He’s no heart surgeon. Decorating isn’t a matter of life or death. But it is a necessity. After all, you should feel at ease in a space. Interior designer Stef Bakker explains: „I’m not a man of spectacle. Efficiency can be found in a different, more subtle way of thinking.” Bakker’s designs are about storytelling though he doesn’t like talking about his work: “When you try putting it into words, you lose the dimension.” Actions speak louder than words, is an attitude that matches his active contribution to Orange Babies, a Dutch organization that helps mothers with HIV and their children in Africa. We meet up in his small work studio and apartment in Amsterdam, where he shares his story.
We’re in the back of an old upholstery shop in the Jordaan neighborhood, which is a strange working space for an interior designer. If it weren’t for your name on the door, we would’ve passed it.
There’s a certain anonymity to the front facade, which is okay. The shop belongs to a friend of mine. As you can see, it’s quite cramped in here and too small to fit us all. But it’s hard and especially expensive to find a bigger space in Amsterdam. I live very near here, on the other side of the Jordaan. Living close to where you work is a luxury, which I enjoy now more than having extra space.
What does luxury mean to you?
Harmony. With my interior design projects, I strive for a good foundation, keeping functionality in mind. Temperature, acoustics, and tactility are also important aspects of luxury. Initially, you might link it to excess, but eventually, one must find a balance between the different wishes of the residents. In the end, your home defines your life. In my case, I consider it a luxury to live in a house where you don’t get distracted by too many triggers, but where you can simply be yourself, be undisturbed.
It ’s not that obvious to hire an interior designer for interventions that are close to invisible.
Customers remodel their home, maybe once or twice in their lives, and it’s difficult to explain what is truly valuable. Remodeling or redesigning a house is tricky because the process is so complex and intimate. You have to keep everything in mind, and furthermore, all interventions need to be practical. As soon as you’ve created the blueprint, you can add more layers to it, such as color, furniture, art. Combining all of those layers and functions into one project is a complicated and important process, and one that is underestimated quite often. When you choose to work with an interior designer, you want great value for your money. With many designers, that results in a spectacle. But soundproofing the piping or windows to make sure it’s quiet inside is an intervention no-one notices. It’s something you only experience once you’re inside. So how you unwind and how temperature and the combination of materials affect you, is pretty valuable. It’s a complicated task to combine those subtleties and to make sure it works visually as well. I focus very hard on creating the foundation. So you could say that: it doesn’t matter if something is blue or green. You can always change the colors afterward. But changing color is also part of directing the experience.
One might think interior design enthusiasts have a pretty clear picture in mind of what they want.
Sometimes, the customer is with us every step of the way. Other times, they call on us to create a new look. With color and a new sofa you can conceal many flaws on the surface, but that is not the actual solution to the problem. You see something you like in a magazine, start to work with it and eventually you get lost in the abundance of information and ideas. For some customers, our recommendations can be frightening. I mean, they come to us asking for a new sofa, and we tell them to change the location of their living room. [laughing] As soon as you explain what you mean, the difference can be felt immediately. In the end, they need to be able to surrender themselves to us. They need to share their lives and lifestyle with us. When significant interaction develops, the result can be surprising.
I consider it a luxury to live in a house where you don’t get distracted by too many triggers, but where you can simply be yourself, be undisturbed.
Yet, it’s mostly the companies who deliver the more visibly spectacular designs that garner the most attention. Is anonymity a downside of subtlety?
For a small company, it’s perhaps inevitable to take smaller steps. Yes, we are small but quite busy. The situation we’re in right now is charming and offers a lot of advantages: we can be who we truly are. We share a particular dynamic and the personal, and direct contact we have with our customers is fascinating.
There’s also a social element to your work, especially with your active engagement to Orange Babies and the carpets you have produced in Morocco.
For Orange Babies, I travel to Africa every year, to work with locals. Here, in the Netherlands we like to organize benefits, like last year’s show with the Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa and Dutch Vogue. The carpet, which we designed for the Italian furniture company Arper, is part of a social project in Morocco. It’s lovely to work with products that give you a good feeling. But it’s unrealistic to think you’re able to trace the origin of each product. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to do that type of research. Besides, it would limit us in doing our job. We try to recycle as many elements as possible and choose natural materials.
You are trained as a teacher, switched over to film and commercials, to eventually concentrate on interior design. Have you always known you wanted to do something with interiors?
Doing commercials was a great education. I needed to draw up different settings for customers who shared the same audience. Working in that industry sharpened my sensitivity, although I’ve always been occupied with spaciousness. I was the youngest in the family, and whenever we had dinner parties, we ate in the nice room with the precious china. Because I was too young to partake in the conversation, I rearranged the glasses and the silverware. I received a lot of positive response while doing that. There, at that table, my interest and passion for interior design took shape. While the boys were outside playing soccer, I was inside fiddling with objects. For me, that was playtime.
As your playground, this apartment is quite the catch. Do you ever use it as a showroom for your customers?
Yes, that happens, because it reflects my vision very well. This is me, although I never imagined myself living in the heart of Amsterdam. It took me some time getting used to this small dwelling. The building dates back to 1904, and when I set foot here for the first time, I was sold immediately. I renewed everything and rearranged it until the basis fitted my lifestyle. Occasionally, I buy a new piece of art or a rug, but I rarely make alterations. What I like specifically, are the different seating areas. Living in this apartment is very pleasant when I’m alone, but also, when I’m with my partner and friends. This is me, and apparently it carries my signature, which is odd because for a long time I felt like I had none. The beautiful thing about my job is that I get to design a new space and tell new stories, time, and time again. And sometimes, I forget there is such a thing as a signature style. In some homes, the interior designer’s signature is so present, that it’s impossible to recognize the people living in them. I don’t like that. Perhaps that’s why I don’t like talking about it. But when I look back at my work, I’m afraid there is a distinct line to be seen, however, subtle it may be. [laughs]
|Text: Magali Elali
Photography: Bart Kiggen