Inspirationist exclusive: Interview with William Brand, Founder and Designer of Brand van Egmond

Founded in 1989, the Brand van Egmond atelier was established with the sole intention of creating without any restraints. Founder, sculptor, designer and architect, William Brand is the designer of all new lighting collections. 

Instead of defining architecture by only its structure, I prefer to define it through a conscious choice in the sequence of space, light, content and experience.

Having graduated from the Utrecht School of Arts in The Netherlands, autonomy remains at the very core of his artistic and personal existence. A mix of affection for craftsmanship, love of experimenting with new materials and techniques and respect for times gone by result in innovative designs. This leads to yearly releases of new lighting collections. His lighting designs radiate passion and emotion, and leave a long-lasting impression. Besides designing lighting sculptures, William also works on architectural and interior projects and is invited frequently for commissioned lighting installations around the world.

We picked the designer’s brain to find out more about what he strives to infuse all his creations with, what is important in the relationship with his clients and being creative in quarantine.

INSPIRATIONIST: Where are you from and where do you live now?

William Brand: Born in 1963, I grew up in the countryside of The Netherlands. For me, this meant that nature was all around me during my childhood days, I would almost say ‘in its purest form’. 

Besides cheese, tulips, and cows, most people will know that Holland is considered a perfectly flat and green country, with many old ‘polders’, lush green pastures, old dikes and centuries-old working windmills. 

Although I’ve lived with pleasure for several years in the heart of Amsterdam, I recently bought a beautiful thatched country house that is surrounded by ancient woodland and far-reaching green fields. This new residence has not just offered tranquillity and inspiration, but also detachment and safety. My only visitors these weeks have been two deer.

Luckily our clients have grown with us, we work with some of the best architects and interior designers in the world and have an eclectic clientele ranging literally from royals to rappers.

I.: What’s your background? 

W.B.: Originally, I was trained as an architect at the School of Arts in Utrecht. However, already during my studies, I felt a strong interest for sculpting.  At my graduation in 1989, I combined light with a rusty sculpture, decorated with shards of broken glass. I raised it to the ceiling and the first lighting sculpture was born. 

After that, many new ideas followed and I got drawn into the many requests for our lighting sculptures, that I made the decision to focus my main energy on the creation and craftsmanship of lighting. With the intention to be as independent as possible I have set up my own atelier where we do everything in-house, from designing to the actual crafting and the development of new technologies. We even make our own packaging. Luckily our clients have grown with us, we work with some of the best architects and interior designers in the world and have an eclectic clientele ranging literally from royals to rappers.

I.: How did you fall in love with design and why? 

W.B.: As a child, my parents later recalled, I already loved getting my hands on any piece of paper with a pen I could find. I loved drawing and creating and used the tools of my father to build things, using many different materials I could find in and around house, but mostly outside while wondering around. In school projects I was always appointed as the one to create something for competitions between schools or create objects for exhibitions. My need to create grew over the years and sometimes I’m even afraid that it has become an addiction.  I’m still that little boy playing and experimenting and creating. 

This year’s rhythm has abruptly changed.

I.: Where do you spend most of your time normally, and what does a typical day for you entail? How has your routine changed since the new social isolation constraints?

W.B.: In general and in normal situations, March and April are for our atelier marked by introducing new collections at fairs like the Salone del Mobile, Light and Building, Design Shanghai. This year none of them opened, of course. Fortunately Tefaf, the world’s leading art fair, did open. We could show our new work, amidst the most beautiful examples of 7000 years of art history, to guests from around the world before this fair was – prematurely- closed. So this year’s rhythm has abruptly changed.

I find myself working now mostly in seclusion, living in a slower pace, more conscious of my surroundings than before. Travel has stopped, but the work has not. We especially get a high number of requests for commissioned lighting installations at the moment. Normally I would at times travel to see these locations and meet the clients, now they send me stories about the background of their lives, images of the space which demands a unique lighting object from our hands and at times we communicate through other digital ways. Although it in no way replaces meetings in real life, I can still engage, learn and work. 

Our clients are often passionate people with no lack of character: not unlike my lighting sculptures.

I.: What is your favourite part of your job?

W.B.: I love the freedom of being able to create without restraints, first of all.  Having my own atelier is in that sense both a joy as well as instrumental. This allows me to work with and for our clients, which are often extraordinary individuals. Meeting them is a source of sheer joy. Every project is contextual, including the wildly different characters involved. They are often passionate people with no lack of character: not unlike my lighting sculptures. 

Instead of defining architecture by only its structure, I prefer to define it through a conscious choice in the sequence of space, light, content and experience. The last, adding an experience or character to a space, is what I do and what I’m good at.

Creating a lighting sculpture is like developing a good perfume.

I.: When creating customised designs, what is important in your relationship with your clients?

W.B.: Creating a lighting sculpture is like developing a good perfume: bringing all the elements and oils together to create a unique and precise scent, that longs and seduces and – most important – that connects and becomes part of an individual’s personality. The sculptures that I create, represent the personality of my clients or the brands I create for. They fill the room with light and emotion, giving the space its character.

