MEET Quentin de Coster
As technology permeates the world of modern design, the flagships of craftsmanship—emotion, materiality, intimacy—seem to fade into the background. But within the thoughtful design practice of Belgian native Quentin de Coster, logic and empathy find a way to coexist—and beautifully.
Originally from Liège, Belgium.
His work is part of The Art Institute of Chicago's collection.
Quentin's designs add meaningful details to people's lives.
"I don’t like to cheat with material, so I usually try to use it in the simplest way possible. I like to reveal its beauty and innate strength. The choice of a material must be part of the story that a product tells: it has to make sense."
Hailing from Liège, a city along the Meuse River in Belgium’s French-speaking region, Quentin has followed his fascination with technology to its central hub: Silicon Valley. Trading in his solo practice for a spot at Fuseproject, he has moved from the austere architecture of Belgium to the rolling hills of San Francisco, working under designer and entrepreneur Yves Béhar.
Your design is characterized by the "continuous observation of people’s habits and rituals." How is being an observer a part of your personality, and how does this translate to your practice?
As an industrial designer, I have to admit that the boundary between my work and life is blurry—sometimes even nonexistent. I’m always observing the people around me wherever I am. My brain is fed by the details that I see daily, and then this data is consciously or unconsciously processed through each of my designs.
Each of your designs is formed at the crossroads between functionality and emotion, logic and aesthetics. How do these contradictory ideas coexist within a single form? How does this add to an object's character or meaning?
I would not say that these ideas are contradictory—but it’s clear that they are hard to balance. To me, an object cannot just be beautiful, or simply work well. Its form must be linked with its function—logic—and, above that, it must create an emotion. I never design a shape just because I like it! Behind all the products I design, there are strong concepts and real stories that people can feel while using them.
You recently transplanted to San Francisco from Liège. What prompted you to make this move? What differences have you observed in each city's design culture?
Since I graduated, I’ve been running my own Design Studio in Belgium. This has given me the opportunity to develop a bunch of projects in furniture and product design. I recently moved to the United States because I got several exciting offers there. I decided to join the renowned award-winning design firm Fuseproject to bring my skills to the next level. As part of the large team of Yves Béhar, I am involved in projects whose scale is much higher than what you can develop as a freelancer with a small team. The design process is quite different. I’m not sure that there is a “design culture” in my hometown, but I can confirm that there is a culture of innovation in the Bay Area. Creativity is in the blood of entrepreneurs in California.
What was the most challenging brief you've ever received, and how did you go about tackling it?
Without hesitation, the most challenging brief I got was from the two-star Michelin restaurant L’air du temps in 2014. It was a challenge for me to design a permanent installation since I had no previous experiences in the field of interior design. I met the Chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre at a TEDx conference in March of 2013. During this event, we presented our work and noted many common points between our respective artistic worlds. A year later, Sang-Hoon invited me to create an atmosphere aligned with his culinary expertise for the rooms of his restaurant. San’s cooking artistry embodies nature, so I incorporated this inspiration in the different ideas I proposed to him.
The project we decided to construct consists of about five thousand hanging ropes; an abstract reproduction of the random forms created by vegetation. This organic piece of art creates a unique atmosphere that borders the outdoor and indoor environment. Beyond its aesthetics, this project includes a “sound insulation” function to reduce noise disturbances in the restaurant at large gatherings. The fulfillment of this project has been a real team effort between my partners and the collaborators of Sang-Hoon.
Material plays a large role in your practice. How do you use a material's innate properties to create unexpected moments in your designs?
In my practice the idea sometimes comes from the material, but most of the time, it’s the opposite: I try to choose the best material after having defined a concept. I don’t like to cheat with material, so I usually try to use it in the simplest way possible. I like to reveal its beauty; its innate strength. The choice of a material must be part of the story that a product tells—it has to make sense.
Emerging technologies and new forms of communication are rapidly shaping the future of the design industry. How has this affected your own practice, and view of the design world?
Right—the past twenty years have seen a huge evolution in terms of technology and communication. My practice is clearly affected by both. Today, you’re able to work with people in China almost as if they were your neighbors. International flights are affordable and it’s easy to travel to visit clients or subcontractors. Technology has a big impact on products; it’s easy to see that more and more objects are connected. Take the Internet of Things, for example. The future of industrial design will be a mix of material (product) and immaterial (data). This is one of the reasons why I moved to SF.
In working with OTHR, what was it like to have access to an entirely new way of fabricating material? How did this affect your design process?
It’s always exciting to gain further insight into the production of a material. I’ve 3D printed prototypes for various projects in the past, but collaborating with OTHR has allowed me to consider 3D printing in a new way. I enjoyed learning the possibilities and the limits of the printing process depending on the materials. For cost reasons, we had to modify my original design, and we chose a 3D printed material that highlights the beauty of the technology.
What excites you most about the OTHR platform and where the technology is heading?
What makes OTHR a unique brand is its ability to collaborate with designers much faster than any other organization, because its productions do not need tools like molds. The freedom to create shapes is already quite large and is growing with the technology as well as the use of nice materials. 3D printing is clearly changing the rules of the design world and OTHR is going to play a major role because it is the first brand which has a strong artistic direction on a collection made of 3D printed objects.