Since 1993, when it was co-founded in Amsterdam by the product designer Gijs Bakker and design historian Renny Ramakers, DROOG has championed the careers of such designers as Hella Jongerius and Marcel Wanders, while defining a new approach to design by mixing materials and interacting with the user.
Discover more about Droog and its work at droogdesign.nl
When Renny Ramakers showed a few pieces of furniture assembled by young Dutch designers from cheap industrial materials or found objects, like old dresser drawers and driftwood, at exhibitions in the Netherlands and Belgium in early 1992, she sold so little that she barely covered her costs.
Even so, the pieces - a bookcase made from strips of paper and triplex by the Jan Konings and Jurgen Bey; a driftwood cupboard designed by Piet Hein Eek and a chest of drawers constructed by Tejo Remy by tying half-a-dozen wooden drawers into a bundle with thick cord - attracted so much attention that Ramakers, then editor-in-chief of the design magazine Industrieel Ontwerpen was convinced that she had discovered “a clear break from the past”, in other words, a genuinely new approach to design.
Hearing that Gijs Bakker, the product designer and professor at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, was planning to exhibit the work of his present and past students at the 1993 Milan Furniture Fair, she suggested that they collaborate on a joint show. “Before we started out Gijs and I agreed,” recalled Ramakers. “If we’ve made a mistake and they think it’s worth nothing we’ll shut up shop. If it catches on, we’ll keep going.”
The fourteen objects they showed in Milan ranged from Konings and Bey’s paper bookcase and Remy’s bundle of found wooden drawers, to Marcel Wanders’ Set Up Shades stack of ready-made lamps, Hella Jongerius’ bubbly polyurethane bath mat and a chandelier of lightbulbs devised by Rody Graumans. They called the collection Droog Design after the Dutch word ‘droog’, which translates into English as ‘dry’ as in the dry wit, or wry, subtle sense of humour that characterised all the pieces they exhibited.
Droog Design did catch on. It was the hit of the 1993 Milan Furniture Fair. The French newspaper Libération suggested that the “unknowns” responsible for Droog should be given a medal for spiritual savoir vivre”. Many of the pieces unveiled in that first Droog exhibition - like Graumans’ 85 Bulbs Chandelier - are now regarded as iconic objects of the early 1990s. And many of the young designers featured in that show, such as Hella Jongerius and Marcel Wanders, have since emerged as pivotal figures in contemporary design.
Looking back it is easy to see why Droog made such a splash. By the early 1990s contemporary design had rebelled against the self-parodic cacophony of candy coloured plastics and kitsch motifs of the mid-1980s Memphis movement by adopting a restrained, sometimes overly retentive minimalist aesthetic. As Renny Ramakers put it: “Design became much more sober.”
Droog was different. It shared the simplicity of minimalism and its careful choice of materials, but deployed humour – albeit a dry or ‘droog’ humour - to strike an emotional bond with the user. Rudy Graumans’ 85 bulb chandelier is an inspired example of lateral thinking in design, but it is impossible not to smile at the verve with which the designer transformed an everyday object like a standard light bulb into a spectacular chandelier. The stack of standard lampshades that Marcel Wanders turned into his Set Up Shades lamp and Tejo Remy’s bundle of battered old dresser drawers elicited the same response. “It is a comment on many things: on plenitude, over-consumption, the pretensions that beset the profession,” said Ramakers of Remy’s piece.
Cheered by the response to their Milan exhibition, Bakker and Ramakers established the Droog Design Foundation in the following January and struck an agreement with the Voorburg-based company DMD (alias Development Manufacturing and Distribution) to make and market its products, mostly as limited editions. Those products, according to Droog’s statutes, would be those which “in terms of quality and content fit with the image and way of thinking communicated by Droog Design: original ideas (and) clear concepts which have been shaped in a wry, no-nonsense manner”.
Droog staged a second show at the 1994 Milan Furniture Fair and began discussions with the Centraal Museum in Utrecht which would eventually acquire and exhibit the entire collection until 1999. Bakker and Ramakers realised that the designers championed by Droog would have more impact if their work was shown collectively, than they would by exhibiting individually. “All those designs would never have become as well known if we had not shown them together,” observed Gijs Bakker.
