Pieter Kool is the founder of strategic spatial design agency, CARBON STUDIO. He has worked with names such as Pharrell Williams, Marc Newson, Rem Koolhaas as well as the Prouvé family. In this edition of Citizens, Pieter talks to us about what inspires him, his approach to design, and his latest project.

09 Jun 2023

Tiffany Chung

Hey Pieter, you’ve created spaces for brands such as G-Star, Ace&Tate, Precinct 5, and most recently, OLAF’s new HQ and flagship store. Tell us about the design.

Olaf had a lot of confidence in me and gave me a lot of freedom. The brief was very loose which I really enjoyed. I think that’s also very typical about Olaf and the people that work at the company, there’s a lot of trust. To start the design, there were two main factors I looked at: one is the brand and the second is the context of the space. In my conversations with Olaf about the brand, there was a lot of talk of streetwear, but OLAF is a bit more high-end so that's what is reflected in the store. We came up with this idea of a minimalist display to really let the clothing speak, but at the same time it‘s not the hard, cold minimalism that you see in many stores. That just didn’t fit the character of the brand. So, we came up with this ‘friendly minimalist’ concept. Second, was looking at the retail space. It’s two adjacent ground floor spaces of two separate buildings that have been connected through a small passage. The idea was to create this sort of gallery with a continuous horseshoe wall connecting the two spaces. We placed clothing on the inside and outside of the horseshoe and in three places the wall is punctured by two displays or vitrines, and the third puncture connects the horseshoe with the courtyard so light comes in from the back. The courtyard is another really nice feature of this space because it helped create a very logical area for fitting rooms – it’s a little bit back in the store, so you feel secure, but there's beautiful daylight. Then, the question was ‘How do we build it?’ The materialization philosophy for the brand that we developed is for both the retail space and the headquarters. They are developed as one concept. The idea was to design something that is not fixed but basically designed for change. Just like the way people grow and change, brands like OLAF do too. So, I view the office and the store as platforms and we design the rules for those platforms that allow change to happen very easily.


Pieter Kool is the founder of strategic spatial design agency, Carbon Studio. He has worked with names such as Pharrell Williams, Marc Newson, Rem Koolhaas as well as the Prouvé family. In this edition of Citizens, Pieter talks to us about what inspires him, his approach to design, and his latest project.

Is that how you would describe ‘future-proof design’?

Yes, but you cannot design for every possible change. A good design considers which things will or might change and which things are stable or permanent. For OLAF’s office space, the variables are bigger than the retail space. After only half a year, we’re already working on the first big overhaul. That’s how the idea of the cardboard tubes came out. They are flexible building blocks: one tube is one unit and by combining units you can create walls, supports for tables, and those kinds of things. What I also like about the cardboard tube is that it really fits the ‘friendly minimalist’ concept for OLAF. It's round and very soft to the touch which really works for the brand. Secondly, and more importantly, cardboard is one of the most circular building materials you can find. It's local, it’s always so cheap, and if you throw it away it's not downcycled into something of less value, you can basically just make it wet and make new cardboard to reuse again. That’s why cardboard became such a theme in the design. The flexibility and sustainability combined with the aesthetics of being round and soft fit well with the brand.

Do you try to be sustainable in all your projects?

Definitely. I find that many times clients are not ready or asking for it. So, for every project, I find some way to be sustainable, but every project is completely different. For instance, for Ace&Tate, I used corrugated steel which is extremely lightweight but extremely strong. It‘s painted with natural paints and can easily be recycled. In other projects, I also use steel to create building blocks that can be combined like LEGOS. This makes the steel an investment energy-wise because things can be reconfigured and reused, and the material lasts a very long time. I always make sure things are easily recyclable and not downcycled.

Is that your own traditional philosophy in approaching architecture or is this something you experienced with past companies or studios that you've worked in?

It is more what I, as a studio, think is important. It's my job to design a good interior and translation of the brand, so of course it's important that the store has a sustainable impact. When I sit down with many of my clients and we discuss sustainability, I always recommend that they invest a lot of money in things like the most energy-efficient air conditioning system. It’s really boring but the interior, the tables, the floor, are neglectable compared to the energy use of air conditioning. This is just reality. Sustainability is not sexy. It's just about making an investment in good installations. Considering the environment, it’s much more effective than putting hemp wallpaper on the wall.

What has been the most challenging project that you've worked on so far?

