A Dialog with History

Cabinet from the Smoke Series

The Smoke series is Maarten Baas’ most important and unique contribution to contemporary design. Baas transforms existing furniture through the alchemy of fire, simultaneously destroying and creating anew. Expertly burnt to a charred but structurally sound relic of their former selves, the works are then sealed, and thus preserved, with epoxy resin.

First developed while attending the Design Academy Eindhoven, Baas’ series received international attention in 2004 through Moss, New York’s exhibition entitled Where There’s Smoke. The show marked the beginning of Baas’ practice of burning icons of 20th century design. By altering these famous forms, Baas both identifies with and rejects their historical lessons, literally creating a dialog with history.

Photo by Bas Princen

This exceptional Smoke cabinet was commissioned by the present owner in 2009. The form, Gerrit Rietveld’s Elling buffet, is a radical departure from standard cabinet forms. Rietveld’s blurs the lines between interior and exterior by making the structural components visible. Baas’ seemingly precarious charred cabinet heightens the effect, provoking further discussion of preconceived notions about construction and stability.

The unique history of the original Elling buffet presages Baas’ use in this series. Rietveld initially designed the buffet for PJ Elling in 1919. Later, Elling’s buffet would be destroyed by fire and it wasn’t until 1951 that the cabinet was put into wider production. Baas’ work brings Rietveld’s design back to life in a new and extraordinary way, what was lost to fire has been reclaimed through flames. 

Photo by Job Jonathan Schlingemann

Maarten Baas was born in Germany on February 19th 1978 and his family moved to The Netherlands the following year. After completing high school, Baas attended the prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven and studied for a few months at the Politecnico di Milano in Italy. In 2002 Baas graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven with the concept for his famous Smoke series that would be introduced the following year at the Salone del Mobile in Milan.

The works of Maarten Baas challenge the limitations of design, from his use of materials and process to the function of his objects and furniture forms. Baas invites the user to envision a new domestic landscape with Treasure Furniture, an edition of chairs made of identical pieces of scrap MDF, Plastic Chair in Wood where traditional Chinese woodcarving techniques are used to transform the common plastic chair into an icon of beauty, and Clay Furniture which uses materials not commonly associated with everyday furnishings. Baas debuted his highly acclaimed Real Time, a series of clocks at the Milan Salone di Mobile in 2009 and later that year he became the youngest designer to ever win Designer of the Year at Design Miami. Today, works by Baas can be found in several museum collections around the world including Victoria & Albert Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

I don't have a definition of design. By defining things, things are placed in a category. This is exactly what I try to avoid in my work. I want to open up fixed boundaries.

—Maarten Baas