Muller Van Severen

Muller Van Severen

Our pieces are interesting sculptures and functional pieces of furniture. You can't really put a name to them. But when a Muller Van Severen chair is not being used as a chair, it has to function as a sculpture.’
What makes the design duo Muller Van Severen so attractive? The fact that you can't label their designs as sculpture or furniture?

Hannes Van Severen: ‘We make sort of 3D drawings in space, because we like to involve the space that our furniture occupies in its design. As a result, our designs are furniture, landscape, still life, miniature architecture and sculpture all at once. Our pieces are interesting sculptures and functional pieces of furniture. You can't really put a name to them. But when a Muller Van Severen chair is not being used as a chair, it has to function as a sculpture.’

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Indeed, functionality is very important for your furniture. But your work is often presented in the cold atmosphere of a gallery. Does that bother you? 

‘Our work is often presented in isolation in gallery contexts. It can be beautiful, but it's not a realistic arrangement. That's why, in the latest edition of Design Miami, we replicated our living room and some of our sculptures that are in it, as well as other objects that we love. Whenever we design something, we first test it out in our own living and work environment. We always ask ourselves: Can we live with this? Does it function in our environment? We design sculptures that one can live in. We always look for the middle road between comfort and form.’ 

You like to say that the replica of your home at Design Miami was inspired by Hilde Bouchez’ book A Wild Thing. In what way do her insights resonate with you?

‘The perfect house is not a sum of perfect designer pieces. An interior only has meaning when you put something of yourself into it. It's a monologue that tells where you come from through heirlooms or objects from friends and family. This is what Hilde Bouchez writes about in A Wild Thing, her doctoral thesis on design. Books about design often deal with the form or the exterior of things. This is not the case in her book; she writes about the elusive inner power of objects.’

Your roots are in contemporary art. How did the transition into design go?

Fien Muller: ‘In 2010 Veerle Wenes opened a design gallery in Antwerp called Valerie Traan. She invited me to design a collection of objects for general use. I wanted to do this together with my husband Hannes. Up until that time, we had both been working as visual artists, but separately. I made pictures and videos, and Hannes sculpted. The objects and furniture we drew while working together were actually functional solutions for problems that arose during the renovation of our place. We didn't have enough light points, for instance, so we drew a dining table with a lamp. The request for a joint collection came out of the blue, but our answer was ready and waiting. At least, that's how it felt: we came up with the spatial ideas spontaneously.’

To what extent are your designs for Muller Van Severen self-portraits?

Fien Muller: ‘Both our backgrounds are contained in that collection. Hannes is the son of architect and designer Maarten Van Severen, and I come from a family of artists and antique dealers. One of our first designs for Muller Van Severen, the Marble Box, perfectly encapsulates our backgrounds. A minimalist box, yes, but one made from five different types of marble. Baroque in a tight frame, you could say, like the perfect symbiosis between the two of us.’

From your very first collection, you have worked with natural stone. Now you are also experimenting with enamel, a craft process that can be compared with glaze on ceramics.

Fien Muller: ‘Few materials inspire us as much as enamel. We love its high gloss that reflects light so beautifully. The colour depth of those thick layers of enamel is simply incredible. It's so much more than a thin layer of paint. It's got this soundness to it, this sense of life. Entrepreneur Tanguy Van Quickenborne, who also procured beautiful marble for us, recently took over Emaillerie Belge, Belgium's last remaining enamel company. At Massimo Di Carlo in Milan we exhibited a collection of room dividers furnished with enamel. More is coming.’

It looks like 2018 will be an important year. What does this mean for your studio?

Hannes Van Severen: ‘We used to say that we didn't want to work in a company with ten employees. But considering the projects that are coming, we may very well have to. We are part of the team working on the new VRT (Flemish public broadcaster) building, together with Robbrecht & Daem. We're also competing, this time in collaboration with OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, for the conversion of the Citroën garage in Brussels into a new branch of the Centre Pompidou. At the same time, we are designing a pepper mill for Valerie Objects and a cutlery collection for Rossana Orlandi in Milan. We also have our first architectural project coming up, a holiday home in Stromboli. Our greatest luxury is that we can now choose the projects we want to get involved in. There's so much coming our way that we can afford to turn down work that doesn't interest us that much. This makes us happy.’

Tim Coppens

Marble is a precious product in and of itself, and when pulled out of its traditional context, it becomes even more precious.
Read More


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