Sabine Marcelis

say hi to_ Sabine Marcelis

If you haven't yet heard the name 'Sabine Marcelis' in design circles, be prepared to be blown away with this ambitions and fiercely innovative young designer from Rotterdam. When we were first introduced to Etage Projects Design Gallery in Copenhagen, we had the pleasure of discovering some of our favourite and most innovative global designers, Sabine being at the forefront of that.

I still remember when I saw her 'Voie Lamps' series for the first time and had to more or less literally pick my chin off of the floor. If only the design fairy one day surprises me with one of these lamps, I will die happy. In my somewhat subjective opinion, Sabine is one of the design world's brightest rising stars. Her subtly sophisticated, playful and innovative furniture and design objects are redefining the usage of glass, resin and neon lights.

Voilà, come see how this young designer has quickly navigated her way through the contemporary design scene with her eponymous studio.


January 14, 2015

length of read
6 minutes


| Kristen | Please Introduce yourself_

| Sabine | This is always tricky… especially if that person doesn’t work within the field. I usually explain that I make ‘stuff’; I create products, installations and interior objects where there is always a strong focus on materiality.

Splitting my time between free work which is sold through galleries, and commissioned work for commercial clients.

I find it crucial to be able to work on projects where there is a direct application for the work, and then on the contrast being more experimental and radical in my free work. I often work closely together with manufacturing professionals to realise projects and intervene in the production process - offering a fresh aesthetic vision.


| Kristen | What is a typical day at work for you?

| Sabine | To be honest, every day is really very different depending on the projects I am working on. I travel a lot.  Sometimes I am hardly in my studio at all and strictly working with companies on location. Other times I am a slave to my computer - those days are the hardest!


The Beginning

| Kristen | What did your parents do? How big of a role did that play in your life? Did it influence you in one way or another? What about another family member?

| Sabine | My dad is an engineer and my mother a speech therapist, so naturally both my sister and I became designers :) (joking).

As kids we were always encouraged to be creative. They never wanted any purchased presents for their birthdays for example, but always something we had made ourselves. My dad is also a walking encyclopedia, so I definitely credit my interest in production methods and how things are made to my dad as he was always explaining how things worked when I was younger.

I don’t think my parent’s professions necessarily influenced me so much into becoming a designer, but their attitude and lifestyle has. They also travel a lot and nothing is a big deal to them, they take things as they come and do whatever they want and have always been super supportive of anything we wanted to do also.

When my sister started studying design and I was seeing the kinds of things she was doing, I knew I also wanted to do that and followed in her footsteps.

| Kristen | Did you go to university to study what you are doing now? If so, did you think it was necessary to get to where you are today?

| Sabine | I started my studies at Victoria University of Wellington, school of architecture and Design in New Zealand studying industrial design. After two years I got itchy feet and wanted some more freedom in my work so I transferred to Design Academy Eindhoven to finish my studies there.

In a way I feel like I got the best of both worlds. -The technical and practical knowledge from industrial design and the conceptual but also very independent way of working taught at Design Academy. I think it was crucial to have those skills to be able to start out for myself. But to be honest, I have learned more in this past three years than pretty much my entire life, so studying was definitely only the beginning…

One of the most important parts of studying has been the friends made during my studies. Everyone is working in different fields in different parts of the world now and its great to be able to work together on certain projects, utilising each others networks and connections.


| Kristen | Did you have any odd jobs along the way? Did any of those influence you at all or did you learn things there that come into play now?

| Sabine | I always worked in hospitality from the age of 16 until my last year of studies at Design Academy. From cocktail waitressing in America, silver-service dining in New Zealand, to bar-tending on alcoholics in The Netherlands and everything in between. I think being exposed to so many different kinds of people as your customer has made me very flexible and patient when dealing with people. It is comparable to the variety of people I deal with now in the different industry sectors and has also made me realise not to judge people too fast, which I am thankful for.


