Ineke Hans’s Salons Take on the Big Issues

Time to Think

Time. It’s an ever-dwindling, oh-so-valuable commodity. We all want more of it: Time to tackle the big questions or to finally start that dream project; time to learn a new skill or perfect an existing one; more time to spend with the people we care about most. And let’s be honest, we’d all really appreciate time for just a bit more sleep.

Carving out time is never quite as easy as we’d like, though. It generally requires concerted dedication and thoughtfulness. That’s part of what makes Dutch designer Ineke Hans’s 2016 Studio|Salon series so impressive. Several months ago, Ineke Hans decided to pack her bags and leave her longtime Arnhem, Holland studio, to set up a second location along a canal in London’s hip Hackney neighborhood. She’d decided to commit the bulk of her time in 2016—as well as her new London space—to an ambitious project aimed at exploring one of the biggest, most complex issues facing designers today—namely, the changing role of the designer against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving world.

As Hans tells us, “I felt I needed to update myself. After working in design for a number of years and running a studio, I recognized that things were changing a lot in furniture design, and so I needed to change, too.” Citing new, often digitized production, promotional, and sales methods, as well as the rising costs and shrinking spaces associated with urban living, a surplus of existing furniture, and the shifting needs of private and public spaces, among other topics, Hans says, “All of this has a huge impact on furniture and the role of the designer, and I wanted to make the time to look into that.”

So in February of 2016—funded in part by the Creative Industries Fund of the Netherlands as well as the Embassy of the Netherlands in London—she launched a series of roundtable discussions dedicated to these topics, hosting a variety of design experts at each. The larger goal of the salons, according to Hans, is to facilitate conversation in order to come up with a number of “conclusions and recommendations by the spring of 2017. 

London struck her as the perfect setting for the project, because, as her site notes: “London as a metropolis is under the magnifying glass when it comes to changes in our future work, living, and public spaces associated with new ways of consumption, mobile working, travelling, and relaxing . . . [It] can be seen as an example for future scenarios in other places in the world.”

As of this writing, Hans has hosted four salon roundtable events and three “XL” salon pop-up, the latter of which took place in May during Clerkenwell Design Week and featured exhibitions and panel discussions open to a public audience.  Salon participants thus far have included a number of design world standouts, such as former V&A design curator Jana Scholze, writer and design consultant Max Fraser, Kingston University design professor and From Now On creative director Daniel Charny, writer and curator Johanna Agermann Ross, and a number of working designers, including Benjamin Hubert, Nina Tolstrup, Peter Marigold, and Raw Edges, among others. Hans says, “The fact that designers, producers, retailers, curators, and thinkers are discussing at one table seems to be very valuable and inspiring for most attendees. I hope [and] think that something will come from that.”

According to Marigold, the events are sparking valuable conversation on a level that exceeded his own expectations: “ I turned up with my laptop, thinking it would be another lecture type situation, and I really enjoyed that we actually were forced to sit down and talk out ideas with each other. It gets you thinking outside of your normal train of thought, and it was a great opportunity to get some things off my chest that I'd been thinking about for a while that I might not have done if I was going through the normal lecture routine.” He adds, “Great work, Ineke!”

Designer Yael Mer of Raw Edges and others chat at a salon event Photo courtesy of Ineke Hans
When asked to share her own biggest takeaway thus far, Hans says, “I am very interested in the opportunities relating to open source production and the democratic effects it can have—especially in terms of producing furniture where and when it is needed. However, it is also an area that needs to be considered and edited well. As it is open source, we need to think very carefully about what is going in there and make sure it makes sense.”

Those in the London area can get a front-row seat to the ongoing conversation at this month’s London Design Festival, when Hans hosts another “XL” pop-up salon series, again open to the public. She’s organized panel discussions salons at Ace Hotel London and the V&A, as well as a pair of exhibitions. The first, Furniture is Not Working, will present works from emerging designers in the Brompton Design District. The second, Cuckoo Eggs, consists of an intervention in the V&A’s furniture galleries, for which Hans will dot the space with her text and drawn interventions commenting on the “V&A’s furniture collection for 2017 and beyond.” As Hans says, “It gives me an opportunity to reflect on the fantastic furniture collection of the V&A, and to rethink and update it with thoughts that I will place inside the galleries. These notes are then spread out and can be found as Easter eggs, tapping into both the history and future of furniture design, and asking us to consider new ways of producing and living.”

Two additional, smaller salon events are scheduled to follow later this autumn, after which Hans aims to draw her larger conclusions.

We look forward to her findings; of course, only time will tell.