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What is a Cabinet?

Recent Design Academy graduate Paul Heijnen has removed all artifice to craft a cabinet from birchwood using a modular system that could work in a variety of materials and products.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 18-11-2010

Paul Heijnen, 27, from Sittard in the south of Holland likes to discard all accepted and expected notions of design before he starts a project.  He sees a lot of futility in embracing mainstream forms or in using typical shapes as a start point.

This was an approach he mastered at the Design Academy Eindhoven.  There he also had the time to experiment with his desire to use materials as honestly as possible – with a minimum of treatment.  

For his graduation project, “Constructed Cabinets”, he started by selecting just one of the objects that fascinates him – vintage cooling towers (see left). “Modern ones are made from smooth concrete,” Heijnen says, “but originally the wooden skeletons were exposed.”

On an empty table he placed images of the old tower,  piece of birchwood multiplex and a book, “Typologies” by Bernd & Hilla Becher.

“That is how I work,” Heijnen says.  “I look at objects, select a material and then see what I can come up with.”

Looking at what he had, Heijnen decided on a cabinet, but what is a cabinet?  “It is the question I started to ask myself,” he says.  

A cabinet has two functions – one on the inside as a space for storage and one on the outside to encase the object.  “The exterior represents the image of the image and I believe it has to be able to justify itself,” says Heijnen.  “It should reveal something about how the object is built.”

Heijnen sees no point in redesigning another smooth or anonymous object.  “I think creating smooth surfaces is a design decision that is not always well thought through,” he says.  “It is just copying what already exists.”

Instead, Heijnen wanted to reinvent the relationship between a cabinets interior and exterior with all the necessary mechanical components revealed.  Usually all the functional components like hinges and closing mechanisms are hidden.  “I wanted them to become a part of the aesthetic and to make the skeleton the façade and thus the second function,” he says.

Inspired by how the cooling towers were constructed, Heijnen initially experimented with ways to overturn the traditional outide/inside dichotomy (second small picture at left).  From there he came up with a modular cabinet that hides none of its workings.  It’s the honesty of this object that makes it so beautiful.  There is a door locking mechanism based on an old espagnolet lock and the hinges are built with seven independent axels that swivel 180 degrees to open the doors.

Next up Heijnen wants to try the same modular approach using metal strips.  He will stay working in Eindhoven for the foreseeable future as part of Collaboration O – a cooperation between eleven other designers.  “We are all independent, but we share equipment and networks,” he says.  “It makes starting out so much easier.”

“Constructed Cabinets” is available in a limited edition of eight. Click on the images to enlarge

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