Xavier Coenen is a master of adaptable furniture. With a background in product development he loves to design things that solve problems. His adaptable modular pieces are home decoration at its best – striking, functional and easily adaptable for different spaces and uses. Coenen is a man who really appreciates fine craftsmanship and has a real passion for wood. Here, he discusses his influences, his design process and a few more secrets of his work.
Could you briefly introduce yourself?
I studied Product Development at the Art Academy of Antwerp and started working for and with Belgian, Portuguese and Japanese architects and designers after my graduation in 2005. After 7 years of working behind the sketching table and the computer I felt the need to materialize objects from blank paper to actual product. I enrolled in a study of furniture making and established a company that produces wooden customable furniture on demand. In 2012 I decided to dedicate my attention to launching a collection that combines playability with functionality. MoModul is the first piece of this collection.
What was the defining moment that led you to becoming a designer?
The first concrete moment I decided I wanted to become a designer was when I visited the open door day of the Product Development programme. The students showed self-made models of vehicles that moved by means of natural energy sources, overcoming an obstacle. All my interests were combined in this exercise: problem solving, creating and playing. Of course, looking back at my childhood, I loved to create things while playing, building tree huts, wooden props for playing soldiers and making miniature models. I guess the joy of making things is a part of me.
For you, what is the most important part of the design process?
The problem analysis. I am unable to design an object that doesn’t solve a problem. I lack the artist gene that can create to create, I get lost without a problem I need to solve. Once the problem analysis is made, a completely open minded exploration is done, often neglecting the initial problem and creating other problems to solve. In this phase new aspect are introduced that make a project richer in its outcome. At the end of the ride the initial problem still needs to get solved though.
You love working with wood, what is the appeal?
I like the feel, the smell and the sound wood makes while working it. Aside my preference for the material itself, it’s relatively easy to work with without needing too many industrial production methods. This has allowed me to start developing my own designs in a small atelier without having to invest large sums in tools. Nevertheless this doesn’t mean I am not interested in using other materials when I get the opportunity.
You place a high value on craftsmanship. With technology constantly developing what is the future of hand crafted items in design?
Technology is a tool like any other. It increases accuracy and efficiency in production and the use of objects, but I often came to the conclusion that the technology available couldn’t solve sometimes uncomplicated manual actions. Therefore I believe technology and craftsmanship are both needed to create a qualitative outcome of most products. With my experience in making one-off pieces of furniture, the price tag for using technology is often just too high for the customer.
What ‘tags’ would you use to describe the pieces you produce?
Playability, functionality, modularity,
We’re super excited to have MoModul on our platform, could you take a minute to describe the piece?
MoModul consists of 3 combinable modules with a beginning, but no fixed end… or rather an open end. By manipulating the modules in a playful way, the functionality of the 3 wooden modules appears progressively without the use of screws or bolts. When needs or interiors change, the modules can be reconfigured or separated in a matter of minutes to compose a different piece of furniture. With some skillful puzzling MoModul units can be assembled to form a cupboard, a TV-table, book shelves, side table or a desk. With the provided miniature modules one can combine the three basic units in such ways that the construction fits the needs to furnish home / office / workplace or show room.
The modular way of thinking undoubtedly comes from studying Product Development. It is difficult to resist the need to design an object that is not modular. With its numerous possibilities and functionalities MoModul turns its back towards planned obsolescence, a design tendency that plans the breakdown of products to make sure the consumer buys a newer version. The modules are made to last and to use in different settings and circumstances.