An interview with Belgian design darling Thomas Lommee

Thomas Lommee is the name on everyone’s lips, these days. The young Belgian designer works out of a studio in the heart of Ixelles where, together with his partner Christiane Hoegner, he’s working on a groundbreaking new design project that goes by the name ‘openstructures’. It’s a bit like Lego and a bit like Wikipedia: ‘open’ in the sense that everyone and anyone is invited to contribute by designing new modules. We talked to the brainy Belgian about the project, who also told us why design is much more than just a piece of furniture.

What defines your approach?

Combining colour, texture and shape in a way that makes sense. We do a lot of research and when we understand the context and have figured out a definition of what we want to do, then we can start developing projects. For example, we did a lot of research on the notion of networks, something that characterises today’s society. How are things developed in a network? Which principles can we identify? There’s a lot of thinking and theory behind it.

Do you have a concrete example? What are you working on at the moment? 

Right now we are working on kids’ furniture and toys in the context of the open modular project. It’s a bit like Lego, actually. It’s a system where everyone can submit a design of a module and in the end people can buy certain modules and put them together. It’s also a bit like Wikipedia, everyone can add to it. The objects are puzzles that can evolve over time, that you can take apart and rebuild using additional modules. Lego had quite a uniform identity with only 5 colours and all the pieces were made of plastic – here we are totally free. You can see our current database on openstructures.net.

What first got you started in design?

When I was 12 or 13 years old I knew I wanted to do something with design. I just always liked to make things and take them apart. Later on I studied design in Eindhoven.

How do you work? Alone or in a collective?

It depends on the project. The teams very from project to project. But I mostly work with my partner Christiane Hoegner. I’m more the analytical one and she’s more intuitive. I concentrate on the theoretical part and she’s better at shaping it, bringing it to life. But we share the same vision.

What’s your vision?

Design is a powerful tool to make something attractive and easy to use. It can explain things and make them understandable. And the openstructure system we’re working on right now shows that the designer is not necessarily the cook in the kitchen anymore. He creates an infrastructure but other people do the cooking, generate the objects. The designer provides a certain framework for it.

What would your ideal commission be? 

That’a nice question, but it’s very difficult to answer. I actually really enjoy what I’m doing at the moment. The Design Biennale Liège just asked us to work on a neighborhood project. Not really urban planning, but investigating what is there, what is missing, and how the inhabitants of the area can be linked with all the students living there, how a real community can be created. We moderate the students’ ideas and make the scenography of the corresponding exhibition.

Design can be much more than just a chair or a table…

Exactly. We can use its potential to find solutions for society. But a table or a chair can also create emotions, because they have been made with sensitivity and care.

Whose work are you quite big on at the moment? 

I’m very impressed by what Frédéric Nicolay has done for Brussels. He has created all these beautiful bars, like Café Belga or Potemkine, although I’ve heard he doesn’t even like designers. He always puts it in the right spot and everything is done with a lot of love. It’s a business, but a  very inspiring one. I also love what designer Piet Hein Eek has done with an old factory in Eindhoven which he completely renovated and now hosts artists’ studios, exhibition spaces, a restaurant, … it’s a wonderful place and it generates work in a very nice way. It shows that even a factory can be a beautiful place. It’s very powerful. And it has an economic component, the importance of which we should not forget. These are people who manage to make a difference.

openstructures.net