Dutch celebrity designer Jan des Bouvrie, known for creating the iconic Cube sofa and introducing white, minimalist interiors to the Netherlands, has passed away at the age of 78 after a multi-year battle with colon cancer.
He died on Sunday, 4 October, in his hometown of Naarden, surrounded by his children and his wife and collaborator Monique des Bouvrie.
The designer, who celebrated 50 years of working in the industry last year, created furniture, interior and architectural designs as well as hosting Dutch interiors show TV Woonmagazine until 2003.
Des Bouvrie was a well-known media personality and society figure in Holland and designed a number of residences in the Gooi area, known for housing the wealthy and famous.
At the same time, he prided himself in designing both “for rich and poor”, through collaborations with Dutch mass-market brands such as hardware store Gamma, Sigma paints and electronics company Philips.
“Surely the largest interior icon in the Netherlands”
Design industry figures have taken to social media to share tributes to Jan des Bouvrie, alongside famous fans such as football player Patrick Kluivert and celebrity stylist and makeup artist Leco van Zadelhoff.
Studio Job founder Job Smeets, shared a hand-drawn note on Instagram reading “RIP [rest in peace] Jan” (below.)
“This remarkable man has a mastery of the softer side of modernism that seems as natural as a bird whistling and a chameleon changing colour,” Smeets wrote in a foreword to the 2012 book Jan des Bouvrie: art & design.
Furniture company Bakers Zitten & Wonen mourned the death of “surely the largest interior icon in the Netherlands” while Paul Rem, art historian and curator of Paleis Het Loo museum, heralded him as “the grandmaster of the white interior”.
Dutch design studio Piet Boon posted an image of Des Bouvrie and said: “That is an incredible thing that when the Dutch think of the colour white, they think of you.”
“I have always sought the light”
Jan des Bouvrie was born in the city of Naarden, just east of Amsterdam, in 1942.
His family ran a furniture business and he decided to attend the Gerrit Rietveld Academie for art and design in Amsterdam to follow in their footsteps.
After a brief stint working for his parents’ company, he ventured into designing furniture himself.
His most well-known design is the Kubusbank or Cube sofa (below), which was created for Gelderland in 1969 and is still in production today.
The minimalist, yet expressive design jumpstarted his career and is included in the permanent collection of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and in the Centraal Museum in Utrecht.
Throughout his career, the designer was drawn to the colour white, using it liberally in furniture and interior designs as well as frequently wearing the colour head to toe.
“I was born in a little room above a shop with no windows. I have always sought the light,” he once said.
His first architecture projects were largely renovations, which saw him open up small, badly lit rooms into bright, modern and connected spaces.
He declared himself the pioneer of open kitchens in the Netherlands and is largely credited with ushering in a new preference for light, airy living spaces.
It wasn’t until later in his career that he would start building houses from the bottom up, dabbling in both residential and commercial designs while relying heavily on pure, white volumes and symmetrical shapes.
In 1993, he moved his design studio into his home town of Naarden, a fortified city famous for its unique layout resembling a giant snowflake.
Together with his wife and fellow interior designer Monique des Bouvrie, he set up Het Arsenaal, an early archetype of the studio, restaurant and lifestyle store hybrid within a former 17th-century military building.
He continued to design for Gelderland as well as creating various angular seating designs for Dutch brand Linteloo, the pared-back Shell outdoor furniture collection for FueraDentro and the Quartet lighting range for Quasar.
He also lectured at different design academies and today has two design colleges named after him – the Jan des Bouvrie College at Amsterdam’s ROC school and the Jan des Bouvrie Academy at Saxion University in Deventer.
In 2009, he was named a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, the country’s oldest and highest civilian order of chivalry.
“Jan des Bouvrie, colourful as he was, made the world light and white,” reads a statement from Studio Jan des Bouvrie, which will continue to be run by his wife Monique.
“Supported by an iron will and murderous discipline, constantly fed by an unbridled fantasy, Jan turned what seemed impossible into an opportunity. Death loses its horror when, like Jan, you have mowed away all obstacles and restrictions and, surrounded by everything dear to you, you hurl your last breath into the world.”
Image is courtesy of Erwin Olaf Springveld.
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