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Camiel Wei­jen­berg’s unique take on fur­ni­ture

Camiel Wei­jen­berg has launched a cus­tomis­able fur­ni­ture brand borne from a tech­nol­ogy adopted

in his de­sign prac­tice. low shi ping finds out more

we are all fa­mil­iar with that awk­ward cor­ner in our homes, which has the po­ten­tial to be­come stor­age space. Un­for­tu­nately, cus­tomis­ing a cabi­net is usu­ally ex­pen­sive and there might be un­cer­tainty around the qual­ity of the ma­te­rial used.

This was a predica­ment Camiel Wei­jen­berg found him­self in after mov­ing into a new apart­ment in 2013. He be­came pained by the chal­lenge (and the te­dious process) of look­ing for a wardrobe to fit into the bed­room.

But rather than grum­ble and move on, the sit­u­a­tion gave the Dutch na­tional an idea. Hav­ing been a car­pen­ter ear­lier i n life, he started mulling over the pos­si­bil­ity of start­ing an e-com­merce busi­ness to sell cus­tomised fur­ni­ture.

Al­ways mo­ti­vated to trade ideas with the next gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers, Wei­jen­berg approached a group of stu­dents at the Sin­ga­pore Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy and De­sign (SUTD) to help ex­e­cute the idea. (Wei­jen­berg has been an industry part­ner of the univer­sity’s Cap­stone Pro­gramme since 2015.) This led to the launch of CUSTO in May 2018.

Tai­lor-Made

“With prop­erty prices the way they are, it makes sense to make use of ev­ery square foot of your house. Peo­ple need to op­ti­mise their liv­ing space,” ex­plains Wei­jen­berg of the ra­tio­nale be­hind CUSTO. “Our line of think­ing is com­fort, ease of use, speed and sus­tain­abil­ity.”

That CUSTO can ex­ist is thanks to the con­cept of para­met­ric de­sign, or para­metri­cism, pop­u­larised by the late star­chi­tect Zaha Ha­did. It there­fore comes as no sur­prise to learn that Wei­jen­berg spent four years in her firm and is an ar­dent ad­vo­cate.

But first things first: What is para­met­ric de­sign? The Guardian’s ar­chi­tec­ture critic Rowan Moore de­scribes it as “de­sign­ing build­ings in such a way that ev­ery el­e­ment can change in re­sponse to the mul­ti­ple pa­ram­e­ters”.

Wei­jen­berg likens it to a com­plex Ex­cel spread­sheet with the rows and col­umns linked by for­mu­las. Change one num­ber in a cell and it “rat­tles through” the en­tire work­sheet. As a re­sult, and per­haps more im­por­tantly, ad­just­ments to a de­sign can eas­ily be made, and the pos­si­bil­i­ties be­come end­less.

Para­met­ric de­sign, he feels, is go­ing to be the next big thing.

On the CUSTO web­site you’ll be able to cus­tomise book­shelves, side­boards, shoe cab­i­nets and TV con­soles. In the­ory, there are 50 mil­lion de­sign op­tions that can be cre­ated. Prices are, on av­er­age, a third cheaper than com­mis­sion­ing a car­pen­ter.

Tree-hug­gers will also be glad to know that CUSTO re­cently started us­ing sus­tain­ably sourced ply­wood from Rus­sia and North­ern Europe for its fur­ni­ture. Once com­pleted, the piece is de­liv­ered to your home and as­sem­bled.

Craft­ing Tra­di­tion

The con­cept of cus­tomi­sa­tion is not for­eign to Wei­jen­berg. In ad­di­tion to own­ing CUSTO, he also has an epony­mous award­win­ning de­sign prac­tice that be­lieves in con­cep­tu­al­is­ing “be­spoke de­sign so­lu­tions”, whether it is for his ar­chi­tec­ture, in­te­ri­ors or even fur­ni­ture.

Among its port­fo­lio are projects in Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, China and Sri Lanka. One of its most prom­i­nent is RAW, a restau­rant in Taipei owned by Miche­lin-starred chef An­dré Chi­ang.

Again, it is para­metri­cism that in­forms ev­ery as­pect of his de­sign style.

“If you look at RAW, it has an in­cred­i­bly com­plex wood struc­ture. But because we can break it down into com­po­nents, and update the file in the software as you make changes, we can op­ti­mise wood pro­duc­tion, and be more cut­ting-edge and or­gan­ised.”

His affin­ity for wood is at­trib­uted to his love for his back­ground in car­pen­try. While he is com­fort­able work­ing with it, he also ac­knowl­edges its un­for­giv­ing na­ture.

“I like the pu­rity of the craft in that ma­te­rial. It re­quires an in­cred­i­ble skill set — to be un­for­giv­ing and cor­rect. With the avail­abil­ity of para­met­ric de­sign, it is a merg­ing of these skills.”

