Géraldine Calbert gives materials a second life

02.11.2015 - Dries Tack

Loving care and wood

Géraldine Calbert is a talented Belgian designer who gives materials a second life, with ingenuity and sensitivity… but that's not all she does. Her creations, which are both functional and artistic, are produced in Belgium.

Géraldine Calbert comes from the Ardennes region of Belgium. She grew up in Lavacherie, near Saint Hubert – a forested region where it's not difficult to know about and love wood. As soon as she finished art school, Géraldine knew she wanted to compose in space. She hesitated about which medium to use: "I considered graphic design and interior design. I've always been fascinated by objects and interior decoration. I also wanted to do a manual job. So I enrolled at La Cambre and studied environmental design and interior design." Wood featured prominently in her graduation project. This was her first opportunity to experiment with "upcycling" – finding and transforming materials that would otherwise have ended up in the dustbin. "I created lights with reclaimed wood that I found on building sites: beams that had been thrown away even though they were still usable. I made my objects in a carpentry shop. I stayed there for another year, learning techniques for working with wood and how to use the machines."

The new and the old

Géraldine Calbert continued her upcycling in her Brussels studio, working collaboratively with Oxfam and Les Petits Riens, among others. However, she refused to restrict herself to one type of work and loves nothing better than blending genres and materials. "I didn't want my creations to be 100% recycled at any cost. I also like mixing the new with the old. For example, I will use the legs of broken tables and chairs and put new tops on them. Sometimes people are surprised by the price of my furniture. But finding the right pieces and rehabilitating them takes quite some work. It's not just DIY! It requires a certain savoir-faire."

The small and the big

Combining new and old, creating furniture and small homewares. This young designer feels at ease in all areas. "I've produced quite a few marquetry tables. I make my compositions from what's around me and, if it inspires me, I go for it. I work intuitively, instinctively. And it's nice to be good at several different things."  Tables, children's hangers, plant holders, bread boards… Géraldine makes all of these and her clients discover them via social networks, word of mouth and a few boutiques in Brussels. "I've worked several times with Brussels Design September. That has helped people discover my work.  My collaboration with Les Petits Riens also had a good impact. People saw those works and commissioned furniture from me. I make custom pieces in these cases. I go to the person's home, I listen carefully to them and immerse myself in their world.  I then show them various sketches, we talk about them, and we revise them until the piece is exactly as the client wants. 

Made in Belgium

Currently, Géraldine's small homewares can be found on her site, on her Facebook page and in three sales outlets in Brussels. "My creations are made in Belgium, in the Ardennes. That's very important to me. As far as distribution is concerned, I'm taking it step by step. I'm seeing how my pieces are presented in the shops, I'm testing and adapting.  For example, my hanging baskets are displayed with plants in them. This enables people to immediately understand the object and it accentuates its artistic dimension. In the medium term, I would like to extend my distribution much further, to Mons, for example, or Antwerp. I'm also thinking about opening an e-shop.  But I don't want to rush things.  My studies at La Cambre were based on the creative and the conceptual. That opens your mind and builds character – you have to juggle ideas. But we're not prepared for working freelance afterwards. How do you make contacts? How do you write an effective mailshot? You learn on the job." Géraldine Calbert is meticulous about the way her objects are displayed. She enjoys working with the photographer Julien Hayard. His pictures help Géraldine to understand her objects in several ways and to see how they "live" in different situations. She says: "Multiplying the perspectives allows you to evolve."

Website: geraldinecalbert.com

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