At the entrance to this year’s Handmade exhibition stood Maarten Baas’ ‘Forever Young’, a twist on the archetypal children’s playground. The installation conjured up the innocent thrill of swings and roundabouts, controlled velocity – though some of Baas’ designs were far from innocent.

The passing of time, together with the tipping point between childhood and maturity, are concurrent themes in Baas’ work. ‘Forever Young’ responds to ‘a relentless desire’, explains the designer. ‘As a child you want to grow up, and as an adult you want to stay young. It’s a search for balance between both; you always balance your intuition with a certain rationality. For me, it is about creating designs that are meant for the mature world, while at the same time having the directness and the spontaneity of a child.’

The Italian furniture manufacturer Henge tapped one of its expert artisans to bring Baas’ extravaganza to life. His spring rockers and monumental slide are all made from burnished steel and polished brass, the slide welded in two steps using a special alloy with copper components, an oft-employed technique in Baas’ designs. ‘Henge is not a normal industrial production,’ says CEO Paolo Tormena. ‘We have a different mentality, and this collaboration with Baas and Wallpaper* is the best expression of our approach.’

Henge CEO Paolo Tormena and designer Maarten Baas at the Henge factory

Henge CEO Paolo Tormena and designer Maarten Baas at the Henge factory near Treviso with a prototype for the slide’s ladder and pieces of Henge’s ‘Light Rings’. Photography: Federico Ciamei

The almost loop-like form of the slide, functionally absurd, is Baas’ metaphor for time, which he describes as a repeating cycle in which we go through the same stages and see the same problems in different forms. ‘To challenge yourself, you want to learn new things and keep on developing. In that sense, you are always a child, and in that way you can stay forever young,’ he says.

The curious forms – a cartoon take on private parts, male and female – and the deliberately clumsy movement of the spring rockers are an innocent but frankly unmistakable play with sexuality. ‘In a way, sexuality can also be seen as kind of a search – although “search” is too rational a term,’ says Baas. ‘It’s a way of playing as well, or looking for freedom and energy. And let’s be honest and not be too serious about it, it also reflects what’s under the radar in a human’s mind. We are craving to get away from all the rules and all the rationality and be like a child. We couldn’t be happier than when we go wild in a playground.’

Baas always begins a new work with a deliberately rough sketch, which he leaves unrefined and aims to follow as closely as possible when the object is being made. This isn’t as easy as reproducing straight lines and hard edges. His designs are often handmade and labour-intensive. While he aims for a kind of lightness in his work, he gives it substance by working with fine materials and professional techniques. ‘Brass and bronze are timeless,’ he says. ‘They give the works some weight, not only literally but also metaphorically.’

Detail of the slide’s bronze ladder

A detail of the slide’s bronze ladder, which was hand-moulded using a ground-casting technique. Photography: Federico Ciamei

‘Forever Young’ recalls Baas’ Clay collection, which propelled him to fame in 2006. Juxtaposing childlike imagination with grown-up logic, the furniture appears naive yet perfectly functional.‘When you are an adult, there are all kinds of rules that you obey without question,’ Baas says. ‘Children don’t know these rules. I try to question rules because, while I think they are practical tools for understanding things, they are not the absolute reality.’

Despite his Design Academy Eindhoven training and numerous achievements as a designer, Baas says he sometimes feels more like an artist who expresses himself through design: ‘If I have a story I want to tell, I just do it with an object rather than in text or in film. I think the objects I’ve made speak for themselves, but at the same time are also open to different interpretations.’ §

As originally featured in the August 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*233)