Every other week, we propose a Limburg design icon together with Sjiek / Het Belang Van Limburg, or one that is well on its way to becoming one. This week it is “Living Elements” by Serge Haelterman and Steven Brouns for JZUZ.
WHAT: tightly upholstered foam blocks as dynamic seating / living elements
In 1999 new kids on the block industrial designers Steven Brouns and Serge Haelterman found each other in an innovative vision of seating furniture. They spent the summer making prototypes and came up with a modular system of foam blocks. No sofa with legs, rather a large seat that could be combined with a U-shaped block.
These two elements formed the basis of their “Living Elements”. They did not define their radical vision of the modern interior as a series of living and sleeping areas, but as one large tetris playing field. With a handful of their tightly upholstered blocks, you can reorganise from sitting to lying down, even sleeping or eating. “Those blocks were super sleek, in an innovative, extremely durable fabric that was only used for workwear at the time and is now very popular and is even the same material they use to make those Rains raincoats,” says Serge Haelterman.
“We were very convinced that we had invented the wheel. It is not without reason that we baptized our company JZUZ ”, the nestors laugh. Their gospel was first heard in 2000 at “Casa Europea”, part of the then regional furniture fair “Je Huis… een Thuis” in the Antwerp Building Center. “Casa Europea” was an area where young designers had the opportunity to show new work.
MARCHING OF SEVEREN
“From then on it went really fast. Jan Boelen – before he would play a significant role with Z33 – picked us up and wanted to promote us together with Maarten Van Severen and a number of other Flemish designers. First at the Cologne furniture fair and then also in Milan ”, he says. Jan Boelen was then director of Cepro – Center for Integral Product Development – and coordinated Forms From Flanders (F3), a plan to put Flemish design on the international map. Both F3 and Cepro imploded, but it sparked a fuse for JZUZ.
The time had come for JZUZ and even during their Milanese presentation, sports giant Nike passed by to supply some of their stores with Living Elements. “There was even a Japanese design curator who wanted our seat in an exhibition, so everything in crates on the plane in crates … special times,” the JZUZ gurus recall.
However, the success put pressure on their production and distribution model because they had everything made in Belgian workshops and could only sell on consignment. “That requires capital, but in the long run you have to reason as a ‘label’ and launch new product models. While we had just come up with the sleek sofa to make everything else unnecessary, ”laughs Serge Haelterman. In 2003 they quit JZUZ. At least Steven Brouns continued under the name Zoink, while Serge Haelterman focused on art direction which eventually brought him to Creneau International. “We have learned a lot from JZUZ. Not least to believe in ourselves. ”