Rather than simply select a collection of designs for the 1995 Milan Furniture Fair, the Droog duo decided to initiate new work by liaising with the Delft University to experiment with new materials on the Dry Tech I and II projects and later the Dry Bathing collection of bathroom products in collaboration with DMD. Droog then began work on its first collaborative project with a private sector partner in 1997 by developing a collection of ceramics with Rosenthal, the German porcelain manufacturer. One of these pieces was the white porcelain Sponge Vase modelled by Marcel Wanders on a natural sponge.
Bakker and Ramakers have since developed the Droog concept not by repeating and refining the original formula but by experimenting with new products, new designers and new industrial partners while adhering to the same principles. From creating visionary concepts for a New York Times millennium competition and designing a flagship store on rue Saint-Honoré in Paris for Mandarina Duck, the Italian luggage company, to devising the Dry Kitchen made from different variations on the same modular white ceramic tile, Droog has continued to reinvent its core principles on different scales and in different disciplines in industrial projects, books and exhibitions.
For the 2001 Milan Furniture Fair, it commissioned a group of young designers to dream up visionary ways of reconceiving the wooden cigar boxes made by Picus, a traditional Dutch box maker. The following year Droog commandeered a flophouse hotel in central Milan where another group of designers was each allocated a room and invited to create an intervention.
The core of Droog’s work is its collection of more than 120 products, which were either created by one of its group projects or commissioned from their designers by Bakker and Ramakers. “The criteria are flexible and shaped by developments in product culture and the designers’ own initiatives,” states Droog. “The only constant is that the concept has validity today; that it is worked out along clear-cut, compelling lines; and that product usability is a must. Within this framework literally anything goes.”
1993 Droog Design is founded in Amsterdam by Gijs Bakker and Renny Ramakers. They organise an exhibition of 14 products at the Milan Furniture Fair.
1994 Stages a second Droog Design exhibition at the Milan Furniture Fair. From now onwards, Droog will stage an annual exhibition in Milan. DMD, a Voorburg-based company, agrees to manufacture and distribute the Droog collection.
1995 Develops the Dry Tech 1 collection of products designed by young designers from new materials in collaboration with Delft University.
1996 Continues the Dry Tech project by launching Dry Tech II.
1997 Collaborates with Rosenthal, the German porcelain maker, to develop a series of prototype porcelain pieces created by designers within the Droog circle. Utrecht Centraal Museum acquires all the Droog products made from 1993 to 1996 for its collection and publishes the book Droog Design 1991-1996.
1998 The book Droog Design: Spirit of the Nineties edited by Bakker and Ramakers and designed by Roelof Mulder with Annemarie van Pruyssen is published by 010 Publishers in Rotterdam.
1999 Begins collaborations with Mandarina Duck, Flos, Salviati, We and Levi Strauss. The Utrecht Central Museum acquires all the Droog products made from 1993 to 1999 for its collection.
2000 Works with NL Architects on the design of the Mandarina Duck flagship store in Paris. Participates in the New York Times millennium competition.
2001 At the Milan Furniture Fair, Droog exhibits a collection of variations on the traditional wooden cigar box devised by a group of young designers and manufactured by Picus, the Dutch cigar box maker.
2002 The book Less + More, Droog Design in context by Renny Ramakers is launched at the Milan Furniture Fair, where Droog stages an exhibition of design interventions in an old hotel. DMD is acquired by The Product Matters, an Amsterdam-based company with which Droog agrees a manufacturing, marketing and distribution deal. Gijs Bakker and Renny Ramakers curate the Conran Foundation Collection 2002 at the Design Museum, London.
Droog Design, edited by Ide van Zijl, Centraal Museum Utrecht, 1997
Droog Design: Spirit of the Nineties, edited by Gijs Bakker and Renny Ramakers, 010 Publishers, 1998
Less + More, Droog Design, Renny Ramakers, 010 Publishers, 2002