Richard Hutten

Richard Hutten is one of the most successful designers of the generation that put Dutch Design on the map. We meet up in his studio in Rotterdam, where he and his small team have been designing furniture, products, interiors and exhibitions for more than 25 years. This is where the famous No Sign of Design collection was conceived. Hutten had a hit in Japan with an exhibition of the same name. The Japanese can easily understand the language his products and furniture speak. It’s not only that their playfulness and clarity are refreshing, but they also bring to mind Gerrit Rietveld and of course Dick Bruna – for whom Hutten, not entirely coincidentally, designed various traveling exhibitions.


‘Creative muscles grow stronger if you exercise them. Your knowhow increases and it becomes easier to find commissions that you feel might be interesting. That’s the start of a process full of serious considerations. Designing does not come easy to me, whether a lot of money is involved or none at all. I have to overcome all the obstacles of a given assignment first. And because this results in individual solutions every time, there’s no thread running through my oeuvre, like a signature. From the moment I decided to become a designer – rather than a professional cyclist – I’ve been empirically researching the essence of things on a daily basis. That may sound serious, but it isn’t really, because I approach the process like a game. I never talk about ‘design challenges’, I’m a supplier of possibilities. Every design process starts with questions and at the beginning of my career I presented those philosophical issues as outcomes as well. Tafelstoel (‘Tablechair’), my final project for the AIVE (Academy for Industrial Design Eindhoven), is probably the most striking example. The approach resulted in a whole series, which I called No Sign of Design. It was a statement I made as a young designer who still had to make a reputation for himself. The motto ‘No Sign of Design’ was an ironic comment on the situation at the time. The design was a purely morphological interpretation of the questions I asked myself as a designer. And they were not unpretentious. I was looking for the nature of things and wanted to return to the essence. Not by reducing form, like the functionalists had done, but in a conceptual sense.


Archetypally the chair and the table are interwoven with our earliest cultural history. It’s hard to say which of the two was there first. Both pieces of furniture have developed more or less parallel to the history of style from antiquity to the beginning of the twentieth century. With the advance of modern design, the chair became the object of choice for experiments: a real design exercise in terms of construction, balance, comfort and proportions. Conceiving a new chair is a popular design puzzle and, according to Mies van der Rohe, it can be ‘more complicated than a skyscraper’. I’ve designed a lot of chairs and I wholeheartedly agree with him. After clothing, the chair is the most intimate product that people use every day. It is a very complex thing to make. From an art historical perspective, the chair is an exponent of styles and signatures, whereas the table has a serviceable and thus subordinate cultural role.


Tafelstoel started out as a response to the postmodernism of the early 1990s. ‘Design’ equalled Borek Sipek. I hated it and I just had to resist that design delirium. At the same time, the education that the AIVE provided was rather ambivalent. Our department was led by Gijs Bakker, who was quite the authoritarian but still had little perspective to offer in terms of where things were going or which requirements we had to meet to actually graduate. Quite individually, Hella Jongerius, Tord Boontje, Piet Hein Eek and I resisted the rudderlessness of the academy. We had a good vibe going as a group, but we didn’t have the time for anything as pretentious as a collective manifesto. And yet you can say that the generation of 1993 brought a complete turn in the formulation of what design could be. Summarized as ‘conceptual and self-producing designs’, these notions were fairly quickly claimed by Dutch Design pioneers Droog Design. I was one of the first to join them and I stayed involved for quite a long time, until 2010. By then I’d come full circle. Some designers, such as Tejo Remy, shifted their field of activity to the gallery world. I myself had already changed my strategy in 2008 by entrusting the production of my collection to Gispen. On that occasion I was also appointed its creative director. That way, I had my hands free to focus on the flesh and blood of commissions for major brands such as Moooi, Artifort, Moroso, Gispen, Qeeboo, Offecct, Skultuna, Muji and Zuoyou. As a follow-up to solo exhibitions such as ‘Homo Ludens’, which were traveling the cultural circuit, my practice grew very quickly, both in the Netherlands and abroad. I had to adjust my commercial development accordingly. Droog never produced a useful business model and in the meantime the cultural effect has virtually disappeared as well. A few weeks ago I gave a lecture about Droog in the Centraal Museum Utrecht, which started collecting and exhibiting Droog pieces almost immediately after its foundation in 1993. I was surprised that only 30 people attended that lecture. A similar presentation in China or Japan can count on an audience of 3,000.

This interview was published in WOTH issue No8 still available in our shop.