon lighting.
Sabine Marcelis’s Dutch is interspersed with English words. She grew up in New Zealand – her parents moved from Krimpen aan den IJssel to the North Island when Marcelis was nine and her sister ten. ‘My parents live there to this day,’ she says, ‘at one of the tips of the world, a 20-minute drive from the village Waihi, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. They have a six hectare piece of land on a river that cuts through mountains, with an orchard full of passion fruit and kiwis. The area is called The Bay of Plenty because the land is so green and the soil so fertile.
‘The house I grew up in was remote, there wasn’t much input. I’d sew clothes, I had a huge collection of fabrics and as a teenager, I would go to the market to sell my home-made purses and jewellery.’
It was a fantastic, creative childhood, she says. ‘I found inspiration in the world around me, its magic provided by nature. I saw unique moments in the light, in the woods, at sea, in the snow, in the way clouds look on a really sunny day.’
While she was sixteen and still in high school, she won the New Zealand Young Designer of The Year Award with her fashion designs. But her greatest love was the snow. ‘I was a snowboarder for four years. Between ages of seventeen and twenty-one, I lived on New Zealand’s South Island for half the year, and the other half near Mammoth Lakes in California. During the day, I went up the mountain and at night I worked in cafés.’
For four years, she lived in the winter. ‘It was a lifestyle,’ she laughs. With equal dedication, she subsequently focused on designing.
In 2006 she started training to become an industrial designer at Victoria University. ‘It was a very strict, very technical study, I’m glad I had those years as a foundation. Next, I wanted to design more freely, experiment more, so I went to the Design Academy in Eindhoven.
‘I came back to the Netherlands with the intention to return to New Zealand after I’d graduated, but I got worthwhile commissions pretty quickly. Together with my boyfriend (a French architect who works for the Rotterdam-based architecture office OMA, AL), I recently bought the 520-m2 dilapidated waterfront warehouse of an old Rotterdam paper mill. There is nothing there as yet. A floor and a couple of columns, that’s about it. We’re going to create something very special. The two of us are going to transform it into three apartments, an open house where everyone can drop by and spend the night, filled with our friends’ designs.’
When I tell her that many creative people actually appreciate some peace and quiet in their homes, she is surprised. ‘They do? No, that doesn’t apply to me at all! I love company; community is very important to me, also because I hardly have any family in the Netherlands.’
‘She can party as hard as she works,’ says Brit van Nerven, ‘Sabine celebrates life.’
Candy Cubes – Magnified chocolates by a perhaps all too experimental chocolatier. Fashion houses such as Céline and Isabel Marant use the sweets as pedestals for their bags and shoes.
Talisman inresidence contemporary symbolic object 01/2017 for Salone del Mobile. Of every project in 2017 Sabine poured a small amount of resin in a tube shaped form. So making a visual diary of her work this year.
Marcelis’s designs always start with material. ‘I’m like a magpie,’ she laughs, ‘always looking for something shiny. I look for the most interesting aspects of materials, for something to play with. Glass has transparency, reflection, light, but metals also allow plenty of experimenting.’
She shows pieces of perforated metal that have been given a beautiful shading using a special technique. ‘For furniture brand Knoll’s presentation at this year’s fair in Milan, I laminated panels like these between glass and used them to make partitions.’
Once Sabine Marcelis has experimented with the metal in her workshop, she looks for craftspeople or factories who can professionalize the applications. Her studio in the old factory in Rotterdam, for example, is located right next to the workshop of the people who provide the resin for her designs.
‘I really enjoy using the knowledge of others to create something beautiful. And the result will either be autonomous objects, or materials that I will integrate in architecture. However, in addition to creating my own free work, I like working on commission. I’ve recently made some resin cubes for the Isabel Marant stores, for example. I also work regularly with OMA’s interior branch.’
In jeweller Repossi’s new store at the OMA-built Place Vendôme, she was responsible for various glass applications. ‘Copper mirrors, revolving glass showcases, aluminium-laminated glass… I worked on it for two years. Here, it was once again fascinating to see how much the experience of a small space can change with the introduction of optical effects that glow, reflect or mirror.’
‘I endeavour to make things that make you want to look twice,’ she says. ‘I’m forever in search of magical moments.’
Vedovelle fountain for Aesop X Frame magazine one of the many presentations of Marcelis in Milano this year.
Sabine in her studio in Rotterdam, photo by Tim Buiting.
This interview was published in WOTH issue No1 (sept 2016) in the recent issue No5 there is a Portfolio of Sabine Marcelis. Both issues are still available in english via Bruil & van der Staaij. Or get a subscription here!