Frou Frou Sweatshop? Designer Puts His Little Kids To Work Making $3,500 Cabinets

It’s cute! And legal!

Dutch designer Lucas Maassen has a furniture factory in Eindhoven that sounds like something out of an Upton Sinclair novel. The factory is run primarily by his three sons Thijme, Julian, and Maris. Respectively, they’re 9, 7, and 7. But wait: It’s legal!


Dutch child labor laws let the boys work up to 3 hours a week. So, each Tuesday, instead of watching TV or playing with their toys like all those lazy kids, they schlep into Maassen & Sons, and get to work painting dad’s furniture (assorted wooden chairs and cabinets and mirrors) in cheery colors for 1 Euro a pop.

It might sound like a gimmick–a devilishly cute way to sell a few chairs in a crap economy–except that for the Maassen family, the project has served a deeper purpose: It has helped the boys develop an enviable work ethic. “They take the work very seriously,” Maassen tells Co.Design. They even signed employee contracts, which stipulate things like when the work day starts (3 p.m.), how long of a break they’re allowed (15 minutes), and how many vacation days they’re entitled to (12, depending on how long they’ve been employed).

“They love doing it,” Maassen says. “They think it’s great to work in the family business.” Certainly, they don’t mind the extra cash. Maassen forbids them from spending more than 6 minutes on each piece, which means that they can breeze through 30 units and earn 30 Euros a week. Big money! (Maybe that explains why, as Maassen says, “all their friends want to join the company as well.”) The downside, though, is that the quality of the work suffers some. Each of the boys might have the income of someone twice his age, but his paint jobs look every bit like the stuff of a 7-year-old, and charmingly so.

Prices range from $750 for a chair to $ 3,500 for a large cabinet. Email for purchasing and shipping info.

[Images courtesy of Lucas Maassen]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.