In this tiny Tyrol workshop, craftsmanship and nature collide
Take a trip to the Tyrol to discover the wooden furniture of Studio van der Zee, a workshop creating contemporary pieces with traditional joinery techniques
Master furniture maker Rutger van der Zee has been creating wooden furniture pieces from a small workshop he set up in the Austrian Alps in 2018; from Amsterdam, he and his partner Mariella van der Zee had decided to relocate to the Tyrol, where she had grown up. ‘Whatever picturesque image you have in your head of growing up in a small village in the Tyrolean Alps, it is exactly what I feel I had,’ she explains, citing the scent of freshly cut hay, the sound of cowbells and the silence of a fresh blanket of snow all contributing to ‘a feeling of groundedness and familiarity’.
Moving to the area to start a family as well as a business, Rutger started creating wooden furniture and became a master cabinetmaker (an official Austrian title following a strict test that allowed him to set up a furniture shop in the area). ‘Since I was already building a new life and building all the furniture in it, I thought I might as well start building furniture professionally, as I had wanted to for some time,’ he says.
In his previous (professional) life, he had been a natural movement coach, often climbing trees in Amsterdam parks for his teaching work. ‘Having looked at trees with a keen interest for many years I appreciate many things about them: beautiful forms, tasty fruits and nuts, great ecological value and opportunity for climbing.’ Given the couple’s new geographical location, using wood was a natural choice, starting with the old-growth apple and pear trees surrounding the workshop.
The location has become an important inspiration and reference for the studio’s work, which includes collections of wooden furniture, objects and private commissions using locally sourced materials and traditional joinery techniques. Some furniture pieces feature traditional forms updated with a contemporary aesthetic, while others, like the ‘Smile’ rocking seat for meditation (shown above in natural and black colourways), are informed by modern life, offering a change of rhythm that fits with the workshop's surroundings.
‘The woods are only a stone-throw away from the workshop and even after the shortest of hikes from our front door you will find yourself immersed in the forest, walking among moss-covered boulders that litter the forest floor,’ says Rutger. ‘The natural world is brimming with life at every level, from bustling ant hills to trees reaching for the light, and mushrooms popping up in what seems mere hours. Yet the human notion of time is completely absent. It is exactly this quality that I try to capture in my work, creating pieces that breathe life into a space while paying tribute to the natural passage of time: maturing in relation to the environment, slowly ageing gracefully and eventually being able to return to the earth from which they came.’
Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.
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