A project comes to mind. I was the Global Creative Director for G-Star RAW for years and I had to develop a global concept that had to fit in many different locations: from Helsinki to Abu Dhabi. Sometimes you're in very clean shopping malls and sometimes you're in a 600-year-old building in Brussels or Marseille and it all has to feel like the same brand. To execute a global-sized project like this right takes a lot of time, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of intelligence to come up with a good solution.

Do you have any interior design pet peeves?

Many. But something that I feel is always obsolete is interactive screens. People already have their phones and digital content is a personal experience. What you have on your phone is yours and it's yours only. In my experience, everybody hates going to a screen and interacting with it while everyone can look at you and see what you’re doing. Nobody does it. I have yet to see the first proper application of it, so for me, that's definitely a no. Another reason is that you can do so much online that when you actually decide to venture into the physical world, you're looking for a social and very physical experience where you can meet people and touch stuff.

Is there a space (that you didn’t design) that has left an impression on you recently?

I was in Barcelona last month and I went to the Joan Miró Foundation. He made these beautiful wool tapestries. The wool is really thick but, in some parts, it just comes out like half a meter, it's a landscape that he made. And in the same museum, there is a mercury fountain by Alexander Calder. I just stood there for one hour looking at it. Mercury is a metal but it's liquid and you expect it to behave like water but it's so different. It’s so cool.

Speaking of impressive spaces, tell us about your houseboat.

Yeah, I’m an Amsterdam guy and I live on the water on a newly built houseboat. I, together with an architect, designed the exterior, the whole interior, the flooring levels, staircases, and stuff like that. The materialization, I designed myself. So, it's really a custom-made design and it won the ‘Houseboat of the Year’ award. I can give a day-long lecture on the concept of the house, but the idea is that it really plays with your expectations of space. For some spaces, the ceiling is very low and some spaces the ceiling is really high, and this really changes your experience when you walk through it. I really like this concept that I call ‘non-space’ where if you have something like a corridor but make it twice as wide so it becomes a space where different activities can happen. By playing around with the dimensions of spaces and how they are connected, you can create a lot of moments where it's not clear what the function of the space is but if it's designed well people can come up with many things to actually do there. For instance, in our house, there's a split level and one floor is about a meter higher than the adjacent floor. This is a really nice place to sit because you can look out over the water. The cat always hangs out there because when we pass by it's right at petting height. But when we have people over for dinner, this floor becomes the buffet. At parties, people always sit there because you're sort of in the middle of things and when you sit there, you're still at eye level with the people that stand. It has a million functions that were not specifically assigned to it creating a certain context that encourages play.

What are some of your trend predictions for the future design?

Personally, I don't bother with trends very much. But of course, the big thing right now is AI. Everybody is on experimenting with writing copy and generating images. AI is not able to design interiors for you yet, but it's an extremely handy tool to come up with solutions.

So, are you interested in AI?

Definitely. We have these ongoing research projects that we do at the studio. With ChatGPT and DALL-E, I've been doing small experiments but I wish we were a big brand like Nike so we can get dedicated teams working with AI because there's so much to learn.

Since OLAF celebrates citizens, countries, and cultures, we like to wrap up each interview with the same question: Can you name a person, place, and thing that inspires you?

The mercury fountain is the thing that inspires me because something as simple as a bare material can just sort of really shake your foundation of how you look at it.

A place that inspires me is basically any artisan's workshop, like a specialist that's super good at working with only aluminum or just weaving wool. I love that there's so much to learn, to see, and to experience in a space where you don't understand 5% of what the person who runs it understands. Or like a surgeon who only operates on ankles all day. To us, it’s just one part of the body, but to them, the ankle joint is a universe in itself where every angle is different, and they could talk about it in detail for hours with a sort of love and fascination. I'm always a sucker for these kinds of people.

A person that inspires me is the designer, Jean Prouvé, who is passed away now. He was a modernist designer, but I think he was more of a hardcore one. His aesthetics are much more difficult to like. His stuff was a bit weird but, in a way, I think he was truer to the modernist principles than all the other designers at that time. He just didn't care about public opinion. What I also like about him is that a lot of his clients were just factories, they would come to him and say we need some furniture for the office, and he would he just produce the most amazing stuff. He over-delivered on every aspect of the brief and was completely true to his own ideals. That’s why I always see him as a great designer.

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