A TALK WITH SONIA VAN DE HAAR
Photography by Julia Charles
Sonia van de Haar founded Lymesmith in 2004, a design studio with a dynamic soul whose experimentations correlate colour, landscape and urban architecture. During our encounter, we asked her about her personal approach and how her experience in India somehow influenced it, the project she recently realised using Tierras collection in an extremely creative way and the relevance of sustainability in her work.
You founded Lymesmith in 2004. How did it all start? Which values does it pursue?
I wanted to design myself the perfect job, combining my experiences as an artist and architect. To me that meant working for myself, working across disciplines, pursuing collaborative opportunities and working with colour on a large scale. I had recognised a lack of colour knowledge in the discipline of Architecture and I felt there could be an opportunity to create something unique in that area. Lymesmith grew from there.
While contemporary architecture is more about minimalism and neutral tones, all of your works revolve around the strength of colours. How would you describe your personal approach?
If colour is used intelligently, its effects can exceed all expectations. I never use colour just for the sake of using colour, it is always a response to the conditions and is an exploration of the potential that is already there in the environment, in the architecture or in the culture. It just so happens that all white is rarely the best choice! Extremely minimalist architecture is anti-human; extremely neutral décor is similarly repressive. People mostly choose white because they don’t know what else to do or they are afraid of making a mistake.
I find that people love colour when it is used well. There is a limitless range of possibilities between ‘all white minimalism’ and living in a kaleidoscope. I encourage thoughtful experimentation within those two extremes.
Standing in front of an architecture, what must catch the eye first?
For me the question is not how to ‘catch the eye’, but how to sustain interest. It is very easy to catch the eye, but just as easy for the brain to immediately process that information and become disinterested in the spectacle. If you work with colour in the built environment, you must accept and deal with all kinds of eye catching ‘visual noise’. Materials and colours that give sustained pleasure and enjoyment are often those that have complexity and whose appearance changes throughout the day and seasons.
What kind of relation do you engage with your clients?
Building trust and empathy is very important. It takes time, and usually blossoms once a project has been realized. Colour in architecture has to be experienced physically – it is very difficult to convey the quality of a material in space, with just a sample or a drawing on paper.
Once the work is done, clients feel delighted and happy.
You spent some time studying fresco painting in India, Country of origin of the colorful Holi festival and the brightness typical saree. Did this experience somehow influence your taste for aesthetics?
India was a turning point for me. I was very young, an art student, and I lived in my head, all my ideas were very esoteric. India was not a spiritual experience for me; it was completely physical. It was traumatic! I had my eyes opened to the physicality of life, of colour, of pigment and painting, through studying fresco. Working daily with the caustic lime plaster had the effect of burning away my fingerprints. My studio name Lymesmith comes directly from that experience. It represents the interconnectedness of nature, art and architecture.
In the pool tiled mural project for the Garden House in Bronte, Tierras collection has been used in an extremely artistic way. The most amazing thing is that it is not just an ornamental wall, but it works as a complementary element between nature and architecture. Which was the concept? What kind of perception did you want to create by entering the garden?
My work is always about relationships. The mural is a landscape element, encountered when moving through the garden, or swimming in the pool. I’ve tried to create a dynamic harmony between the elements of the place, inserting something that belongs, but is also a little unexpected.
Nowadays, the contrast between environmental preservation and urbanization is increasingly becoming important. Which place does sustainability occupy in your work?
Sustainability is first of all a mind-set, which leads to acting in certain ways. The thing I love about ceramics is that they are one of the oldest and most durable of man-made materials. I tell my clients that the tiles they choose will be here for hundreds of years, they should never be selected according to trends or seen as a throw away material. The earth’s resources must be used with great care and consideration.
Do you remember the first time you heard about Mutina? What fascinated you the most about our company?
I encountered Patricia Urquiola’s Tierras range in my tile supplier’s showroom, in Sydney. I walked in and literally stopped dead in my tracks. There was a beautiful display of all the Tierras products and I was so excited to see something that was not GREY. Especially exciting is the use of both handmade and industrial production in the same range. Genius! Terracotta is one of the most lovely materials on earth, and I have been trying to convince people to look at it without prejudice for years.
Do you have a favourite collection? Why?
Well, obviously Tierras will always be my favourite. I can’t wait to see the new Diarama by Hella Jongerius though; I suspect I may die of happiness. The distinctive thing about Mutina tiles is the detail and variation within each range. You are presented with a set of relationships that enable a great deal of creativity. And, of course, the colour combinations are extremely skillful.
If you could choose any structure in the world to remodel according to your personal taste and artistic view, which one would it be? What would you do to it?
Tough question! I was just thinking that it would be really interesting to make an underwater painting or tile mural for an enormous swimming pool.