Alice Garbarini Hurley | Where are your roots?
Jan van der Lande | I was raised in a very small village in the Netherlands in an area called the ‘Achterhoek’ (means ‘behind the corner’). It is in the East, near the German border – mostly farmland, with a lot of cows. After studying at an agricultural school, I applied to six colleges in the U.S. Because I could not find a job, I went to Australia, where I worked picking apples. I was 25. One day, my father wrote me a letter telling me I had received a scholarship to Manhattan College’s Environmental Engineering Master’s Program in New York. So I packed my stuff and moved here.
AGH | I read that the Kikkerland name translates to frogland, a nickname for the Netherlands. Why that nickname?
JL | Holland is a small country and most of the time, it is wet. Just like frogs.
AGH | Do you still have family there?
JL | Yes, our family in the Netherlands is very close. I travel to Holland about six times a year. Kikkerland has an office in Rotterdam that I need to check on. I always go and visit my father, who is now in his nineties and in excellent shape. I have five brothers and one sister, and the entire family, aunts, uncles and children, come together once a year at Easter. It is always at a different place and we all bring food and drinks.
AGH | Are you an artist at heart?
JL | I do not consider myself an artist or designer. I look at myself as an entrepreneur who takes someone’s work and ideas and creates a market for it. My feeling in art and design may come from my father. He was also a businessman, but in his free time he was a painter. He taught us drawing and sketching, and he had profound opinions about art.
AGH | You raised three children on your houseboat. Do you and your family stay on it even in thunderstorms, blizzards and heat waves?
JL | Yes. My wife, Kazumi Hayama, and I raised our children on our boat year round through every season. In the summer, when it’s super hot in New York City, it’s actually pleasant being on the water, having a nice breeze going through the boat. For winter, we have insulation around the windows and a big 100,000 BTU heater, so it is nice and cozy inside. There was only one occasion when we had to leave, which was during the big snow blizzard in 1993. Three neighboring boats sank because of the storm.
AGH | How did you meet your wife? What is her passion?
JL | We met in college. Kazumi is from Japan and studied Peace. It sounds like a strange study, but is all about different cultures and religions in the world. We met because we were in the same international group. Kazumi also works at Kikkerland. She is in charge of our Asian business and coordinates different departments in our company.
AGH | You ride a bike to work. Do you own a car?
JL | I ride my bike to work every day, through the rain or snowy weather – whether it’s freezing cold or smoldering hot. My friend from Sweden always tells me, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.’ We own a car, but it’s mostly for longer journeys. New York City is perfect for biking.
AGH | Any plans for Kikkerland’s silver anniversary?
JL | Our 25th anniversary was in February 2017. In 1992, I quit my job as an engineer for the City of New York, started Kikkerland, married Kazumi and my first son, Daisuke, was born. It was quite a busy year! This year, we will release three special anniversary products to celebrate prominent designers with whom we’ve had a longtime relationship. All three of us started small and now have respectful businesses. The items are the Young Giant, a frameless picture frame by Hella Jongerius; the playful Loop Magnets by Richard Hutten; and Squarebear, the first Blockbeasts™ wooden toy by David Weeks. The first two are reissues of products we love.
AGH | What are the top three products Kikkerland has introduced over the years?
JL | That would be The Critters (wind-up moving creatures with whimsical names) by Chico Bicalho, The Rainbowmaker® (attaches to window and refracts sunlight to create rainbows) by David Dear and The Solar Queen (a figurine with solar panel on purse that makes the Queen wave) by Chris Collicott. The products are iconic for Kikkerland and keep selling. We like to think of Kikkerland as a place ‘Where creativity runs rampant and even the most utilitarian gadget becomes a delightful discovery.’
AGH | What are your criteria for taking on an artist and his or her product?
JL | The criteria we use is like a business proposition. Not only must the product be well designed, it also should be marketable and can be produced at a reasonable price. We like products that are original and tell a story or have meaning and evoke a positive emotion with the end user.
AGH | The semi-annual Kikkerland catalogs seem almost like artwork. Can people order them?
JL | They are wholesale catalogs for our customers, who are retailers. We don’t sell them. They’re all designed by Pieter Woudt and Alissia Melka-Teichroew. Pieter studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. He now owns his own design studio, Big Bolt Graphics. He also designed and did the branding for Kikkerland. (Our logo consists of a rare letter type from Dutch architect Hendrik Berlage, who lived from 1856 to 1934.) Alissia studied at Design Academy Eindhoven and RISD; she owns and runs her design studio, by AMT.
AGH | Do you have products in permanent museum collections?
