Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel of Studio Job. Portrait by Rene van der Hulst.
Name: Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel
Occupation: Founders of the Belgian atelier Studio Job
Location: Antwerp and Amsterdam
Nynke: We just opened our retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design, which is our first solo show in New York. We're also working on a new collection of bronze pieces, and we have assignments from private collectors and design brands.
Job: Every Tuesday Nynke and I go to the atelier to have a meeting with our team. We get a list of projects, and there are always more than 50. We do so many different projects, the diversity from product, to architecture, to fashion, to music—it's very interdisciplinary.
Nynke: To be as free as possible and to think out of the box; to be aware of the history of design but to put it in the present. Our mission is not to solve a problem, but to ask a question.
Job: To be independent. To be free. Mission impossible.
The Birth, 2010
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer?
Nynke: I was raised with it. My mother is a textile pattern designer, my father was an art director at the weaving mill. They both went to the Design Academy in Eindhoven where Job and I studied. When I was young, they took me every year to the graduation show. I saw all the work and I immediately knew I wanted to become a designer—it was clear from the start. I was raised by modernists and now we're doing the opposite.
Job: I still haven't decided whether I want to be a designer or not. But that's a good thing.
Horse Bust (Chess Piece) commissioned for Chamber, 2014
Job: Design Academy at Eindhoven. But really no education. To be totally honest, I was in the army and if you went to visit a university, you got a day off. So a friend of mine, also in the army, visited Eindhoven and I thought I'd join him because then I'd get a day off.
Nynke: I had drawing classes in high school, but Design Academy Eindhoven was the first art school I went to. The first year is the same for everyone then you have to choose a direction. I chose the graphic department, and Job chose the conceptual, three-dimensional department. That's also how we work these days. It's like a perfect match actually of 2D and 3D.
First design job:
Nynke: The internship I did at Job's studio. We were already in a relationship, and in the third year I had to do my internship so we decided to try out a collaboration between us. Not only to share our lives, but also to share the work. I think that's the first time we really worked together. It felt right from the start.
Job: In school I created my first design brand or label as part of my final exams. It was called the Rise and Fall of a Great Design Brand, which was kind of an ironic approach to the designer as a star artist. I started with a partner who had graduated several years before me, because I knew that you're stronger together than on your own. Also, it's more enjoyable.
Withered Flowers pattern designed for Viktor & Rolf 2013
What was your big break?
JS: After that first project—it was the Rise and Fall—after we had fallen I spent six months in a coffee shop smoking weed. Then I started Studio Job. My big break was that I decided I no longer wanted to be a part of a traditional approach to design. As a designer working for design labels, you're mostly designing prototypes, and a prototype is a unique piece. So I thought maybe it's better to design unique pieces or sculptures, and I thought it might be interesting to introduce sculpture and the use of bronze in design.
Nynke: The Robber Baron collection represented by Moss at Design Miami. Before this people were questioning our work—is it art or is it design? It has no function. We got a lot of comments and a lot of bad reviews. From this collection onward, our work was more accepted and people were talking about design/art. We invented some kind of niche and for the first time it seemed like people understood. Before that it was really a fight.
Robber Baron collection, 2007
Describe your workspace:
Nynke: Once a week I go to our atelier in Tilburg, the Netherlands. That's where we produce our pieces and that's where our team works. I meet there with Job and we discuss projects. It's like a dream atelier: high ceilings, a lot of space, good equipment, happy team of very good craftsmen.
When I'm not at the atelier, I work from my house in Amsterdam, which is called Studio Job Suite. We have other projects like this: Studio Job House, Studio Job Loft, Studio Job Lounge, and Studio Job Gallery. The house where I live started when we bought an apartment and turned it into an installation. It's a place where there are no restrictions—we really did it for ourselves. After it was finished, Job and I split up (we used to be married). We still work together and we're still soul mates, but we're no longer lovers. Afterwards, I moved to this place in Amsterdam and I work from there on my computer, in my living room. It's very colorful and bold. Wallpaper did an article and called it the "House of Fun." There are pieces we collect, modernist pieces, but also pieces of our own work mixed together in an eclectic interior.
Design can be so expressive that it doesn't need to be called art. - Job Smeets
Job: I work from Antwerp. I have a huge loft with a huge studio, but in the end I just work at the kitchen table because I only need a laptop, a sheet of paper, and a pen. The rest is in my head and on the world wide web.
Studio Job Atelier
What is your most important tool?
Nynke: My computer. I still work with a mouse. People think I'm crazy because I'm not using the pen and the tablet, but I'm too afraid. I don't like changes. I work in Illustrator and I have to draw a lot but it works for me. Maybe the mouse is my most important tool.
Job: My brain and my pen. I have four or five Montblanc pens that I use to make drawings all day long. Then I take photos of the drawings and send them to whoever needs them. It's all about the thing that's inside the pen.
