Interview: Kamiel and Martijn Blom, Industrial Authentics

Blom&Blom is an independent initiative of brothers Kamiel & Martijn, who are as much alike as they are different. It all began with a few casual visits through abandoned East German factories, just for the fun of it, where the brothers discovered their passion for resurrecting material treasures of the past. Many of the refurbished industrial pieces date back to the WWII period and carry with them secrets from another life. In fact, the stories behind the artifacts are at the core of what Blom&Blom find most enthralling, and the catalyst behind their process of restoration. Each refurbished item is sold with its own ‘passport’, identifying the item to its owner with its place and date of origin.

Their studio is located in a small town on the outskirts of Amsterdam, and their gallery is only a few blocks away. What used to be the neighbourhood slaughterhouse has been recently upscaled to the town’s finest collection of industrial designed lamps. To date, Blom&Blom has replenished the interiors of restaurants, shops, commercial office spaces as well as private homes – and the addition of the online store has only enhanced their drive for creation (and guess what: they ship worldwide). A secondary studio is located closer to the site of origin, in Berlin, although Blom&Blom prefer to keep it closer to home for the time being.

Their contemporary, polished, yet industrial design will soon adhere to global recognizability, while the brothers hope to expand their company in the near future. Working from pure, sophisticated 20th century design, Blom&Blom have established a trending signature style that is certainly not to be reckoned with. They are also open to requests and happy to go hunting for that special piece you might be yearning for.

What did you see yourself doing now when you were younger?

Martijn: Oh, tough question. When I was, going through puberty let’s say, I really thought I was going to head to the direction of business and actually went that way initially – I studied architecture first and then business administration – so I did start with the business part, and I still like it. But I really felt that the way it was going and my role within business was very different than it is now. I always thought I would become a businessman, but in a way I was wrong.

Kamiel: I never thought about that, maybe in the later stage of life. I always really wanted to make things and I made videos a lot as well, which I really liked doing. I thought about making really big documentaries.

M: Now that you mention it, the storytelling part has always been something I associate with [Kamiel].

K: I guess I never thought about what I wanted to be. I was also different in my way of thinking because my schooling was not so specialized and I never had the motivation of becoming something, work-wise, but later on when I started to think about other possibilities, I began to make a lot of movies.

Maybe some people are just lucky to know what they love when they are young, and they work towards that as they get older, while other people have to learn, to make bad choices before making the right choice.

M: Yeah, and I lot of doing, I think that certainly is true for both of us.

K: I think I always wanted to do something special, something different. What we do now, I think it is really nice, but it’s not really changing the world in a way.

M: We want to get to a higher goal.

What do you think most people can use more of in this world? What are we missing?

K: Lamps.

M: (Laughs) Well, it’s in the direction of your previous question I guess we can say that in the Western world, you grow up with an idea of a perspective of your life, being an adult and growing up through a paved path. What I was missing in my education, or my life, I missed that sense of ‘nothing is obligatory, nothing is a need’. That complete feeling of doing whatever you like, or whatever you think is best – that is something I miss within the Western society, the Western mentality. I think our generation is slowly moving away from that. People are getting free of what they are expected to do and thinking in different ways, it is still vague. I have a feeling that people in general should be more unbounded.

That also rings true when we compare our Western mentality with the Eastern way of thinking as a collectivist culture. Being a very individualistic society, we are often taught to think for ourselves and do what we think is best.

M: But then it’s contradictory, because on the one hand, you learn to think for yourself as an individual, but on the other hand, you are very much aware and driven by other people’s opinion. You very much want to be an individual, but are still driven by wanting to be a part of the in-group. I think that tension creates something that we should be aware of.

What is your first thought when you wake up in the morning?

K: I want to sleep!

M: (Laughs) Well for me, I just bought a house that I am re-constructing, so one part of the brain is house, house, house, and the other part is saying lamps, lamps, lamps. I always have lamps on my mind. It’s something like having your first baby. On one hand, you are responsible for its well-being, and on the other hand it is also responsible for you. You have to trust in your baby that it will create light for you.

What is one word you would use to describe your creative process?

M: Tension. I think that is why Kamiel and I work well together. There is a huge tension between us – we are very different personalities. We always said that Kamiel is the creative part and I am the business part. In a way, we also share each other’s strengths and add to different sides of that spectrum. For example, Kamiel is really good at thinking outside of the box, and looks at things from a different perspective than I do. Because we both look at things from different angles, we see different things, and sometimes have a lot of tension and friction. This usually helps because we arrive at a decision that we both agree on. I read somewhere, that with a lot of designers, or generally people that create, it is always about tension and balance.

Do you also find that you complement each other because you are so different?

M: I think that’s the only reason that we can work together within this company. We both have our own expertise, and we can argue about certain things. We do fight sometimes, but we always reach a common conclusion in the end.

Where do you see yourself five year from now?

K: Pretty far from here. Having a bigger company, doing bigger things and bigger projects. We want to upscale slowly. We cannot handle too much change at once, because this company would not survive.

M: It should be within our philosophy – this company is really us. We have thought about the name for a very long time. Blom&Blom is very obvious and it is personal. Subconsciously, we really made the decision to make it this personal. It would be great if in five year we could grow exponentially, but still have our own workspace. I can imagine that in the near future Kamiel and I will both have our own things going on – Kamiel is running the workshop, and I am running the office and showroom. The idea would remain the same. We love things that have a story – authentic materials, and anything that is décor. I would love to continue working with all of these things, but on a larger scale, working with our products ourselves.

What does happiness mean to you?

M: Maybe it sounds cheesy, but in a way, being successful. Not in terms of money…

K: Motivation.

M: For instance, when we have a client, and we survey the space, it gives us an inspiration on what we can do with it. When we can make a client happy with our products, and we get compliments on our work, we can just sit back and enjoy those moments and feel that we succeeded. For me, that is very important, having people like what you do.

K: I really enjoy when people like what I do. People can be so enthusiastic about our projects. When they buy our lamps, and take it home, they sometimes send an e-mail and tell us how happy it makes them, that it looks great in the space. This gives you the drive to go on, the personal satisfaction that we get in return.

M: There is not only sunshine in setting up a company, we go back and forth from being highly motivated, to wondering why we started this and what we are doing. These small successes, when people leave our studio with a smile and show enthusiasm in what we do, we really need that to go on and grow bigger.

Image courtesy of Jaimy de Gier for Blom&Blom.