JL | Yes, the Bowl B/V by Vincent de Rijk is in the permanent collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. (BV stands for Bart and Vincent. Bart Guldemond and Vincent de Rijk were the designers, but it was Vincent who produced them.) The bowl is very special as it is made of ceramic in combination with polyester resin. The contrast of the glazed ceramic inside with the translucent color outside is stunning. We have Wander Stacking Stools by Ruud-Jan Kokke in the permanent collection of MoMA. They are made of thin airplane plywood and are very light and super-strong at the same time.
AGH | How about Paul Loebach’s handleless teapot? What makes it so popular?
JL | Paul Loebach designed the Ora Teapot two years ago, using double-walled glass. The advantage is that it keeps the tea nice and warm while eliminating the use of a handle. It has an insulating cork lid. Paul designs products that are aesthetically pleasing and can spark an emotion of inspiration within you. The Ora Teapot is good for two servings and costs about $45. There are two accompanying handleless tea cups, sold separately, that are also double-walled glass.
AGH | What about those lamps made from cans? Is environmental design and recycling important to your mission?
JL | Yes. The lamps were designed by Martha Davis and Lisa Krohn. We collected the cans at a local recycling center and then assembled them in the basement of Gallery 91, a design gallery in SoHo, where I worked before Kikkerland. Environmental design is tremendously important. We not only produce well designed products, but also convey the message of a better, greener world. The Critters from Chico Bicalho, for example, move without the use of batteries. From the sales, we have been donating money to reforest an area in Brazil.
I am very proud that we created a forest with more than 300,000 indigenous trees. It provides a habitat not just for plants but also the animals that live in it.
AGH | Where are Kikkerland products sold?
JL | They are sold throughout the world, from Tasmania to Anchorage. We target our products to museum shops and independent specialty stores, but we also sell to bigger stores like Target and department stores – and of course, at kikkerland.com.
AGH | Where is the Kikkerland store?
JL | It’s on Sixth Avenue between 12th and 13th streets in Greenwich Village, on the street level of a typical New York tenement building. We don’t just sell our products there; we also use it to feature local artists, designers and writers. We use the space to exhibit and promote products from the many design challenges we do around the world. These exhibits are a lot of fun and it’s a chance to interact with the local design community and get the word out. Our shopping bag is a canvas reusable bag with a jumping Critter on it. We also sell a reusable shopping bag designed by Lotta Jansdotter, a Scandinavian-born, New York-based designer and style icon.
AGH | What is Kikkerland’s quest?
JL | We operate in a world with a lot of competition. In order to survive, we need to work even faster. It is like a double war. First, we need to be noticed. Then once we are on the radar, we actually have to provide something meaningful and exciting. We are the only company that creates products with a story or meaning. We do this at a very fast pace. It is our vision for Kikkerland to continue to grow as a company by providing products that are better designed and customized for our clients. We do this with passion and delight. It’s important to do something that you really like and at the same time, contribute to others in order for the world to be just a little bit better.
My favorite tea is De Pelikaan Thee, number 5, a black tea with a hint of bergamot. I drink it plain. It comes from a tea shop in Holland that has made it for 200 years.
Cozy restaurant in Amsterdam?
YamYam Trattoria, an Italian restaurant in the Staatslieden neighborhood. They serve the best pizza in the world.
Good restaurant in New York City?
Noho Star. Excellent food and service with original, Memphis-style interior from the eighties.
Hip hotel in the Netherlands?
Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy, designed by 50 artists. They have exhibits all the time.
Frequency of bike tune-ups?
My bike is a hybrid between mountain bike and race type, perfect for New York’s potholes. It is black, light and fast. I put air in my tire after I fix a leak. I pump it to 100 psi, hard but not too hard. I tune the brakes myself, but for parts, I go to the shop.
Rating for NYC bike lanes, from 1 to 10?
Eight. Big improvement.
Blue jeans or khakis?
Meat eater or vegetarian?
I love meat, but thanks to my wife, I eat lots of veggies.
Clover. This little flower provides natural fertilizers for other plants to grow.
All-time favorite film?
Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.”
First paying job?
At a famous game restaurant, serving drinks. I was fired in two hours, for dropping 200 glasses.
Top museum in NYC?
Cooper Hewitt. Less touristy, with great exhibitions.
In the Netherlands?
Kröller-Müller Museum in Park de Hoge Veluwe. It has a great sculpture garden, and the museum is from my favorite architect, Berlage.
Hardest part about living on a houseboat?
Repairing the head when someone threw something foreign in it.
Best part about living on a houseboat?
Taking it out for a run – and the neighbors.
Artist you are passionate about?
Isamu Noguchi, sculptor, designer and architect.
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