creative chit-chat

Fien & Hannes

Creative duo

Why create alone, when you can create together? That’s what Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen thought when they first joined hands. But what started out as an experiment, turns out to be a big success. The furniture collection Muller Van Severen is winning international acclaim, and when we ask about it, Hannes’s reaction is rather modest: “When we create, we don’t think too much. We create objects, because we like doing so. Everything we do, comes very naturally. We don’t follow a strategy, we think in images.” We meet the creative couple and collaborative business partners for coffee and dessert in their home and orangery that they transformed into their studio.


Fien, you are a photographer and Hannes an artist. Why did you decide to start collaborating together on designing furniture? 

Fien: The Antwerp gallery Valerie Traan asked me to show my work as a photographer. Everyone who gets invited to the gallery, is asked to bring another artist along. I wanted Hannes to be a part of it and together we decided to show something completely different. The idea rose to work as a duo and to create furniture. 

Hannes: We’ve always been interested in design.

Fien: We saw this collaboration as an occasional project.

Hannes: But working together was so much fun and the ideas just kept on coming. After the expo we didn’t have the feeling that we were done with creating yet.


How do you work on a project together? Do you have assigned roles? 

Hannes: No we don’t. We work collaboratively. One gives the incentive and encourages the other.

Fien: We don’t have assigned roles. What we do is a mishmash of impulses and ideas. It is a dialogue. 

Hannes: Sometimes I make a raw sketch and Fien works on it or she throws it away and makes something completely different out of it. 

Fien: Our input varies. I really love they way our ideas originate: at the table, in the car, in the supermarket,…Me and Hannes, we are always together, so in our daily lives we can point out certain things. Our work and our personal life has become an assemblage of everything we feel and do. 

Hannes: We also share the same aesthetics. 

Fien: We always appreciate the same things and it has always been like that.


Living and working together. Is it a fine line between your private and professional lives?

Fien: There’s the atelier where we work together. And there’s the house where we live together as a family. Both spaces are close to each other, but they are separated. After a day at work we close the door and head home. 

Hannes: In the beginning we both had our own work space, but since we started working together, we now share one studio. Our atelier used to be an orangerie, a greenhouse to hibernate plants.


It seems as though the house has a long history. 

Fien: It has and you can really sense it. Each owner has added or removed something from the house, which makes the house pretty much alive. 

Hannes: I love the fact that the house is so old. And I love to mix old with new things. I don’t like a house full of designer stuff. I prefer interesting combinations. I’m a very tactile person, and I love used wood that has a patina. New houses and modern interiors are often so sterile and cold. Everything is rigid, smooth and slick. I really don’t like that. I love to mix and match things up. 

Fien: Most of what you see here is stuff that we exchanged with friends. There’s a painting of Matthieu Ronse, who we studied with. But there’s also Dirk Braeckman on the wall. Furthermore we have a lot of family heirloom. Lovely pieces from my dad (Koen Muller) and  Hannes’ father (Maarten Van Severen) and his grandfather (Dan Van Severen)


Aside from work of others your home is decorated with your own designs. Do you think it is important to be confronted with it every day and to actually use it to the fullest?

Fien: Above all we create utensils and furniture that needs to be used. By living with it and really using it, I discover new things every day. The desk is nice to sit at, but it’s also nice to work on and we really use this piece to its full extend. Our designs fulfill several functions and I also think this is they way we will live in the future. With this piece we really thought about how we would be able to be together and to do different things. While one’s reading a book, the other can work at the desk. Being together, that’s the romantic thought behind a lot of our designs. While the frame is quite minimal and smooth, the implementation is rather frivolous. 

Hannes: We really like the things we create and we don’t get bored looking at it. Look at me and Fien. We see each other every day, and we don’t get bored of one another either (Laughs.)


Is it the romantic idea that makes your designs so special? Or what is it people like so much about Muller Van Severen?

Fien: Our furniture has some kind of simplicity everybody is looking for nowadays. 

Hannes: That’s not all. Our designs are simple, without being complicated.

Fien: We aren't looking for the next big find. 

Hannes: We spend a lot of thought on proportions and measurements, what has to do with our artistic background. 

Fien: What we do is colourful and fresh.

Hannes: People also love the transparancy. 

Fien: I’m quite fond of the sculptural dimensions we are adding more and more to our designs. As soon as one piece completes multiple functions, there’s more for us to work on, more for us to shape. We’re both sculptures and I find it quite strange to call myself a ‘designer’. What we do all happened so spontaneously.


With the Bauhaus School, Modernism, Minimalism and Donald Judd as main inspiration sources, it seems to me you rather work instinctively. Simple tubes transforms into light sculptures, minimal lines become tables or shelves.

Hannes: When we create, we don’t think too much. We create objects, because we like doing so. Everything we do, comes very naturally. We don’t follow a strategy, we think in images.

Fien: It doesn’t really matter whether we are creating a sculpture or a piece of furniture. The biggest difference between the two is we tend to reach more people with the furniture collection. Functionality gives furniture a more universal character. Everybody needs furniture and as objects they are common good.  

Hannes: When it comes to art people often think: what am I supposed to make out of this? But my art pieces aren’t always thematic. I’m a visual artist and the significance of what I do often lays in the object itself. 

Fien: We need art, just like we need furniture. Although some might think we don’t need art. If objects would be less common, people would love them less. Look at our polyethylene cutting boards.It’s a sculpture hanging on the wall in our kitchen. Separate elements can be used as real cutting boards and as soon as people know this, they love it. As long as they can connect the visual to the functional aspect, they understand.


The past two years Muller Van Severen has been received with acclaim. What is the next step?

Hannes: We would like to be able to breathe again. Now it’s one project following another and Interieur Kortrijk was very important for us. It gave us the chance to make an installation and in a very short time we managed to come up with many new designs. 

Fien: This fast pace won’t go on forever. It’s kinda dangerous, for what we do has got to be good in the end. We hardly find the time to work on our own projects.

Hannes: I have spend less time in my atelier, but I am still involved in some art projects, especially when it comes to art in public spaces. 

Fien: I love furniture design and I love photography. Both make me very happy, but I just have to find the time to pick up photography again. Muller Van Severen is going so well and the public we reach is so diverse. Young and old love what we do. And yes, we are winning international acclaim! So I guess exploring the international market is the next big step. copy.jpg?1355876619



Muller Van Severen

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Coffeeklatch stands for ‘Slow journalism using a fast medium.’ Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen created the blog as a creative chitchat featuring creative entrepreneurs in their homes over coffee, including interesting people telling intriguing stories. It celebrates storytelling and creativity in all its forms, from fashion design to architecture. Read More


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