Interview with Co.Studio
“Preferably, we would be standing feet deep in concrete, surrounded by the scent of freshly sawn wood.”
With over 20 years of experience, Co.Studio assists its clients in the conception and creation of pioneering architecture, timeless interior design, and high-end product design.
Christian Van Suetendael and Gert Van den Steen from Co.Studio got to know each other while studying interior architecture at the Henry van de Velde Institute in Antwerp.
The start of it all
‘Pretty soon after we graduated, we started working together on several projects in 1994. In 1998, we took the plunge and started a design agency for interior architecture. In the meantime, we added activities relating to our study and knowledge, the cross-pollination between interior architecture, architecture and product design.
‘With ‘Iconic Spaces’, we focus on the renovation and redesign of iconic buildings. Co.studio is, in fact, an umbrella for all these various activities,’ says Christian.
How did you get the taste for the trade?
‘In secondary school, I took an art course where I met someone who was an interior designer and where after a while, I was invited to assist. Here, I learned that creative art could also have a functional purpose, which interested me a lot. I found this combination interesting. As a young person, you are aware that one day you will have to choose a job and for me, this first job was a revelation at the time. It only became a real passion later.’
‘Our craft has many different aspects: listening, showing understanding, interacting with different people. All this involves a lot of human understanding. Both towards the customer, but also towards those who have to build for you. In the end, it’s all about creating something beautiful together.’
“Working together to achieve the best possible result, to create something, that’s where I get real satisfaction from. I can honestly say I still enjoy doing all this today.”
What were the key moments in the development of Co.studio?
‘We’ve grown quite gradually. One of the most important moments for us was moving into the new office last year which functions both as studio and gallery, and where we can work and show off our products at the same time.’
‘We noticed that quantity and quality are difficult to combine and consciously decided to reduce back to working with only six people. In the end, you somehow sense that we do feel at home in this ”haut couture” architecture, where increased attention to detail, finishing, but also service towards the customer is essential. That human contact is very important to us.’
‘We once worked with more people but I felt that you come up against your limits and that’s exactly what we wanted to avoid. Another important moment was the first meeting and later the first realised project in cooperation with Serge Hannecart.’
How would you describe your signature?
‘Without even realising it, you automatically develop a certain style. The organisational and functional aspects, which we like to play around with, are very important to us. This dualism is also reflected in our collaborations with Serge Hannecart and LIFE; with whom we’ve been working together since 1999, both professionally and privately.’
What projects or activities do you prefer?
‘We research the interiors and internal layout of the flats and design interiors with very high functionality and living quality. We try to think outside the box and give the design a certain twist so that you deviate from the classic everyday patterns. We also create promotional visuals for them, but these are only partial aspects of our work. Preferably, we would be standing feet deep in concrete, surrounded by the scent of freshly sawn wood.’
What projects or activities do you prefer?
‘We like to embrace every question coming our way. Firstly, because we’re passionate about our job and always eager to learn. Someone with a limited budget that still wants to work with us will be just as well-received as someone who has carte-blanche, so to speak.’
‘We also see smaller projects as a challenge for our creativity. We always stick to a kind of incubation period with our clients. During first meetings, you get to know each other and if you feel that the connection’s not working, the conversations usually die out quickly. Fortunately, this rarely happens.’
‘Hotels, offices, investment projects, flats, villas, or a more recent project; a wellness resort inside a castle, you name it… we do it all with equal enthusiasm. This diversity is something that suits us, and also in product design. Recently we designed a fireplace for ‘Depuydt Haarden – Metalfire’, a light fitting for KREON and a tap collection called ‘Andrew’ for RVB.’
Where do you get your inspiration?
‘It’s very diversified. Conversations with architect friends, promoters, clients, … certainly the latter give you other insights. But also from books and simply by looking at architecture while travelling. Another thing that serves me well is to submerge myself in the wilderness. The jungle of a city can also inspire me, as being immersed in other cultures.’
Is there a particular city that really impresses you in terms of its architecture?
‘The two cities that impress me the most – and equally my partner I believe – are New York and Tokyo. I’ve visited the ‘Big Apple’ seven times and on each visit, I’m overwhelmed. Tokyo is also amazing, they just have a different way of thinking. There’s more or less the same architecture as in a Western city, but in a foreign culture with different customs. If you look at certain magazines, such as Designboom, you see a lot of Japanese architecture in them. They work on a very small scale, with an incredibly strong eye for functionality.’
“Japanese are super creative in small-scale living.”
Is there a building somewhere in the world that you would secretly have loved to design yourself?
‘There are several, but a true classic is the ‘Barcelona Pavilion’ by Mies van der Rohe because of its simplicity, elegance, beautiful choice of materials and the appropriate proportions.’
What do you consider the best compliment you’ve ever received?
‘All of us together greatly enjoyed the many compliments we’ve received from our guests at the opening of our new business last year. The many clients and partners present were extremely enthusiastic!’
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
‘Creating more beautiful things, to be able to occupy ourselves with creativity as much as possible. We hoped to find rhythm and structure in our new office, so by then, I truly hope we’ll be running at full speed. Just keep going!’ (laughs)