The Road Less Trav­elled

Hong Kong Tatler Homes - - CONTENTS - BY TAMSIN BRADSHAW

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.



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