Willem Heeffer is the Dutch designer who has notably made upcycling in design both stylish and fashionable. Finding new uses for old, tired and broken objects, Willem demonstrated his uncanny knack for repurposing the once defunct into a thing of beauty with funky, contemporary lighting made from used Heinz Baked Bean cans and old washing machine drums.
What is your studio like?
I am based in an industrial looking building. It has a loading bay at the back and big freight elevators. The building is packed with architects, woodworkers, artist, designers and photographers. I share my studio with Kalle who makes giant wood sculptures of gnomes! Not totally my thing but its nice to be around people active in different fields. My studio is constantly changing to suit the needs of any projects.
Where does your inspiration come from and what or who influences your work?
This is a question, which often returns in interviews. It is not easy to figure out where the inspiration comes from, sometimes it is very random: on the bike, while watching a movie or just while brushing my teeth. Besides being inspired by all the good designers and musicians around me, I guess it is the people in my direct surroundings who influence me and contribute the most with their support and criticism.
Are there any designers you admire?
I love the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. They are best known for their extensive series of photographic images, or typologies, of industrial buildings and structures. The most well known is the series of water towers. I also like the work of Martino Gamper. I appreciate the humor and the liveliness of his designs.
What are you working on right now?
I have a few projects going on at the moment. I am working on custom lights for a local ice cream bar situated in an old slaughterhouse. I love doing these custom works as it gives me a lot of creative freedom so that the lamps really suit the space as well as capture the companies’ identity. I am also working on some desk lamps at the moment.
When did you realize you wanted to work on upcycling old items?
Upcycling is not the only thing I do. I believe good design is mindful design. Ecology and ethics should form an integral part of this. With this in mind, I like to take on all kinds of projects. I think I always had an interest in ready-mades. I like working with existing shapes and objects, to change the function and create something new. My lamps or also sort of ready-made but with a twist.
Any bizarre items or materials that you would love to work with and upcycle?
I would love to use materials which have been recycled and can be poured, casted or formed in any new shape; a bit like the wood pulp chairs.
What do you feel is the best part of your job?
No week is the same. All these different projects keep me challenged and excited. Sometimes you don’t know what’s coming up next and it might be a bit uncertain at times but the results are worth it and I would not change it!
What is your home like? Is it filled with your creations?
Yes, I have plenty of my own creations in my home as well as from other designers and the recycling centre. But it’s not perfect and constantly changing. It’s a little bit like the shoemaker's children go barefoot.
Do you think upcycling is becoming more popular these days? And if so, why?
We all know why upcycling is important and it will play an even bigger role in future.
However, according to Christopher Barnatt, we should be careful in thinking that this is the only solution. “Rather than striving toward sustainability, we should start focusing on how we can least painfully deconstruct our consumer society and transition to a world in which we consume things less and value things more”
This is the key to good design for me: ‘value things more’. Show the reason and the process of how an object is made; this gives a good understanding of the product and will form a much stronger bond and connection. Give the product a soul, a history and a story and it will stay with us for a long, long time to come.