Designer Dialogues: Harm & Elke

The creatives of Sectie-C, an Eindhoven based design hub, initiated BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE, a magazine that portrays different creative makers in their workplaces while interviewed by colleagues. What fascinates, inspires and drives them to do what they do? Especially for ddw.nl, BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE edited the interviews into interesting short stories. In this episode, we’re taking a look inside the studio of Harm van den Nieuwenhof and Elke van den Berg.
Harm van den Nieuwenhof and Elke van den Berg
Saskia Overzee
Despite the early hour, Harm’s black T-shirt is already stained. It didn’t occur to you to put on something different for the interview?

H: ‘I knew this was coming. ‘How many black T-shirts do you have?’ or ‘How do you pick one in the morning?’ No, this is who I am. I’m just wearing shorts today, instead of trousers, because it’s sunny.’

E: ‘Harm really doesn’t like to be all dressed up. Our workshop hasn’t been cleaned or anything, either.'

There’s a good vibe. Maybe fatigue has something to do with it too? Are you awake?

E: 'No, and we probably won’t be for quite a while. These sleepless weeks really get to you.'

Close-up Studio Harm en Elke
Saskia Overzee
They say parents of young children lose about three years of sleep.

H: 'They do – and all within three years’ time.'

E, while pointing at the neighbours’ dog Doortje, who is lying on her back in the sun: 'That is all we want now, really. Just an opportunity to chill out.'

Colleagues sometimes wonder how Harm and Elke manage. In the past few years the family grew with the birth of Tijm (3) and Fie (1). And still, the company continued to expand so they moved to a larger space at Sectie-C last year.

E: 'We really needed more space. I just couldn’t move around anymore; I was constantly walking into one of my interns.'

H: 'If the place was our dream? When we came here, we felt like this space would be cool. And now it’s ours. That is wonderful. Apart from that, the past period with the kids we just wanted to remain stable and not lose any ground.'

Close-up Studio Harm en Elke
Saskia Overzee
This summer, there are no interns around. A deliberate choice, to be able to work on new projects – something that had been hard to find the time for between all the production and maintenance.

E: 'We’re not sitting down to generate ideas though. They come up while we’re working and we discuss them later, on our bikes. If Harm gets round to it, he will make a technical drawing on the computer. But I’ve usually finished a few moulds by that time.'

H: 'And then she’s angry because it isn’t quite right yet. Elke often acts immediately; she always wants to run. Sometimes I make her slow down. My approach is more technical, I like to work things through. But we won’t be poring over a concept for three months, no.'

Harm and Elke both studied and met at SintLucas Boxtel. Afterwards, they went to Design Academy Eindhoven. Way back, Harm wanted to be an interior designer while Elke wanted to teach drawing and math. Now they run a ‘ceramics factory’ together, in Tongelr

E: 'We don’t want to be designers, by the way. That sounds way too pretentious. I’m simply a maker.'

H: 'We both prefer to work with our hands, and we discover new shapes just by doing. Once you’ve made something, you understand it better. We’re not artists, who tend to start from some kind of feeling to visualise a story. For us it’s more about making something – to create a line of products – that stirs a feeling. It has to be functional though, that is high on our list.'

E: 'It may be porcelain, but not the kind of porcelain that is only allowed to leave grandmother’s cabinet at Christmas and can only be touched with velvet gloves. You should be able to stick it in the dishwasher and use it every day.'

H: 'Our kids eat from it.' Together, laughing: 'We don’t.'

Close-up Studio Harm en Elke
Saskia Overzee
Elke puts the interviewer at work inside. It turns out not to be such a mess after all. Everything has been labelled, for the interns as well. Elke proceeds to show, step by step, how to make a cup. She’s the one who’s most passionate about ceramics.

H: 'If my girlfriend had a thing about wood, that would probably be the material we were working with most of the time now.'

E: 'Ceramics just never gets boring. It’s not easy though. I noticed that I need to regain some strength again. Tijm and Fie received a bit too much of my muscles.'

They often have interns around the studio, but Harm and Elke don’t employ any personnel. So, they do everything themselves. From mould making and production to photography, administration, packaging and, yes, taking out the trash as well.

H & E in unison: 'Sometimes.'

E: 'It may all be time-consuming, but it’s also nice to have everything in our own hands. It works to our advantage, because we don’t depend on anyone and nothing is impossible. I always want things right now.'

H: 'Preferably yesterday.'

Close-up Studio Harm en Elke
Saskia Overzee
Still, there’s a maximum to your present production capacity. Would you consider hiring people at some point?

E: 'We discuss it from time to time, but so far, we haven’t been forced to turn down any potential customers. Then again: I was complaining only yesterday that we can’t work twenty hours a day.' 

H: 'I don’t think our main goal is to expand the company. We want to continue this way, always coming up with new products. New products are the first thing people ask for at fairs. Right now, for instance, we’re working on a little table.'

When will you take a moment to look back at all the things you have accomplished so far?

H: 'It’s true, we hardly ever stop, really. Perhaps we should do that more often. But then again, there’s always something to improve. Like the web shop for instance.'

E: 'Publications on the site only run as far as 2015. Then they stop. I’m not saying we’re not proud though. This company, what it looks like now, wasn’t necessarily our plan. We just do things. I have no idea where we’ll be in five years.'

H: 'We will just be doing and making things.'

Close-up Studio Harm en Elke
Saskia Overzee

The full interview with Harm van den Nieuwenhof and Elke van den Berg can be found in the second edition of BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE. You can follow BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE here.

Interview: Thomas Dal / Photography: Anniek Mol en Saskia Overzee / Tekst editor: Mats Horbach