In the creative house of Petra Janssen and Edwin Vollebergh

Extracted with permission from Coming Home, Modern Rustic: Living Creative in Dutch Interiors by Barbara de Vries, © Rizzoli New York, 2021.

When graphic designers Petra Janssen and Edwin Vollebergh first saw the Den Bosch auto repair shop, it had been abandoned for thirty years. The roof had collapsed and most of the interior was in ruins, yet Petra and Edwin didn’t see it that way. They only saw what it could and would be, what they now call their playground. “It was important for us to create a space where family life, creativity and work would come together,” explains Petra. “We wanted it to be the mirror of our multifaceted lives. “

They recycled most of the existing steel beams, restored the mezzanine, and replaced the skylights with thermal glass. To divide the large space, they asked their friend Piet Hein Eek, a colleague from the Eindhoven Design Academy (DAE), to create a divider that would separate the studio from the living spaces. It would also house their collection of original vases, comics and other ephemera. The result was a large blue wall made entirely from recycled windows and doors.

The kitchen is defined by the couple’s collection of glassware and ceramics

Coming Home, Modern Rustic: Creative Living in Dutch Interiors by Barbara de Vries, © Rizzoli New York, 2021.

Petra leads me up to the mezzanine, and looking down, I experience a sort of creative giddiness. It is as if I had entered a microcosm lit by a skylight that contains the eclectic culture of Petra and Edwin, their two sons, two cats, a dog and Studio Boot (their design agency). “It’s just an accumulation of parenthood, work and play,” laughs Petra.

Entertaining friends and clients is part of their creative process, and home meets work in the kitchen, at lunch and dinner. Beyond the kitchen is a large walled garden, a sanctuary that was once a graveyard for rusty cars, but now produces apples, pears and nuts, as well as flowers, pumpkins, leafy greens and vegetables, in a raised garden beds. There is also a sunken tub for outdoor bathing and a long wooden table where everyone meets in the summer.

Petra and Edwin’s offices face each other in one of the two rooms that replicate the glass-fronted offices of the old repair shop. The second is for employees and meetings. “Our team complements us,” says Edwin. He then explains how he met Petra 30 years ago at the Royal Academy of Art in Den Bosch, and how working together has boosted their creativity. “I’m interested in the details and Petra has a larger social overview that defines our vision,” he says.

The living room, on the mezzanine level, feels airy and minimalist.

Coming Home, Modern Rustic: Creative Living in Dutch Interiors by Barbara de Vries, © Rizzoli New York, 2021.

One wall in the studio is lined with Edwin posters. Its unique graphics and bright, often fluorescent colors are used to promote arts, music or theater causes and festivals and even football matches. Posters have become collectible works of art, and Edwin recently discovered that counterfeit copies were being sold online. “I called the guy and he had the audacity to say it was a compliment! he says.

Petra thrives on social engagement. She taught at DAE in its heyday, when Lidewij Edelkoort was its director and Anthon Beeke was head of the graphic design program. “We have turned traditional learning upside down,” says Petra. “At the end of my time there, I felt the need to replace teaching with something so stimulating. An opportunity presented itself in 2011, when Petra and Edwin organized a sustainable design festival near their hometown of Den Bosch. Again, they collaborated with Piet Hein Eek, who created picnic tables for a temporary restaurant, using offcuts held together by industrial straps. Amarant, a nearby workshop for people with autism, volunteered to help Piet Hein build the tables. Based on their collaboration, Petra and Amarant launched HOUT (Dutch for wood), a collection of furniture made from recycled wood.

Walking down the street, you might think that the house is still a body shop.

Coming Home, Modern Rustic: Creative Living in Dutch Interiors by Barbara de Vries, © Rizzoli New York, 2021.

The modernity of the staircase contrasts with an old wood stove.

Coming Home, Modern Rustic: Creative Living in Dutch Interiors by Barbara de Vries, © Rizzoli New York, 2021.

Inspired by the response to HOUT, Petra and her friend Simone Kramer launched Social Label. With Petra’s background in design and Simone’s background in public relations, they planned a work strategy for people with low job prospects. “Everyone deserves a good life and if you apply inclusive design and communication at the local level, you approach sustainability in a rewarding way,” says Petra.

After our interview at the studio, Petra takes me to the new Social Label Design Lab. It is housed in a former feed factory which was donated to the organization by the city of Den Bosch. Over the past eight years, Petra, Edwin, and Simone have transformed the factory into a design incubator, workspace, and retail platform.

As we pass a giant grain silo that has been transformed into an office, Petra explains how social work connects each designer to their group. “We call them the manufacturers,” she says. These men and women, who suffer from physical or mental disabilities, are empowered not only by the income they receive, but also by the sense of pride that work gives them. “So far we’ve produced brooms made from recycled bicycles, ceramic vases, light fixtures, clocks, aprons and other linens, tote bags, and a tableware collection called KOM (bowl in Dutch) that Edwin created, ”she says.

A large skylight brings sunlight to all levels of the house.

Coming Home, Modern Rustic: Creative Living in Dutch Interiors by Barbara de Vries, © Rizzoli New York, 2021.

Petra takes me to the other side of the silo, where several trestle tables are stacked with cups, bowls and plates. Looks like Delft crockery, but on closer inspection I realize that the pictures look like tattoos. “This is an order for KOM and he’s going to the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, ”says Petra.

At the beginning of KOM, Edwin sought design advice from his group of manufacturers. As it turned out, they all loved tattoos, so he created stickers that transferred easily to China. Designers choose their own blue tattoo prints for each piece, with iconic images like wheelchairs with wings, ice cream cones, hearts and slogans like “Trot” (Proud), “Ik Ben Vat Ik Maak“(I am what I do) and” Life is a bitch. “

On the way out, Petra shows me a photo of the opening day of the Werkwarenhuis (Workwarehouse) which took place in May 2018. It shows Her Royal Highness Queen Máxima of the Netherlands sitting, smiling, between Petra and Simone. A group of men and women, young and old, surround the three of them. “Everyone was there, in our melting pot. Our supporters, our creators, our designers and even our queen, ”she says.

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