The Road Less Travelled
Bobby Dekeyser on his globetrotting lifestyle and the growth of Dedon
Touching down in Hong Kong, Dedon mastermind and global citizen Bobby Dekeyser discusses working and living outside the box
Bobby Dekeyser’s success story is an unusual one. The Belgian-German founder of outdoor furniture manufacturer Dedon left school at the age of 15 to become a professional footballer. At 26, a face injury forced him to re-evaluate his goals, leading him to establish Dedon. Initially, the company made handpainted skis, moving to outdoor furniture when Dekeyser realised there was a need for pieces for balconies, terraces and gardens that not only looked good, but also lasted the distance. A quarter of a century later, Dedon is a market leader, working with the finest design forces and employing several thousand people around the globe.
Dedon’s products are created out of an innovative fibre that’s woven in the Philippines. Having a base in Southeast Asia has also led Dekeyser to other creative endeavours: Dedon Island, a sustainable retreat on Siargao in the Philippines, and an organisation, the Dekeyser & Friends Foundation, which supports a range of philanthropic activities such as a re-housing project in the Philippines. Dekeyser’s biography, Not For Sale!, chronicles the entrepreneur and father-of-three’s impulsive and impressive career, and the personal achievements and tragedies that have brought him to where he is today.
What’s the philosophy behind Dedon?
Some furniture has a soul. It’s like a love affair— it either works or it doesn’t. You can make rational furniture that people need, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing special. People think you can plan a soul, but you can’t. You have to give something to get something back.
What defines Dedon’s most successful collections?
The most successful collections we ever made were very organic. The round items have been very popular; they look very feminine. Like Dala [a collection of lounge seating, tables, lanterns and planters designed by Stephen Burks], Tango [a series of chairs, armchairs and loungers by Richard Frinier] and Orbit [a loveseat, also by Frinier].
Then there’s the Nestrest hanging lounger. I was sitting with [French designer] Daniel Pouzet on Dedon Island when a palm tree inspired us. He drew a design; it was very simple, like a bird’s nest. The Nestrest was designed in one second—and then of course it took a year to develop the fibre, the frame and the design. We had it on the island and it was so beautiful we decided to take it on our roadshow. Then we put it in the catalogue.
We thought maybe we would sell 50, because it’s complicated to deliver and it’s expensive. But we sold 2,000 within a very short period.
Tell us about Dedon Island. Dedon Island is like a laboratory. We had no idea how to build a hotel or make a hotel work—we created it because we loved the idea of it. You go on holiday and so often you’re told what to do, when to eat. People can be free at Dedon Island; they’re not just consuming. It’s about being part of it. You can cook, you can go fishing, you can go to the market. People leave with stories to tell.
What about the Dekeyser & Friends Foundation? With Dedon, I met so many different people, and I thought, “Everyone wants to do something good for the world.” So I established this organisation—a platform that young people can be a part of. The main project we’re working on involves sending young people to the Philippines to build schools, and to set up agriculture and housing for people who were living on a dump site that was 80 feet high. It’s not only about giving; it’s also about learning. It’s been so successful that we’re now doubling the size of the project. What’s your view on change? How do you fight resistance to it? We’re all afraid of change—even those who live on dump sites. It’s about what you know. For Dedon, now we’re 25 years old. You have different phases, from total naivety to being overwhelmed, to phases where you just function. Things have to stay authentic. You have to inspire people so that they want to be a part of it.
What changes have you made in your own life recently? When I had too much money, I was buying all these stupid things—even a plane. Last year, I sold everything. You sell it and you feel free again. I think men have to go the way of stability, to buy all these things to realise you don’t need them.
Do you have a favourite city in the world? I have favourite people. I travel a lot, maybe 15 to 20 times a month. I just came from Mexico, New York and the Philippines to Hong Kong, and I’m off to Europe tomorrow. It doesn’t make me tired. I’m very curious— I try to stay attuned and not see things as normal. It’s good to have one place, though, and for me, it’s Ibiza. It’s good to be in nature. Every morning, I go to the mountains for an hour. I go swimming. It’s my rhythm. I’m there one week a month.
THE SWINGREST IN DIFFERENT SIZES AND COLOURS
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: BOBBY DEKEYSER; THE DALA LOVESEAT; THE ICONIC NESTREST; THE SWINGREST, A HANGING SOFA THAT WAS ADAPTED FROM THE NESTREST DESIGN