What is the best part of your job?
Nynke: Creating itself. We travel a lot for our work, we meet a lot of people. I do enjoy seeing the world, but I don't enjoy the public part of the job. I really like to be at work, or in the atelier working with the team.
Job: That I can make drawings.
From the Craft Collection
What is the worst part of your job?
Nynke: The responsibility and the organization. It's a serious business, and you're responsible for your team. Like a farmer cannot leave his cows, you just have to continue. Keeping the quality on a high level is also hard.
Job: That I'm a director of a company and I have to keep everybody happy and alive. It's not the worst part but it's the most difficult part, and I was never educated for it. My profession of choice is to be an artist, but I am a designer so that's already quite hard. Then I have to be a director of a company of 25 people, who all have mortgages and children. I have to stand behind the wheel of that little ship.
Nynke: Job is a good talker. He likes to be in public, he likes to talk about the work. I'm more comfortable behind the screen but I'm learning. I think maybe that's why I started drawing, to express myself in a visual way, because talking and expressing myself through language has never been my greatest talent.
Job: In the end the only thing I want to do is make drawings. I'm not a painter, and I'm not a writer, and if you're curse is that you have to deal with very complex materials and production processes, you're also dependent on different people. You have to learn to translate your ideas onto a piece of paper, and to a group of people. It's quite hard.
Studio Job x Land Rover, 2013
What time do you get up and go to bed?
Nynke: It depends. Before I moved to Amsterdam I used to live in the countryside and I had a very strict daily rhythm. I lived like a nun—not too much alcohol, no smoking. I got up at 5:30 a.m., then I did sports, then I studied the violin. I moved to Amsterdam and then it went wrong. But I'm really enjoying the social city life. It also has it's qualities, and it inspires you. So I lost my rhythm.
Job: Every day is different. When Nynke and I were together we had a strict regime of going to bed at 11:00 p.m. and getting up at 6:00 a.m. But we are no longer lovers and between us I'm the traveler, so I'm usually in an airplane at least once a week. That makes a schedule quite hard. But when you're totally independent, you can also set your own schedule and your own way of working.
Studio Job portrait by Daniel Stier
How do you procrastinate?
Nynke: The easiest part is to have an idea, but it's difficult to get it done—to produce, express and execute the piece. You learn through the years to develop your own way.
Job: I always feel like a cheater but I never really cheat. Meaning, I always feel that I should be working, but I always find myself working. I try to procrastinate but I never really manage.
Installation view of Studio Job for Chamber Gallery at the Armory Show.
What is your favorite productivity tip or trick?
Job: I think you have to feel free, independent, and autonomous with no restrictions whatsoever in creation. I get depressed a lot, but never by the work. I could work for another 200 years.
Nynke: I really enjoy listening to music. In Amsterdam every Saturday I go to a concert, sometimes it's baroque music, or opera, or contemporary. I sit there for two to three hours and I reload. I start thinking when I'm listening and that's really inspiring for me. I visit museums. Because I don't talk much I see a lot, so I look around and I notice little details, or banal things.
What is the best-designed object in your home?
Nynke: My shower screen. It's glass and there's a print of the forest on it. Every morning is a great start because you're in the middle of the city but you have a shower in the forest. It sets the mood of the day.
Job: The toilet. It's more the primary things that are very important.
Who is your design hero?
Job: I hate designers so I don't have a design hero. (And Nynke's not a designer.)
Nynke: Job. Because he is very talented and he doesn't care what other people think.
Banana Lamps, 2015
What is the most important quality in a designer?
Nynke: To be free. To be shameless. To be consistent. To be able to concentrate and think out of the box.
Job: To try not to be one. I hate design because it's a very ambivalent thing. We live in a world where we should design less, yet designers are very popular. There are thousands of schools where you learn how to design materialistic things. We should de-materialize instead of design. It's quite tragic.
What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers?
Nynke: That they have to solve a problem.
Job: Similar to what Nynke said, that the designer should solve a problem. A designer is always about functionality, about making people happy. That's very misunderstood. When a designer can be happy him or herself, I think that's already quite a lot.
Perished Bench, 2006
What is exciting you in design right now?
Nynke: We've reached a certain point in our careers where the work is accepted. I guess it can only get better form this point.
Job: The gap between design and other creative fields is finally becoming more narrow. Nynke and I worked really hard on that. When we started Studio Job, a designer was someone who had to solve an economical problem, and now a designer can make a sculpture. Design can be so expressive that it doesn't need to be called art. It's a giant step.
Studio Job MAD HOUSE is on view now through August 21, 2016 at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City.
Bryn Smith is a writer, graphic designer, and critic based in Brooklyn. She is currently at work on a collection of interviews with legendary designers, and a book about the design studio Open. She teaches in the graduate graphic design program at RISD.