Prolific designer Maurice Mentjens , whose firm has won the Dutch Design Awards three times, leads a compact team of highly creative individuals on a broad spectrum of projects. Under his watch, his team crafts art-forward, sustainable interiors, objects, and furnishings for hospitality venues, museums, corporate environments, and boutiques. To hear Mentjens say it: “We deliver multi-layered, nested interiors and, for those who wish to see it, there’s always a new message concealed underneath the beautifully polished surface, often immersed in a surreal undertone with which the dualism between reality and illusion is portrayed.” With that, here we ask the designer about inspiration, attitude, and intention.
Interior Design: You’re known for impactful retail and commercial spaces, as well as engaging museum design. What are the most vital considerations you make when creating a high-traffic public space?
Maurice Mentjens: The designs each have their own story and messages. The first element we take into consideration is the client and the second is the product, or the function of a space. The third consideration is that the building, space, or location be appealing. In each of my designs, I try to introduce an element that is site-specific—surroundings, a city, products being sold, or the character or stories of a customer play important roles in this process. One could see it as a couture gown, designed for a particular customer.
ID: What has been your intention as a designer from the outset of your career, and what are the cornerstone philosophies of your practice?
MM: Beauty has always been my greatest passion—in music, art, architecture, design… and last but not least, women. The aim of our compact, talented team is to deliver high-end design that reflects these passions. Meanwhile, quality and creativity are prioritized in all aspects of the design and implementation process.
ID: What are some of the projects currently on your plate that are challenging or inspiring to your firm and adding new dimension to its portfolio?
MM: On the inspiring side, I’d say the Toneelacademie [the academy of drama] in Maastricht, Netherlands. It’s a beautiful old building in the historic city center of Maastricht, and an inspiring client. We’re also enjoying our work on a shop interior in the city of Eindhoven. As for challenging, we’re working on the Bonnefantenmuseum [also in Maastricht], on the design of a new entrance area. Given the location and its visitors, it’s a great calling card.
ID: What are your retail clients requesting of you these days and how does this diverge from what they might have requested in years past?
MM: Low budget—especially in Holland due to the so-called “crisis,” though in my opinion this is often a neo-Calvinistic strategy to spend as little money as possible. Next is, sustainability, which is a very important thing. Then comes “co-creation,” which is a pain in the ass, and doesn’t work for creating good design. It can sometimes have good results, but only if we’re able to work with talented colleagues or artists of our own choice. Most of the times co-creation means working together with a group of creatives or employees from the company of a client. Last week I read a booklet from George Lois, called Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent!) . He has some interesting statements on this subject matter. [For our readers, Lois offers notions such as “Teamwork might work in building an Amish barn, but it can’t create a big idea…” and “Decisive, breakthrough creative decision-making is almost always made by one, two or possibly three minds working in unison, take it or leave it. Collective thinking usually leads to stalemate or worse.”]
ID: What are the shared traits of your staff members, and what do you consider indispensible when it comes to the people with whom you collaborate?
MM: Everybody’s passionate about design, art, and architecture. They all work hard, are precise and dedicated, and are a little bit crazy. We all love great exhibitions, concerts, interesting books, and great food.
ID: What can a client expect when engaging with your firm?
MM: I like to seek starting points in the symbolic value of a building—the intended use as well as the history of the city or the surrounding area, the genius loci. Functionality is, in this respect, not a primary but rather an indirect goal. Only with respect for the “spirit of a place” can a design truly be connected with the location. The relationship with the client plays an important role in this. A successful commission begins with a good interaction with an open and flexible client. What emerges from that mutual empathy is more than a functional and technically correct design; it secures emotional involvement. This gives the project a subjective timelessness, liberated from external opinions.
ID: You have a really fun, enthusiastic personality. How important is it for you to enjoy yourself within the process of design?
MM: This is very important. A great part of the design and implementation process is very hard work. We put all our passion and a lot of time and effort in every project, therefore it has to be worth, it in many ways.
ID: Your firm has been the recipient of several Dutch Design Awards. What do such distinctions do for a firm such as yours?
MM: It has brought us a lot of free publicity, and through this publicity new and interesting clients projects found their way to us.
ID: What is your own living space like?
MM: I mostly, only work, and my personal living space is also a kind of office that’s full of books and some beautiful objects of designer-friends whose work I admire like Ettore Sottsass, Ron Arad, Marc Newson, and Dutch designers such as Arnout Visser and Jeroen Wand.
ID: What—and where—excites you?
MM: Fine arts, especially contemporary art. Music, especially Mozart and Bach. Architecture and fashion. I love to visit cities like Paris, London, Tokyo, Milan, Berlin, and New York, mainly to see contemporary art, but also look at buildings and special new interiors. And in Italy, I’m always excited about the food. My biggest example and inexhaustible source of inspiration is Ettore Sottsass. And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is my greatest hero.