Circular Design 2. Willem Heeffer – Experimenting Interior Design with Industrial Excess Materials

Can someone’s trash truly become another’s treasure? Jori Pasula dove deep into the world of circular design to learn how different creators can make us love stuff that was already gone. Read how to get wasted materials upcycled – with textiles, beer and interiors.

Willem Heeffer is a Helsinki-based Dutch designer that loves to work within the intersections of product design, interior design and architecture. Alongside his projects with artists and museums he’s been experimenting with repurposed and upcycled design on industrial excess materials. His inventories around Helsinki industrial sites have led to brilliantly minimalistic design lamp collections – created from washing machine drums to industrial coffee boilers.

Hi Willem! How did you get started with repurposed design products?

—I guess it’s that I have a thing for ready-made objects, I’m just fascinated by them. Working like this limits me enough. Otherwise I would have endless possibilities and I can’t handle that kind of freedom. 

How do you turn waste into design pieces?

—I think it’s simply about taking an object and really thinking it over – working to transform it  into something else. With the coffee boiler lamps many people that wanted them had no idea of their previous life. That gives me the feeling that I’ve succeeded. 

But whatever the product is it needs to form a connection to its user for its life to be prolonged and cherished. In this, I guess the upcycled purpose helps, it can add value to the story. 

How do you score the objects?

—I’ve always loved looking for scrap pieces and bringing them to my studio. But the problem is in finding enough of the same material to create these 100 to 150-piece limited collections that I like to create. 

After getting the initial idea it comes down to finding the sources and making the right connections. With coffee boilers I got together with Paulig – that was awesome since I have the supply directly from their production facilities. 

They actually wanted to buy the first batch of lamps I created to use in their trade shows – that was quite a funny cycle.            

What are you working on right now?

—In terms of my own products, I have this quite a long project that I’m begging to get finished. Old phone cables used to go through this tiny ceramic cup – and these pieces were produced by Arabia in the 1920’s or 30’s.

I managed to get my hands on these – they have the stamps and everything and that is something truly Finnish to me. So, I’m working with a talented ceramics artist to rebake them and to design tiny beautiful lamps from them. It’s a laborious task and always a bit of a struggle but we’ll get there, for sure.

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