Designer interview with
Max Lipsey

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In this interview series, we will enter into a dialogue with the designers we work with. How have they developed in the design profession and how do they perceive it? Where do their motivations and fascinations come from? What is the story behind the products in the Vij5 collection and what influence has their education had on how they live their lives as designers now?

Max Lipsey was studying in New York when his interest in European design emerged, Dutch design in particular. His love for this went so far that he decided to immerse himself in that world and study in the Netherlands. About sixteen years ago, he moved to Eindhoven and enrolled in the Design Academy.

Text: Daniëlle van de Haterd(Staaldraad Tekstschrijver)
Photography on location: Blickfanger
Product photography: Vij5

At the time of this interview, there are sounds of tinkering in the background and Max is being questioned about a cable tray. He is in the middle of moving his workspace. In the near future, it will be moved to an industrial estate, where he will share a building with several designers.

"I like being able to take time to reflect and engage my intuition."

Max Lipsey

Dutch design, reflection and intuition

'When I was a student in New York, I came across a lot of Dutch design on my way to school, and it always caught my attention. I thought what designers like Marcel Wanders and Hella Jongerius were doing was really fantastic. So much fresher, more humorous, and more creative than what I knew.'

Once in the Netherlands, Max felt so much at home that he decided to stay. 'I like the atmosphere here, it is creative and enterprising. There is peace and quiet and space to explore. In New York, everything is so expensive that you have to work commercially by definition. I find it more pleasant to be able to take time to reflect and to use my intuition.'

Soft spot for metal

Although Max does not limit himself to one material in his designs, he does have a soft spot for metal. 'After my graduation, I started working for Maarten Baas, where I worked in the production of his crazy designs. I did a lot of welding and stuff. This is where I fell in love with metal. It has something magical. You can create things from a rock-hard material and connect them as you want. Constructions are strong and at the same time unlimited. It's actually a bit like the tinkering you do as a child, only those constructions quickly fall apart and a metal product does not. I felt like a child in a playground, my creativity was stimulated enormously by these endless possibilities.'

Colour comes from the material

In 2011 Max discovered that steel has something extra, something that makes it his favourite material. 'I had made a chair and was looking for a way to give it colour. I considered a coating but came up with tempering because the colour then comes from the material itself, which I thought was very beautiful. I made a number of chairs and kept experimenting with the technique, trying different methods of heating, including an oven. In the end, I liked the result with a gas burner best, it's as if you're painting a canvas.'

The surprise effect of tempering

Tempering steel is something Max finds incredible, he even calls it magic. 'I have mastered the technique quite well, so in that sense, it is a predictable process. But things like the quality of the steel, the humidity, and the ambient temperature always have an effect on the result. So there is always a surprise effect and that makes it extra fun. Every product is unique.'

"Tempering steel is something magical. There is always a surprise effect making every product unique."

Max Lipsey

Mysterious colors

Max is very interested in colour, natural colour that is. 'Colour is appearance, but RAL colours don't do much for me. Although in principle it is the easiest solution to make a product wear-resistant with a thick layer of lacquer, I usually don't go for that. I particularly like mysterious colours, colours hidden in the material. You have to dig deep to understand what is possible. Colour is appearance, it does a lot to how you read an object.'

By working this way, Max certainly does not choose the easiest path. 'I'm always looking for a clever approach; of course, a product has to be suitable for everyday use. The overall picture of the design has to be right.'

"I especially like mysterious colors, colors hidden in the material."

Max Lipsey

Collaboration with Vij5

The collaboration with Vij5 arose almost organically. Max got to know Arjan and Anieke through mutual friends and over the years the subject of collaboration came up. 'What really appeals to me about the Vij5 collection is the playfulness and that you immediately see the interest in 'making'. The products are all made by designers with a passion for that, which results in unique items. What I also really appreciate about Vij5 is the small scale, I like personal contact.'

"I enjoy puzzling together, brainstorming takes me further."

Max Lipsey

The Vij5 collection and "making

'As a designer, I am very much focused on creating, that is, making. Marketing products is a completely different story, I don't like that commercial part. Arjan can do that very well, he thinks very sharp and businesslike. It feels good to me to outsource that part to someone who is much better at it than I am. I also appreciate the choices Arjan and Anieke make for the products in the Vij5 collection. They have an eye for it and good taste.'

Putting the puzzle together

It has already been mentioned several times in this interview series; there is a great challenge in making design producible. 'I like to work together in that development process and I have found a good match with Vij5. Arjan knows the technical side very well and he and Anieke have good addresses and partners in their network. I enjoy puzzling together, brainstorming brings me further.'

Suppliers in the area

Max's preference for direct forms of social interaction and short lines is also reflected in the fact that he works almost exclusively with suppliers in the vicinity. 'I like working with local companies, and preferably small ones. I appreciate the social aspect of that and also the fact that I don't have to travel far. Besides, in terms of sustainability, it is of course much better to limit yourself to your own environment where possible.'

Art and utensil

The products Max makes occupy the middle ground between art and utility items. The Tempered Steel Panels that have been part of the Vij5 collection since 2019 are a great example of this. They can function as a magnetic board, but unused they are like a painting on the wall and add atmosphere to the space in which they hang.

Firing in the backyard

Max usually uses his gas burner in the back garden of his workshop. 'The shed where I work is adjacent to a residential building, so the neighbours sometimes come to see what I'm doing. I can understand that, because a gas burner makes quite a bit of noise, compare it to a hot air balloon. As far as I know, they don't see it as a nuisance but rather find it interesting. It's not as if I'm burning for hours every day, I make more than just the steel objects, you know. I also use a lot of wood and experiment with different materials. I do that by taking them in my hand and feeling and trying what can be done with them. This is how my designs are created.'

Products from Max Lipsey in the Vij5 collection