The Business

| Kristen | Was there any advice that you received that stuck with you and created an ‘AHA’ moment that influenced you as a creative, professional or influenced the next moves you made afterwards?

| Sabine | The simple fact that sometimes, ‘It doesn’t matter’. When you are so submerged in a project and perfectionistic about it, you tend to not see things clearly anymore at times. When there is an outsider perspective telling you a tiny detail is not that important, it’s easier to realise that actually, yeah it doesn’t matter.

Also, realising that things which can go wrong will go wrong. And this is ok. It happens to everyone working for themselves constantly.

| Kristen | Have you had some kind of mentor to help you get started so quickly?

| Sabine | Not a mentor per se, but many inspirational people influence me constantly.

FOS (Thomas Poulsen), a Danish artist I started working with soon after graduating gave me a lot of responsibilities and put a lot of trust in me from the very beginning which helped me believe in my work. A few key people putting so much trust in me very early on definitely helped me to be confident and just go for it.

| Kristen | A lot of creatives are worried they won’t be able to support themselves. When did you start really making money and how long did it take?

| Sabine | For me it was a matter of not putting all of my eggs in one basket. I started my studio straight after finishing my studies, but in the first few years I was not so much focusing on my own free work but instead freelancing for artists and fashion designers to help realise projects which required product design/development, technical assistance and production.

I did part-time teaching at the Willem De Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, and small competitions here and there. There were several sources of income which took away the pressure to earn money from my own work. It is only in recent years that my own projects are fully supporting me financially.


| Kristen | How did you know what to charge the first time you had a client?

| Sabine | I totally didn’t and I completely undercharged for sure. I think it is very difficult to realise that when you do something you love and which feels easy and natural to do, it is actually worth something.

"Keeping an open dialogue with colleagues and designers who are much more established has helped gauge along the way what is reasonable to charge and how the whole mark-up system works when dealing with shops and galleries."

Keeping an open dialogue with colleagues and designers who are much more established has helped gauge along the way what is reasonable to charge and how the whole mark-up system works when dealing with shops and galleries.

| Kristen | A lot of creatives are blessed with their ideas and talent but don’t know where to start when it comes to the business, accounting and PR side of things. Was this hard for you when you went out on your own?

| Sabine | I'm still winging it, seriously. But slowly getting more and more professional. I do have an accountant and a financial adviser as this side of the business is just waaaay too complex to fully understand myself. Its also pointless to try to be a specialist at all sides of the business. I know my strengths and administration is certainly not one of them.

| Kristen | What was the hardest?

| Sabine | Learning how and when to put your foot down; being stern with suppliers when the quality is not what you had expected for example. It is in my character to keep everyone happy, but you actually have to get a little angry sometimes to get things done properly. That was challenging for sure. Now it is more learning to say ‘no’, as I just want to take on all exciting projects which come my way, but sometimes this is not the smartest move.

| Kristen | Was there a moment when something really encouraged you not to give up?

| Sabine | The idea of having a 9-5 job.


Foreign Living

| Kristen | You’re originally from New Zealand but have permanently settled in The Netherlands. What is different about the two countries in terms of creative life, work culture and ethic? What’s the art world like in New Zealand?

| Sabine | I was actually born in the Netherlands, then immigrated to New Zealand with my family when I was 10 in 1996. And moved back to the Netherlands again in 2008. My family however still live in New Zealand.

I think the main difference is logistics actually. New Zealand is very isolated. There are a lot of very talented creatives working in New Zealand, but I think it is much more difficult to work internationally when you are based in New Zealand. Everything is soooo far away. Exporting and importing becomes much more expensive and showing work at the important fairs is a way bigger mission than when you are based in Europe. I have a lot of respect for those who make it work!


Young and Hungry

| Kristen | Do you have any advice for other young aspiring artists who try to put themselves out there?

| Sabine | Be authentic, work hard and be nice to people. Always.


"Be authentic, work hard and be nice to people. Always."


| Kristen | Do you think that talent can make up for a lack of experience, or the other way around?

| Sabine | I think when you are young and naive you can do so much! As I am getting more experience and being confronted with other sides of this business like the legal side; liability etc I look back at when I first started and realise I should never ever have taken on the projects I did so blindly.  I was very hungry to take on projects with big clients. Many things could have gone wrong and then there would have been huge consequences I was never even aware of at the time. Luckily nothing major ever did go wrong..

