i29 is an interior architecture office based in The Netherlands whose work revolves around establishing powerful simplicity and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with brand identity, interior experience, and crafting space that responds to a cohesive story.
Their projects vary widely in scope, and have spanned retail, offices, museums, cultural venues, restaurants, private residences, and a host of others. They approach each project with a blank slate and a clear mind, letting the concept develop organically based on the conditions and constraints that are imparted on the design.
i29 believes in minimalism with a surprising twist. We look for powerful simplicity; a smashing impact that is created with relatively simple means.
I connected with Jeroen Dellensen & Jaspar Jansen, founders and lead interior architects at i29, to find out more about their design process and how they find unique inspiration in everything they work on.
Do you have an avenue or set of rules for selecting jobs, or are you generally open to different types of design projects, clients, locations, etc?
Actually, we are open to all kinds of design projects, clients and locations. Obviously we do not take on just any project that comes along. But, when we see an opportunity to make something interesting, we are eager to work on it, regardless of the client, location or project.
Often projects are very challenging to us because we have the power to make it challenging. Even small assignments can be exciting and hard to tackle if you try to push the boundaries, go of the paved path and set your goals high. Perhaps the most important issue is that a client is willing to think beyond borders, and brave enough to choose for new and unexpected solutions, instead of the things we all have seen before. We are dedicated to deliver people radically striking and surprising spatial experiences.
When you begin work on a project, what are the first things you look to for inspiration to jumpstart the design process?
We look for powerful simplicity; a smashing impact that is created with relatively simple means. Our office has no strict guidelines for starting a project, since we have such a wide variety of projects and clients. It’s very much depending on the typologie of the project, as well as the clients briefing and starting points.
Foremost we have a strong focus on routing spatial experience and architectural interventions. And this can be achieved on a smaller scale with spatial objects in an existing space as well. For us, the quality of a successful design should not depend on temporary trends, or just be focused on one single idea. It should answer to multiple questions at the same time, and tell a story about the company, the products, the space and it’s visitors.
What foundational rules or criteria have you impressed on your practice, and how have those manifested in specific projects?
i29 believes in minimalism with a surprising twist. The latest evolution in our work is that we are currently working towards a more surprising and illusional effect in our projects. Undiscovered or unexpected details can give more depth to a design.
For example in a shop we made for Frame Magazine, i29 proposed a radical concept; two shops in one, two contradictory experiences in one space. One white and rectangular installation versus one black and diagonal; A white museological experience opposing a black shop experience full of products. Frame store works in the intersection between art, design, architecture and fashion. The interior design is based on the changeability of such a diverse shop. Flexibility and being able to change the store identity completely was our main focus.
Another example is our latest project: a showroom for Samsonite. The brief was to create an experience that unifies the diversity of the Samsonite Group and it’s sub-brands. To create a spatial identity which is fresh, recognizable and consistent. i29 searched for an archaic symbol that intuitively refer to travel and movement in the broadest way. A graphic black and white color scheme that i29 introduced as the base of the design refers to the natural habitat of the suitcase or bag, the ‘urban space’ and is almost intuitively ingrained in the global collective memory. In general, we like to translate our client’s identity in an abstract way towards a 3-dimensional experience.
Can you think of a specific project that have challenged your design process in unexpected ways? How have those issues been resolved?
As mentioned earlier, we work on many different projects for a wide variety of clients. We start each project from scratch and are always diving deep into the subject. Exploring all facets of the case at hand. Talking to the users extensively. Processing the information over time. We take our time and think, rethink, try and retry over and over again. So talking about what we set out to do and how this relates to the final result; aiming for a kind of natural and smart solution. Quality that is non depending on expensive materials or exclusive handicraft but rather on smart and simple use of recourses.
For a leading Dutch Interior Design magazine we were asked to design a pavilion during the annual design fair in Amsterdam. This fair (and their annual exhibition) is completely packed with design products and material samples. We challenged them, by making an architectural installation having almost no products at all. The ‘house’ had been reduced to the essence of architectural experience; open and closed surfaces, walls and volumes, sight lines. Contrast in color and specular surfaces are playing with the perception of space. Mirrored volumes are hiding display cases which include compressed worlds which refer to living. The contrast between the ‘emptiness’ of the pavilion itself and the richly decorated display cases reinforce each other. The powerful simplicity of the pavilion made a place for contemplation amidst the abundance of products at the fair.