We work with and for a lot of successful people, with tight agenda’s and strong character. However, when it’s about their most important space – their private home- the harshness falls away and we often have surprisingly open and warm conversations. I receive so many interesting stories and inspiration from these meetings, and in return it allows me to translate their personal lighting wishes into handcrafted reality. The fact that these lighting sculptures surprise and seduce and carry a hint of irony or at least some humour in them seems to help transcend the many different cultures we cater for.

We stir emotions, surprise and – at times- seduce.

I.: Is there something that you try to communicate through your designs? Something that you strive to infuse all your creations with?  

W.B.: People come to us for a truly characterful object; it is I think almost impossible that people underneath a lighting sculpture from our hands for example during a dinner party, not make any reference to it. We stir emotions, surprise and – at times- seduce. I strive for people to be surprised by my creations. Especially now, with so many people in self-isolation, they understand the importance of a space which carries character.

What is style without emotion, how can we relate to it?

Just like human relations, we do like to bond with the space we are in. Classic or contemporary, what is style without emotion, how can we relate to it? We will not feel at home or feel comfortable in a public space without an atmosphere. I have given a soul to all the lighting sculptures that I’ve created in the past three decades. 

I.: Can you describe an evolution in your work from when you began until today? 

W.B.: To think of it, there has been little evolution in the specific way of creating. I still make just a few simple sketches before I quickly get down to the actual process of crafting. I did not use computers for this before – they are limited in what they can do compared to free thinking and handwork, nor do I now. 

My collections have broadened over the years. From being at first mostly organic, in the last years others lines of beauty have emerged: less curvy, but still unpredictable. Yet, as before, these objects still make for that dash of emotion in a space that ensures the creation of a lasting memory.

If I think of people who inspired me, they have all one thing in common: they are original independent thinkers.

I.: If you had to choose one single designer/artist who has provided a source of inspiration for you personally – who would it be and why?

W.B.: If I think of people who inspired me, they have all one thing in common: they are original independent thinkers. Driven by emotion and autonomy, they continually push the bounds of imagination and creativity, reinventing themselves in every new collection or project they undertake. Their style is innovative and recognizable at the same time.

I’m mainly inspired by fashion designers like Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Perhaps this is because their sensual creations and process remind me of the development of a lighting sculpture. But also the architects Oscar Niemeyer, Santiago Calatrava, Tadao Ando and Winnie Maas, designers like Philip Starck and Antonio Citterio, artists like Jeff Koons, Willem de Koning and Axel Vervoordt inspire me for this reason. 

I.: Which is your favourite design/work of art?

W.B.: I don’t have a favourite design or artwork, but most of the work of the above mentioned people, I much appreciate.  

I.: Which of your designs is your personal favourite and why? 

 W.B.: My hands and the hands of my craftsmen have been forming over 30 collections and even more customised objects. There are still people who refer to the lighting sculpture of my graduation and ask me to reproduce it. I like the fact that some of our most successful collections are decades old: they were designed to last.

I do not design for a specific trend or style and like the fact that my work is embraced in many different cultures. But if I need to choose, I would say that the Flintstone collection is the closest to my heart, as I designed it with a specific client in mind: myself.

People will continue to feel the urge for beauty, and decorate their homes with an expression of the emotion they feel for this space.

I.: Has anything new already resulted from the isolation period that you can share with us?

W.B.: People will continue to feel the urge for beauty, and decorate their homes with an expression of the emotion they feel for this space. To adorn the space in which they welcome others, form a family and work remains a task for which people will continue to seek out objects of beauty that are well crafted. 

Despite the current complicated time, I am working on a new object. Although I can not work from my main atelier, I work with limited tools at home.

 I.: How do you unwind?

W.B.: I watch a lot of documentaries, from history to current affairs. I am also gently ‘forced’ to unwind in my new home amidst the trees or daily walks before the sun rises. It helps me to clear my mind.

To design new lighting is in a way a search for rhythm and striking the right tone, in order to seduce.

I.: What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

W.B.: I love jazz and see a lot of similarities in this type of music with my own creative process: to design new lighting is in a way a search for rhythm and striking the right tone, in order to seduce. Miles Davis is unbeatable.

When I am ‘stuck’ in the process of deconstructing a new concept, bringing it back to the core, in order to be able to construct again, I find refuge in the drama of opera. This week Callas has been on for hours and hours…so you know in what phase I was regarding the creation of a new collection.

 I.: What is your favourite colour?

W.B.: In my work, I mostly use the metal colors of the material, such as nickel, brass and copper, which are processed in all sorts of finishes like high gloss, grinded or heated at a high temperature in order to get beautiful shades of purple, green, red and blue. I also developed an aged finish that embraces the small imperfections that come with aging. These finishes give character.

For my clothing, I like black and white, because they don’t distract my mind.  

And if I need to choose a pure colour……it would be deep purple. It is often related to a sacral, mystical and undefined feeling: it’s undetermined and loaded with the energy of the past.

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