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Jack Brandsma at Gronicles 4 Cologne

We discuss lights and the value of mobile living with designer Jack Brandsma at the Wohnbar Wunderbar in Cologne.

By Katie Dominy / 17-01-2014

Jack Brandsma showed us around the Gronicles exhibition featuring work by designers from the city of Groningen – principally  Brandsma,  Lambert Kamps and Lotte Douwes. 

Brandsma graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2001 where he studied Design Product. His work displays a fine eye for the unusual but more importantly it recognises the qualities of commercial designers who for the most part tend to remain anonymous. He points out that a large body of work is produced to meet the mass market and the designers go unnoticed and their designs receive little or no recognition among the wider world of product design. In the twelve years Brandsma has worked as a professional, this particular and unusual feature of his work has to some extent dominated the nature of his designs. 

His most recent work has been concerned with an unusual and striking range of interior lighting, the Major Tom family. The unusual model he has used is a simple shallow bowl-shaped form of light shade. The shape is the kind you will find in any number of homes or work places. One might think of it as perhaps the most common lamp shade ever made. It looks a little like the generally accepted idea of a UFO: a shallow bowel with a small bowl above. Brandsma's clever, and one might say witty design, is to take two lampshades and attach one on top of the other so that they form a mirror image. the lamp is hidden and the effect is to produce a softer light. He uses muted colours for the shades, soft yellow and red, and often plain white. The cord is by contrast bright red and in one of the designs, achtung! achtung!, is curved to enter the top of the lamp shape and create a loop to lift the shade to shine at an angle.

Brandsma's most ambitious design is the Major Tom chandelier, which is made from 20 lampshades. These are individually suspended from the ceiling by thin, virtually invisible wires. The reason for this is that when there is movement beneath the candelabra, such as a gust of air, the lamps will move. The experience is like watching the heads of, say poppies, blowing in the wind. 

Much of Brandsma's work reflects his life style. There is a truth that the very best designers create from personal experience and that their designs are vey much a direct result of how they live.  Brandsma openly confesses a dislike for convention. He rejects the easy option and says he feels uncomfortable when coming into contact with the impersonal. He says that staying in hotels is a prime example of spending time in an environment that actively works against the human spirit. Its lack of personality and uniformity, he suggests, run contrary to our needs and often deaden our responses. He says he would rather sleep in tent than a hotel and to that end created a whole system of portable furniture, The Crate series, including a kitchen in order that at all time he feels he is his own master. For this show in Cologne, once Brandsma knew the building had heating, he quickly returned the key to the apartment given to him by the show organisers. 

Brandsma is nothing if not unconventional and his strength of character is clearly reflected in his designs. He recently purchased an empty slaughterhouse in his home town. It is a building no one wanted but Brandsma saw potential and has converted it into a remarkable home for himself and his young family.

When you see an object designed by Brandsma you know at once, instinctively that the man who designed it has both a rich imagination and a powerful and infectious personality. They are qualities that are the hallmark of his designs.

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