Maker Monday: An Aspire Exclusive Interview With Marie Michielssen

Marie Michielssen finds beauty in contradictions. An artist of many years and throughout several vocations, Michielssen is the House Designer for Serax, a homeware brand born in Belgium. At Serax, Michielssen designs a variety of interior accessories as well as furniture, and in each item she applies an earthy, methodical approach. Her tactics draw from a wealth of experience and a relation to intuition and nature. Her best work combines an assortment of elements, both physical and philosophical. Introducing this week’s Maker Monday, Marie Michielssen.

Marie Michielssen’s Earth collection for Serax molds papier-maché into minimalistic white pots and lamps.

Marie Michielssen’s Earth collection for Serax molds papier-maché into minimalistic white pots and lamps.

Andrew Joseph: Describe your design style as if you were explaining it to someone who cannot see.
Marie Michielssen: A combination of opposites – ratio and intuition, masculine and feminine, graphic and organic. My designs seem interwoven with contradictions and form an eclectic whole.

For my interior accessories, I often start from materials that I can model by hand. The intuition, the gut feeling, often gets the upper hand. My successful Earth collection in papier-mâché is the best example of this. Designing furniture requires a different approach. After all, tables, chairs and stools must be geared to human proportions. First I make sketches, which I build up mathematically. I play with volumes, ovals, circles, beams. The proportions have to be right, in line with the Bauhaus principle. You can see this rational approach in my latest furniture pieces, but also in my Wind & Fire vases.

Andrew: What is something you hope to see trending in design in the future?
Marie: I hope to see more and more sustainable design in people’s homes, moving away from ‘disposable design’. For me, sustainability starts with the design principle of wanting to make something that has a long lifespan. That is so timelessly beautiful and so well made that people want to pass it on. That’s what I’m aiming for. You can only achieve this by examining the quality of the materials. That is why I often end up with natural materials. Of course, we can always do better. It is a continuous process to make production and logistics also more sustainable.

Michielssen offsets warmth with cool in her appropriately named Wind and Fire vases, which are created in a process blending both air and heat.

Michielssen offsets warmth with cool in her appropriately named Wind and Fire vases, which are created in a process blending both air and heat.

Andrew: What would you like to be remembered for?
Marie: As a person, it would be great if people would remember me as somebody who is not afraid to chase a dream and work hard for it, even if it is not the easy road. Early in my career, I traded a secure job in a company for the unknown future of being a self-employed woman. As a designer, I am proud that I have stayed close to my beliefs all those years: creating authentic and affordable design. Even when my more recent furniture collection seems more expensive, it is actually not, considering the amount of work, material and craftsmanship that goes into it.

Andrew: What are three things you can’t live without?
Marie: Love, Passion, Wisdom.

Andrew: How would you describe your personal style?
Marie: In one word: eclectic! My clothing style reflects my personality. I like contrasts and combining new pieces with old jewelry for example. I follow Belgian fashion designers but even more than the label I think it is important that a piece is timeless. In my interior too, I combine various designer pieces with vintage. The heirlooms of my family are very close to my heart.

Andrew: What are you most proud of?
Marie: I can truthfully say that I am a “self-made woman,” and I am quite proud of that. I really started from scratch. I have been lucky enough to combine a beautiful family with professional fulfillment, and I am very proud of my family and how my sons view life. And I am of course proud of my husband Axel and the way he has built Serax into the international company it is today. I was always by his side but it is still his vision and passion that have made Serax successful.

Michielssen’s love of contrast inspires a variety of styles in the shape, material, and tones of her interior accessories.

Michielssen’s love of contrast inspires a variety of styles in the shape, material, and tones of her interior accessories.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Marie: Authentic, Earthy (look and feel both in material and color), Volumes and archetypal shapes: circle, square, rectangle.

Andrew: What might the design world look like in 10 years?
Marie: Hopefully more sustainable. The younger generations are increasingly more knowledgeable about the impact they have as an individual on the environment. A more conscious way of living and consuming will drive the demand for sustainable design solutions. As design becomes mainstream, people are going to want individuality and the special touch that will make their interiors remarkable. And that’s the appeal of authentic original design—many pieces are truly one-of-a-kind, and made with a level of craftsmanship that can be otherwise impossible to find today.

Andrew: What’s inspiring you in life (in the industry) right now?
Marie: Art, Nature, and Spirituality affect my work. when I feel good about myself, my work is also better, more authentic, stronger. In the industry: the quest for sustainability, farming, love of the earth. New materials coming out of the earth and the knowledge of them.

About The Maker | Having previously founded a successful business creating decorative flowerpots, Marie Michielssen began her decades-long career at Serax by happenstance while in search of a wholesaler for her hand painted collections. Initially joining the family-run company as a sales representative, Marie reveled in this opportunity to observe and study consumer behaviors and tastes. This observational knowledge served well in her transition to the design team, where materials and forms are carefully chosen for production and commercialization in an effort to stray from non-functional design that does not serve the end consumer.

Tapping into an inherited, deeply rooted love for beauty, originating from within her own family of fashionable women of class across generations, Marie’s work is connected through a common thread of aesthetics – displayed through her own personal style, her own home as well as the pieces she designs for Serax. Her collections are interwoven with contradictions to form an eclectic whole, a combination of opposites: ration and intuition, masculine and feminine, graphic and organic. With an intrinsic love for architecture and art, Marie draws inspiration from nature – the tonal colors of the earth and natural hues of plaster or clay – which are depicted through her work.

Marie’s iconic interior accessory collections are dreamt up by way of intuition, each creation first molded by hand with pliable materials, guided by her gut feeling and averse to prevailing trends. Meanwhile, her furniture collections require a more mathematical and rational approach, following the Bauhaus principles of functionality and minimalism.

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