A stool is the simplest piece of furniture you can make. I think that’s why designers are so drawn to them: A stool is a tabula rasa, a generic blank slate, with all the structural complexity of a cinder block. Over the past year we’ve written about stools made of ocean refuse, animal bones, and magnetic fragments. Now, a Dutch designer named Joost Gehem has put an uncanny spin on the typology: Gehem makes stools from dead people’s belongings.
To be fair, the one-line description of Gehem’s seating collection is a little sensational. In fact, the Eindhoven native uses all kinds of unwanted belongings, some of them coming from the estates of the deceased, others coming from repossessed homes. "135,000 deaths, 32,000 divorces, 10,000 bankruptcies, and thousands of hospitalizations occur each year," he explains, talking only about the Netherlands. "Many household inventories are left without a home. If heirs and dealers have no interest in the household goods, they usually end up in the local dump."
So Gehem has given them a de facto home. He buys up unwanted items and transports them to his studio (aka the Transformation and Distribution Centre for Abandoned Household Items). Then he stuffs or grinds them down to fill a simple three-legged stool mold, using an industrial machine to apply extreme pressure until they take the form of the mold. "Your old inventory gets a fresh new start," Gehem adds. "The Centre infuses new life into the cycle of collecting and throwing away." His first stool came from the 1960s interior of an apartment owned by a couple—the wife had passed away, and the husband was moving to an assisted living home. "Their son sold the complete interior because there was no place to store it," he explains. "I told him my idea and he liked it." Because Gehem can sell the resulting stools, he makes a profit—which he uses to fund his next round of purchases.
Gehem even accepts commissions for the stools, meaning that if you’ve recently come into some vintage cookware or plastic toys that you aren’t ready to throw away (but can’t use), he’ll make a stool for you. Whether or not it’s respectful to sit on your great-grandpappy’s snuff box collection? That’s a matter of personal taste. "Some people think it’s about recycling or up-cycling," he adds. "The process comes from some pretty intense life events. Things that happen all over the world. What I find important is that I can relieve the owner of an object in a fitting way and create a new, usable product. [It’s] a life cycle. That’s my first priority."
More on Gehem’s work is here.