In Conversation | Benoît Viaene

  • Our next In Conversation interviewee was the cover star of est magazine issue 44 and one of our esteemed 10 designers for 2023. Based in Belgium, Benoît Viaene is an architect by trade and a self-taught interior designer, furniture designer and craftsman. Driven by his core values of authenticity and curiosity, Benoît has become revered in the design world for his rigorous approach to light and materiality. By sitting down with Benoît, we learn how he achieves such unique results in his projects and why, above all, he rejects ego.

    Outside of your own practice, how does design influence you?

    Benoît Viaene: I will start off by saying that I’m very in tune with what I do and don’t like. I’m very critical. Critical doesn’t mean negative, though. I’m at a stage of my career where I don’t look to be ‘fed’ ideas; when you are sure of what you want, it’s more of a feeling than an act of searching for something. 

    When I was a young designer, we only had library books. Young designers have all these resources at their fingertips – Instagram, Pinterest, online magazines, etcetera – but you have to be eager to explore! And don’t just copy and paste; make it your own.

    In your esteemed 10 interview, you described yourself as a curious person. Why is it important to remain curious as a designer? 

    Benoît Viaene: When I see something I like in a museum, say, I try to understand how it is made – not for the purpose of copying it, but to translate it into something that is my own. Through self-study, I never come to the exact technique that the person used, but I’m not trying to. When you see something beautiful, you can’t just stop there; you have to ask yourself, “How?”. This approach has expanded my way of thinking and has resulted in some unique results. I like to compare designing to writing love songs; all great love songs start with a single chord and evolve from there through trial and error. 

    In that same interview, you were quoted as saying “The person is the main focus in a project, not the project or the design on its own.” How does a human-centric approach ultimately enhance your design outcomes?

    Benoît Viaene: I hate repetition. Many architects want to make their projects recognisable so that people will say, “That’s a Benoite Viaene home”. I’m not interested in that. I want to create projects around the person; the person shouldn’t have to adapt to my ego. When you work around the client from the beginning, every project will be different, which keeps the work challenging.

    You are always talking about the importance of light in your projects. How does light impact the day-to-day experience of a space?

    Benoît Viaene: Light is the most important ingredient in architecture. I’m not talking about artificial light. I’m interested in how light affects materials. How does it bring a piece to life? Take timber, for example; every type of timber has its own story and therefore is affected by light differently. It comes back to experimenting with the material until you get the desired result. It’s a give and take; you respond to the material just as it responds to you. 

    What about the way you design sets you apart from your peers?

    Benoît Viaene: My degree is in architecture, however I am self taught in a number of crafts. As a result, when I ask my craftsmen to make something, I know how to instruct them to get the best result because I’ve usually already tried it myself. I enjoy testing the limits of materials and myself.

    What have you got in store for the rest of 2023? What can we look forward to?

    Benoît Viaene: I’m concentrating more on my table making and expanding this furniture design part of my practice to include millwork, namely kitchen islands.

    Design Dissected:

    Where we get designers’ takes on broader topics, themes or events currently surfacing in the design world.

    How are Belgian designers are currently shaping the global design space?

    Benoît Viaene: Belgium was put on the map by two great designers, Vincent Van Duysen and Axel Vervoordt. Before them, we weren’t as recognised in the design world. Now, people associate Belgium with that kind of calibre of design, and they come here in search of more inspiration. Well, now people don’t even need to travel here; they can look us up on Instagram. As a designer, this is simultaneously strange and wonderful. 

    People might not know that Belgians have always attached a lot of importance to our homes. We have a saying that we were born with a brick in our stomachs. We want to build. I’m not just talking about the elite – it’s every level of society. As a result, there are a lot of jobs in the design and crafts industry. We are lucky that we still have many craftspeople here, so we put great emphasis on craftsmanship. I think the rest of the world looks to us for that especially.

    “Light is the most important ingredient in architecture. I’m not talking about artificial light. I’m interested in how light affects materials. How does it bring a piece to life?”

    Rapid Fire:

    Somewhere that inspires you? Tuscany

    Someone that inspires you? Vincenzo de Cotiis

    Favourite three materials to work with? Wood, stone, cork

    Something you want to see more of this year in design? Less ego

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