1-on-1: Sonny Kuit

 In Art & Design

Our 1-on-1 series is where Skandl talks with enthusiastic, vibrant creatives from the Dutch scene – this week we speak with carpenter and furniture designer Sonny Kuit about the importance of having things handcrafted…

His upcoming WORKLIGHT is being launched on June 15 at Zeedijk60.

Hi Sonny, first up, a little introduction, where are you from and where are you right now?

I grew up in Amsterdam, I still live here and own a workshop in the North side. I’ve been building furniture/interiors for people/companies for a couple years now.

Your background is in furniture design and woodwork, how did you get into this work?

As a kid, I had always loved creating things with my hands and drawing. Drawing cars was basically the only thing I did in preschool. I forgot about it a bit during Highschool. When I dropped out at 17, I knew I had to follow my original path, sitting behind a desk was just not for me at that moment. I started following a 4 year woodworking programme in a school in Amsterdam, and did a lot of internships at different furniture companies here. That is where my skills developed, and I started doing projects for my own clients. With the money I earned at those projects, I started investing in my own tools, buying them one by one. This way I had collected everything I needed at 21, without having to loan money to start my business. I barely showed up at school in my last year, because I was focusing on my work. I guess the reason why I like having my own company now is because I like creating my own paths. It’s always been that way, so I think it’s happened naturally.

How would you describe your aesthetic style?

Detailed. Straight lines with a lot of different angles, flat contrasting colours. I think the reason I like angles so much is because you will often run into shapes you didn’t expect. This way it’s almost like you and the object are both doing the work. Japanese furniture has always inspired me, in material choices and its simplicity.

What’s your approach when making an object, what do you hope to achieve?

For custom client work I try to listen really carefully to what they want, and scan their style. This while keeping form, function and construction in the back of my head. However, often I like to let the function and construction lead, creating the form. This way you tend to achieve a more minimalistic industrial appearance, which I really like. To start, I make a quick sketch when I’m meeting the client, then send them a digital render within a few days. Usually the end result looks really close to the first render. My goal for those projects is to achieve the feeling that the project has always been/belonged in that space.

With some of my personal work, visually I perform every action instinctively. This doesn’t mean this process goes by quickly, sometimes I’ll go through piles of prototypes before I get to the shape I want. It’s also often a battle between what’s technically possible, affordable and not too difficult to make. With the desk lamp, the decisions couldn’t have been made more instinctively. Maybe that’s why it ended up looking so anatomic. Every shape and proportion of the lamp has been changed numerous times until it felt right.

This way of creating can get you really close to looking at your own identity, because you create something physical made up by your own nature and nurture. There was no direct inspiration for the lamp, every shape is inspired by everything that I’ve picked up in my life. When I finish some projects, it actually almost feels like looking into my own mind. It can also be confronting in a strange way. This might sound pretty strange, but it really feels like that sometimes. I love this way of creating new products. It works best when I feel like releasing some pressure. I’ll talk about that later. It annoys me that this approach is often not accepted at art academies, when creating something from nothing. By overthinking your process it’s easy to steer off of your original idea, which is often your best.

In a (European) world dominated by flat pack furniture, what do you think could be seen as important about hand crafted, original pieces?

I think it’s really important to express identity trough physical creation. Also hands-on designing, letting the material speak. This can be a way of different cultures in western society to really express themselves, creating a wide range of styles and vibes. I think the importance of working with your hands is often looked over in modern society. It is a skill deeply programmed in our DNA, and one of the reasons humans became a dominant player in nature. The activity of craft can really have a therapeutic effect on people.

However, personally, if a same piece of furniture is made in really large quantities, handmade production means nothing to me. Just let a machine make it, instead of doing the robot-work yourself.

Btw, IKEA has always been killing it, and we should all learn from their tactics.

A problem with ‘handcrafted, original pieces’ is that only the older elite generation are buying them right now. Not really challenging to sell to, and certainly not an interesting target group. There is nothing really important coming from only focusing on just that group. I’m not after maximum profit, I want a lot of different generations and cultures to use one of my products. Subject for a different time perhaps.

You’ve been collaborating with Zeedijk60 for the past year, and you’re soon to launch the WORKLIGHT lamp with them. What’s that collaborative process been like?

Zeedijk60 really is a special place in Amsterdam, celebrating the creativity in the city. It shows how much young people can accomplish when chasing a mutual dream. It’s great working with such a diverse and inspiring group of people, I learn something new every time we work together. They’re always working on something new, I try to do my part assisting them with the designing and manufacturing of the store and pop up shops.

About the collaborative process, they’ve given me a lot of freedom with the design of every retail project, while being clear about the things they needed it for. The projects are often super last minute, which I like, because under pressure the most creative solutions appear to you.

Working together always felt really organic, and I feel like it shows in the final products.

WORKLIGHT was a personal project. They have been supportive from the beginning. I always like to work on different things, I don’t think it’s healthy to work on just one project.

The design, prototyping and production of the lamp has been happening off/on for 1.5 years now. It started with a small sketch of the three supports, which excited me. I’ve had quite some setbacks over the last year, I had a collapsed lung 5 times, spread throughout the year. This is something that can randomly occur with skinny guys. It happened between and during all projects that I did that year. It almost became a habit, calling a client to let them know the project would be cancelled because I was in the hospital. I had surgery, and I’m perfectly healthy now, with no permanent damage.

During the recovery weeks I wasn’t able to do heavy work. In those weeks I was inspired to work on the lamp. It felt liberating to only follow my instincts designing it. When I finished the first prototype I knew I had to make it into a real product. The lamp has basically been a result from my life the last couple years.

At this point I’m finally financially able to invest time and materials to really make a couple of legit ones, and I couldn’t think of a better place to present them than Zeedijk60.

You talk a bit about using local resources and materials – is localism an important factor for you?

For WORKLIGHT I’ve been searching for the materials locally, because I like to spend my money at small businesses. So many small shops disappear due to the internet, I hate to see them go. Shops like Aurora, Burger&zn, Amsterdamsche Fijnhout Handel have existed forever, and the advice they have given me is priceless. Both in entrepreneurship and in material knowledge. The internet seems fast but is not fast enough when I’m in the workshop and I need a part.

If budget and time weren’t issues, what would be your dream object to design and build?

I think creative activity centres in every Amsterdam neighbourhood, with unlimited resources. Let’s get this city popping.

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