Guid­ing Wei­jen­berg’s de­sign style is the phi­los­o­phy of “craft­ing the tra­di­tion”. He never picks a ma­te­rial to use in a pro­ject with­out first know­ing the tech­nique to bring out its best.

“For in­stance, with wood, it has to join in a par­tic­u­lar way. That will af­fect how you de­sign a pro­ject. You can­not just de­cide to use a ma­te­rial and hope for the best.”

When it comes to con­cep­tu­al­is­ing a pro­ject, he seeks in­spi­ra­tion from el­e­ments such as the brief from the client, con­straints of the site, and how the spa­ces flow from one to an­other.

“It’s like hav­ing a good tran­si­tion be­tween scenes in a movie,” he says of the lat­ter. “From there, we de­cide how to sculpt it, for ex­am­ple by plac­ing a curve at a cor­ner.”

There is also a lot of bound­ary-push­ing. “We al­ways try to ex­plore new ter­ri­tory by chal­leng­ing and evolv­ing our own lan­guage. We want to ex­plore what we can do, and cre­ate good and ex­cit­ing projects for our clients.”

The Best Is Yet To Be

Wei­jen­berg’s affin­ity for de­sign goes back to his fa­mil­ial roots. His fa­ther was an aero­nau­ti­cal engi­neer and his mother, a sculp­tor.

“I grew up on a ‘con­struc­tion site’ and I feel very at home on one,” he says with a smile, while re­call­ing how both par­ents con­stantly built or tin­kered with some­thing or an­other in their farm-turned-home.

At one-third of an acre, the land was large enough for his fa­ther to build a han­gar for an air­plane he con­structed him­self. All this nat­u­rally rubbed off on him.

He re­mem­bers how when he was 12, he and his friends built a skate­board half­pipe in a park near his home in Am­s­ter­dam, “It got so big, even­tu­ally it was de­mol­ished by the gov­ern­ment.”

Wei­jen­berg chose to study in­te­rior de­sign at the Royal Acad­emy of Fine Arts in The Hague. Dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­days, he would pick up his tool­kit and work as a car­pen­ter.

After an in­tern­ship at an ar­chi­tec­ture firm, he ap­plied for a schol­ar­ship and won it to study at the Ar­chi­tec­tural As­so­ci­a­tion School of Ar­chi­tec­ture in Lon­don. Upon grad­u­a­tion in 2005, he worked first in Wilkin­sonEyre Ar­chi­tects and later, Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects.

The chrono­log­i­cal recita­tion of his life takes a pause here. After all, not ev­ery­one gets to work for pos­si­bly the most fa­mous fe­male ar­chi­tect in the world, and the first woman to re­ceive the Pritzker Ar­chi­tec­ture Prize.

“She taught us the im­por­tance of ask­ing our­selves how a pro­ject can be made bet­ter, and to keep at it. It was about pas­sion­ately try­ing to make a good pro­ject,” he says, when asked about valu­able lessons he learnt with Ha­did.

“Because of this, I also tell my team that our last pro­ject has to be the best. You’ve got to keep im­prov­ing your game.”

After work­ing and liv­ing in Lon­don for 10 years, Wei­jen­berg was given the op­por­tu­nity to do a pro­ject in Hong Kong with ar­chi­tect Ernesto Bed­mar.

He took it and ar­rived in Asia, bas­ing him­self in Sin­ga­pore where he set up his de­sign prac­tice in 2013.

Projects aside, CUSTO re­mains prom­i­nent on his radar. He is test­ing, with the stu­dents at SUTD, a premise that artificial intelligence or aug­mented re­al­ity can be used on the smart­phone to de­sign stor­age space.

Given the rate at which tech­nol­ogy is ad­vanc­ing, and Wei­jen­berg’s fond­ness for it, don’t be sur­prised if he comes up with a de­sign so­lu­tion sooner than later.

So watch this space.

AT CURE RESTAU­RANT,WEI­JEN­BERG EM­PHA­SISES CLEAN,AR­CHI­TEC­TURAL LINES TO BY­PASS THEOVERLY USED IN­DUS­TRIAL LOOK

FROM TOP: CAMIEL WEI­JEN­BERG; AT CHEF AN­DRÉ CHI­ANG’S RAW RESTAU­RANT IN TAI­WAN, WEI­JEN­BERG’S VI­SION RE­FLECTS THE VIS­CERAL AND PRIM­I­TIVE NA­TURE OF ITS NAME­SAKE

FROM LEFT: WEI­JEN­BERG’S LIV­ABLE BRIDGE CON­CEPT FOR THE AM­S­TER­DAM ART BRIDGE AR­CHI­TEC­TURE COM­PE­TI­TION; MANY OF HIS WORKS ARE IL­LUS­TRA­TIVE OF PARA­MET­RIC DE­SIGN, IN­CLUD­ING THISOF­FICE LOBBY IN SHEN­ZHEN, CHINA; CUSTO AL­LOWS PEO­PLE TO CUS­TOMISE STOR­AGE FUR­NI­TURE

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