ONLY FOR YOU
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.
“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.
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