The city suggested the setting for what would become the Kazerne complex. What was your reaction when you first visited the site?
Annemoon Geurts: Our very first reaction was, “This is unbelievably good.”
Koen Rijnbeek: And bad! Because it was an enormous space. And because it was not being used properly. It was just storage.
AG: The incredible thing was that it was 50 meters from where we lived.
KR: And we didn’t know about it!
AG: We passed it every day, but it was closed off from the street. It was a former garage, and when we set foot inside for the first time, we said, “What the f…!”. Here’s this giant space right in the middle of Eindhoven!
KR: It was beautiful! But what a waste. We immediately saw the potential.
AG: Yes, that was our first thought. But our second thought was, “We must find more idiots like us to help us do this.”
Did you both see the project developing in the same way?
AG: It was a very natural process. We just listened to the building! Of course, Koen and I did quarrel about things. But that was to get the place to the point where it was perfect.
KR: We only quarrel professionally. But Annemoon is always right!
AG: Yes, that is the true secret to our marriage. [She laughs].
KR: I began my career as a musician. I’m a drummer. So when it comes to design, I’m not the lead. I am backing Annemoon up. But seriously, we share the same dream and have the same taste. Design-wise, we both love minimalism and the combination of old and new.
AG: True, but the minimalism here feels warm and inviting and not absent and distant. And from our discussions together, our designs only get better.
What was the driving element at Kazerne—the design space and exhibitions or the hotel?
AG: Our mission was and is to change what design means to the public. Yes, design creates mood and feeling. But it is so much more than a nice chair. Designers depict new ways of living together. Their concepts and their experiments with materials and products contribute to the quality of private and public spaces.
Many questions confront the tuned-in designer that people may not be aware of. Things like, “How do we live in a sustainable society?” “What influence does technology have on our daily living environment?” “How can design contribute to a community?” I think the answer lies in the fact that design embraces innovation and makes tangible changes that we perceive in our social and technological environment. A conversation about the future becomes possible based on the imagination of designers.
Can you give a specific example of this ideology in action?
AG: Well, design is a materialistic phenomenon. And that is a challenge today because good design has to be responsible. So now we have a Circular Materialists exhibition running. It shows how both established labels and starting designers deal with the inherently contradictory theme of sustainable design by using old materials in new ways or by developing new materials.
AG: Design also led us to the Members Club. [Hotel guests are welcomed into the property’s private club during their stay, allowing them to meet the local creative community.] And now we are developing a friends and loyalty program. In many ways, we feel as if we are just starting. We love coming up with ways to create new opportunities for our design community.
KR: In fact, quite a few designers who have exhibited at Kazerne have found their way onto the world scene and international galleries. It’s like we set the stage for them to shine.
AG: We are very proud that a crazy idea from two people has become a launching pad for design careers and a place where 40 people work and make a living.
Outside of Kazerne, what is your most prized accomplishment?
KR: To be honest, it’s the fact that we do what we do. And we do it not because we have to, but we want to. We are not doing this for the money, because if we were, we would be really stupid. We had a great design studio!
AG: And now we don’t since the hotel and its design program take 99 percent of our time.
KR: It’s an adventure. We started Kazerne to create possibilities—as much for others as for ourselves. We fought since 2007 to get things where they finally are today. It’s been two steps forward and one step back. But we wouldn’t have missed this for the world!