Your office seems to take inspiration from the existing conditions of the spaces you design in. Can you speak a bit about how the existing space informs the direction of an interior design project?
We work on both architectural projects that still needs to be built and renovations of existing spaces. But since we are always searching for a model combination between architecture and it’s interior environment, these two should fit in the best possible way. For example we designed an artist in residence space called ‘Room on the Roof’, which is located in a small tower on top of De Bijenkorf. The floor plan was only 4×4 meters, but the tower was about 8 meters high. In that sense the existing conditions brought us to the idea to built a vertical installation where the artists can work or think at different levels in the super small space.
Our starting point was to create a kind of a monk’s cell, to retreat and be able to think without any distraction or restriction. But also playing with scale and perception as in the universe of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. On one side a vertical installation of wooden volumes from floor to ceiling is placed, the other side is a full white space. The wooden installation includes a pantry, storage, desk and daybed.
The functions have been stacked on top of each other as a kind of ‘living cabinet’ in order to experience the tower on different levels. Via small ladders you can climb up in the cabinet. Each level gives a new perspective and view to the outside world. All accessories like a telescope, armchair and lamps, are just like the space itself all white to make a contrast with the wooden volume. The monumental spiral stairs leading to the cupola has been restored and adds to the fairytale-like atmosphere.
Your office appears to explore many different avenues of interior design. Does your process change in approaching these very different kinds of design problems?
Our work is very specific and unique, so therefore it stands out of the rest. We believe that every situation is different and therefore asks for particular solutions; not standard, but on the contrary personal and specific. We try to make custom designs as much as possible in all our interior projects, so this means also the furniture and smaller objects.
Furniture actually takes a special place since we like to solve much of our solutions in them. This leads to often very practical, but also new situations. For us this is also the innovative aspect of our design work. Look at it as a tailor made suit. You might never buy one on your own but with the help of someone you trust you are just a little bit more daring. And when you start getting used to it you start to appreciate it more and more. You feel great in it, and want to wear it every day!
How does i29 approach collaboration with engineers and other consultants? Are they integral to the design process, or brought in at specific milestones throughout?
We collaborate with consultants throughout the process, inclusive and integral to the design process. Our core team are all architects, designers and managing partners, but we like to collaborate with all kind of advisors in many different parts of the process. We always strive to bring order to different competing factors, and surprise people’s expectations with logical, ingenious solutions.
What remains is a transparent total image while having all of the specific layers from our consultants integrated in a whole. Often, the starting point to us is searching for the difficulties or restrictions in a project, looking for the boundaries of what’s possible and after that finding the best answers to it.
Which of your projects is the best example of a finished product that represented best the initial concept or idea? Which project changed the most throughout?
ALL of our projects are exactly finished like how we presented from the very first ideas! Perhaps we are just very convincing in a natural way (laughs).
We often make 3d visuals during the design process, which are exactly the same as the photos being taken afterwards. For example a restaurant design we made for De Bijenkorf; Inspired by the company name De Bijenkorf (beehive) and it’s hexagon shaped logo referring to a honeycomb, we designed a lively pattern of black hexagon tiles which seems to ‘swarm’ over the light flooring, bar and counter fronts. The challenge was to create an environment that was made for heavy use, whilst still keeping quality in sharp details and natural materials.
This resulted into an interior that mirrors the brand identity of the store itself, aiming for quality, luxury, creativity and youth. In this project, we have visuals from the initial idea that are identical with the photos being taken afterwards.
Just to wrap things up, in general, could you talk about the future of i29 and how your process is changing in the face of new projects and challenging opportunities?
At the moment, we are facing exciting and challenging opportunities. Working on some premium projects, both national and international, we are expanding our horizon. We cannot tell in detail, but at the moment we work on a very large retail project, a cultural venue, a museum, some hospitality projects, an office space and more.
Within the studio we work hard on better organization and result driven thinking, to improve the quality of a cutting edge creative office. Most of the projects we work on right now are for exactly the kind of clients we want; willing to create something truly memorable and open to being surprised by our team of inventive free thinkers with refreshing and outspoken ideas.
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Many thanks to Jeroen and Jaspar for taking the time to give us insight into their process of design and construction. If you’d like to know more about i29, or browse their portfolio of select projects, visit their website here.