Metal worker and furniture maker Joram Barbiers is a man who understands the importance of telling a story. Each of his innovative and unconventional creations is made using long-lived, weathered materials, all offering their own unique history and with their own tale to tell – ranging from piston roads from an old ship engine to wood originating from former pickle barrels. As part of our Work on Canvas project we're meeting working artisans to find out how they're defying conventions with their work and how it shapes the urban environment surrounding them. We spoke to Joram about his processes, his inspirations and telling stories with the things he creates.
Hi Joram. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your craft?
My name is Joram Barbiers and I’m the co-owner of Aluminium Centrum Amsterdam (also known as ACA/De Hoop). I was born and raised in Amsterdam and come from a family of creative minds. After gaining years of experience in metalworking, the launch of my personal line of designs by the name of Barbiers Originals was just the next step.
I recognised that the material had its own specific tale to tell, and Barbiers Originals was born.
Barbiers Originals is certainly an unconventional idea – what was your inspiration?
The idea came when I was carrying out a commission and came across the roof supports of an old train station. I noticed that while I was crafting the steel my thoughts wandered off to the material’s lengthy history; the silent witnesses they must have been to emotional farewells between parting loved ones, the joyous welcome upon their return, wars, even bombings perhaps. I recognised that the material had its own specific tale to tell, and Barbiers Originals was born.
I want my designs to reawaken a history that would previously seem to have been completed.
You use materials that are long-lived and have a history and bring them in to a modern urban environment – what made you decide to do this?
My search for long-lived, original material takes me to various places in Europe, but also on Dutch soil I finds parts with a rich history. These assorted finds I incorporate into exclusive designs – some of my designs are composed of piston rods from a ship’s engine and finished with wood originating from pickle barrels, like the Table Story line.
I am not only passionate about the design of my creations. Even more so, I wish to share the background behind the materials I use: the histories attached to each individual part that has always intrigued me so much. Every design is unique, one of a kind. I want my designs to reawaken a history that would previously seem to have been completed.
Weather conditions or human touch can form a material and bring in new shapes, forms or even a new purpose.
How important do you think the history and story behind a piece of furniture is?
In the Table Story line, the story is the origin. I first start the search for the parts with a history and that together forms the Table Story Line. The fact the various elements of my design have a history is highly important for me. I believe that with older, used materials you can measure time. Weather conditions or human touch can form a material and bring in new shapes, forms or even a new purpose.
What else inspires your designs? Who are some of your favourite designers?
I love to look at the work of other designers, but they don’t inspire me. I always follow my own path. I get inspired by the materials, by shapes, forms or specific styles. I can get inspired by the weathered materials rather than already existing designs.
The histories attached to each individual part have always intrigued me so much.
Can you tell us a little about the piece of work you were photographed with as part of our Virgin to Vintage project?
I was photographed with a piston rod which was originally from an old ship engine, which I found in a ship yard in Belgium. I used the old piston rod as one of the table legs for a new Barbiers Original table. First I degreased the piston rod, then I made a steel frame which the four piston rods could be screwed on to. Then the search for the most beautiful and suitable old wooden table top started. The whole process (including searching for the right materials) took me around about a month. Sometimes I am lucky to find the right materials early on in the search, sometimes I have to go the extra length and keep on searching for the perfect old material to create my new design.
What is the most satisfying part about what you do?
That I am the master of my own creations and the search for new materials. I love getting in to the field and getting my hands dirty (so to speak). Searching through a pile of old weathered materials and finding new inspiration and parts really gives me the energy to design.
Can you share some of the experiences you had during your journey with your Denham jeans?
For me, the jeans seemed like they were made to work in. The longer I wore them, the better they looked and fitted. I designed some new tables for clients while wearing them and even when the jeans got ripped and dirty, just like weathered materials the jeans just looked better. I even moved my company to the new location in the Amsterdam harbours in the jeans.