I think when you have no big personal responsibilities yet like family or a mortgage, it is easier to take big leaps of faith and just go for things boldly and blindly. There is nothing to lose plus you are not yet tainted by disappointments or wanting to play thing safe due to risks etc. Being a young designer has its advantages like that. And of course everything is a learning curve and with every project you become better and more knowledgeable and that's very exciting and rewarding.


| Kristen | Did you ever feel like you were at a disadvantage because of your age?

| Sabine | When I started teaching I was worried I would not be able to command respect because a few students were even older than me, but I guess they never actually realised my age… In the beginning I mainly felt disadvantaged by being a girl actually. I constantly work with industry sectors which are dominated by very manly-men who assume I’m doing hobby arts ’n crafts at home. Its kinda satisfying when I can surprise them that this is not exactly the case.

| Kristen | Social Media is a major tool in advertising and representing yourself and your work nowadays, and a good knowledge of how to deal with the internet is becoming more and more important in business. Do you think that your age is a factor in terms of self-advertising? Would you say you are more comfortable using the internet as a business tool than people who didn’t grow up with it?

| Sabine | Sure, But at the same time I know a lot of people from older generations using the internet super effectively. I think its more a matter of how comfortable you are with a bit of shameless self promotion.


The Work

| Kristen | What do you have in the pipeline now?

| Sabine | The past year I have been working on the surface design of a luxury store, developing new materials for the interior. The store will open in early 2016 and I cannot wait to see it finished in its full glory!

I'm am also currently working on the interior of a restaurant, new projects for a few different galleries and new commissioned pieces of the dawn light series.


| Kristen | You’ve done a collaboration with Brit van Nerven. How did that come about? Do you normally collaborate together or do you plan to in the future?

I collaborate quite often with either manufacturing professionals, other designers or engineers. I think projects can become much more interesting and successful when you have the right partner in crime.

Brit and I were actually living together at the time when she was invited to show new work at Dutch Design week 2013. We were discussing it and how it would be cool to do something with reflections. Seeing as I had experience with laminating glass from my graduation project and had already been working with this great glass specialist in the Netherlands for a few years on other projects, we decided to pursue the project together, using the production capabilities of the glass specialist. The project is still forever evolving and we add new versions of the different mirrors to the collection on a regular bases.


Sabine Marcelis and Brit van Nerven


| Kristen | Where do you want to go with your career in the future?

| Sabine | I think it’s really interesting to work on projects which have a direct application, and I would like to do more site-specific projects like interiors and installations. Developing new material combinations and working together with architects to apply them in spaces.

But at the same time also working with galleries on more experimental pieces which can demand their own space. The combination of the two is very important to me.



| Kristen | Can you recommend one person that you know from any other creative discipline who has an amazing story that's worth sharing?

| Sabine | Ben Young
We grew up together in the same tiny village with 4000 residents in New Zealand (his younger sister being my best friend). He is a self-taught artist making amazing glass sculptures.



Best coffee in Rotterdam?
Man met Bril. which is actually a fact. It recently won an award for being the ‘best coffeehouse’ in the Netherlands even.

Best place to get a drink in Rotterdam?
I love going to the Aloha Bar which is situated in the old Tropicana building. It was once a big water-attraction park which got abandoned. Now a super nice bar, specialising in Gin cocktails opened there which has pretty much the best view in all of Rotterdam and all around great atmosphere.

Hotel you would stay in if you were not living in Rotterdam?
I once lost a bet against my boyfriend and had to pay for a night in the Nhow Hotel situated in ‘the Rotterdam’. It’s a super impressive building with an equally great view.

Best unknown shop?
Damage playground.

Up and coming talent?

Best place to take clients in Rotterdam?
Either BAR or FG food labs, depending on the type of client.

Resources to help you with your career? (if you are living in Rotterdam and a starting designer -this shop fosters everything creative coming out of Rotterdam, selling only items designed by Local creatives)


Thank You Sabine!