Design Duos / Muller Van Severen
The Design Edit talks to the designer couple who've developed a powerful and distinctive creative language.
MULLER VAN SEVEREN is made up of Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen, who live in Ghent with their two daughters. Having met at the Academy of Art in Ghent – where Hannes was studying sculpture and Fien, photography – they started working together and have been collaborating ever since. Their furniture designs are equally at home in a person’s living room as they are in a gallery, with single pieces fusing multiple functions to form complex objects that appear almost like installations.
TDE: What drew you to working together for the first time?
Muller Van Severen (Fien): We were working in the same building, and were always communicating with each other about our own work. We wanted to do something together, but we weren’t sure what medium we could work in.
Then in 2011, I received a request from the Antwerp design gallery Valerie Traan to do a show there. They specialise in showing pieces that occupy a space between art and design. The owner asked her artists to approach someone to collaborate with for the shows, so I asked Hannes to work with me. At the time, we were renovating our home, so we thought, “Why not make functional objects together?”
TDE: How do you work creatively? Do you split the work, do your skills overlap and complement, or are you polar opposites?
Muller Van Severen (Fien): Both of us carry out exactly the same function in our job. We don’t separate anything. We are constantly doing things together. Sometimes Hannes starts a design, and then I add a colour, or provide feedback – or sometimes it is the opposite. It is always different with each design, but we always work together.
Hannes Van Severen: It is strange; we have a very silent language. We have an instinctive feel for what works and what doesn’t. When we do communicate about designing, it’s never with words, but with images, drawings, materials and models.
TDE: Do you ever get the feeling that you are going in different directions – or is there ever tension that you need to resolve when you are making things?
Muller Van Severen (Fien): I think we do, and it is interesting to be challenged by a new view when the other is trying something completely different or surprising. We don’t want creativity to be this safe feeling that we are both happy with. We recently worked with HAY on a collection of tables, lights, vases and candleholders. Working with them has brought a lot of energy to our own dialogue.
TDE: Why are two people better than one?
Muller Van Severen (Fien): I don’t think every two people are better than one (laughs). I don’t know what it is. It feels so normal and natural. I think it is to do with the fact that we have known each other for 20 years – half of my life. We have grown together. For instance, when we go to a shop, we constantly say things like, “Oh I like that”, or “Look at this”. It is not only in the studio where work gets made – you can find inspiration in your whole life that you share together.
TDE: What are you doing this summer?
Fien Muller: We’re going on holiday and spending some weekends at the Belgian seaside. We’ll spend our time eating, drinking and swimming.
TDE: What will you be reading/watching?
Hannes Van Severen: Le Otto Montagne (The Eight Mountains) by Paolo Cognetti and Een film met Sophia by Herman Koch.
TDE: What have you got coming up this autumn?
Hannes Van Severen: A group show at Galerie kreo in Paris, ‘step by step’, which is all about ladders. There’s quite a few of us taking part, including Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Marc Newson and Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. Then we’ve got forty of our designs exhibiting at a solo show at Viaduct London called ‘NOW AND THE FUTURE’, including our latest works for Hay. There’s also the launch of our ‘Colour Cabinets’ for Hay – these pieces look like boxes as they’re very simple and rigid in frame, but what happens inside is rather wild and playful. We like that!