The Dinner Party by Scholten & Baijings at LDF

It’s well known that creating a well-designed vignette is the key to displaying furniture – but does the same rule apply to dinnerware? Dutch designers Scholten & Baijings came up with a way to evoke the mood of their collections by crafting a dinner party scene at this year’s London Design Festival. Dijana Kumurdian spoke to co-founder Carole Baijings about the importance of setting the scene.

Scholten & Baijings The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party/True-to-life Design by Dutch duo Scholten & Baijings is intended to look like a party whose guests have stepped outside for some fresh air. Everything from realistic faux food and orchestrated background noise to handbags and crumpled napkins have been meticulously arranged in the Norfolk Music Room at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), showcasing the designers’ new range of chairs, colour porcelain dinnerware for Arita, as well as past collaborations with Hay.

Dijana Kumurdian: How did you come up with the idea for The Dinner Party?

Carole Baijings: The V&A is one of the most beautiful museums we know. However, everything on display is a bit out of context and you need imagination to see how it would have been in the past. The concept for the project was to present our work as if it were in use, i.e.: to show the room and the dinner table as if guests had just left the scene for a short cigarette break.

The V&A is one of our favourites in London, so when we are in this city we always pay a visit to the museum. They have such a splendid collection, with products that were made over the centuries, and all remarkable because of their personal touch. We were asked to design an exhibition to be presented during the London Design Festival. The Norfolk Music Room is one of the earliest examples of a room in a grand house, specifically set aside for music and social gatherings. It was in use in the residence of the Dukes of Norfolk from 1722 until 1938.

Design objects in galleries and museums are frequently displayed on pedestals or in glass cases, but rarely in a setting resembling the everyday living environment for which they were conceived. In the context of the London Design Festival, we decided to turn things around for a change. Or, rather, inside out. We transformed The Norfolk House Music Room in the British Galleries of the V&A Museum, replicating a dinner party in a lived-in home.

We thought that staging a dinner party in this room would be a very credible concept, since the room was originally intended for this purpose and had always been used for these kinds of social gatherings. What we created is a contemporary version of a social gathering as it might have occurred in bygone times.

The visitor enters just seconds after the guests have left to smoke a cigarette in the garden. This unguarded moment can be used to look at the luxurious dinner table and the interior without being disturbed. The music is playing softly…

DK: How did you decide to execute the installation?

CB: The entire set was built in our studio. Real food could not be used, so we had to devise lots of tricks – for example, to keep the champagne sparkling indefinitely.

The table is set with our own products, showing a mixture of the many products we have designed over the years. For example, our cutlery for Royal VKB, items from our Paper Porcelain series, the Colour Wood side tables for Karimoku New Standard, and the new tablecloths for HAY, with our Colour Glass collection.

You can discover different personalities sitting at the table: on one side there is this woman who loves champagne, obviously more than food. She only eats a few lettuce leaves to stay slim, of course! Sitting opposite her is a man who really likes food. He has loaded up his plate with a variety of courses. Next to his plate is his dessert, consisting of cake and espresso. Ready to be enjoyed.

DK: And are you debuting any products?

CB: Our first plastic chair, the Dot Chair, which we designed for HAY, is on display, as well as the newest Block & Grid fabrics for the New York-based textile company Maharam, upholstered on Gelderland’s minimalist bench. This collection consists of two textile designs that fit perfectly together. Block is made of different blocks of colour, that form one colourway. Grid is a real grid on a coloured background that varies in size and thus changes the colour intensity.

DK: What are some other highlights of the installation?

CB: The composers Moritz Gabe and Henning Grambow created a composition exclusively made up of sounds associated with the objects exhibited. The products you see on the dinner table are reverberating in the piece of music heard. The sounds were captured by letting the objects resonate in different ways. In the studio the objects where ‘played’ and processed. Samples of the sounds were converted into digital instruments and added to the composition. In summary, the soundscape can be described as an audible, musical fingerprint of the exposed objects.

DK: How did you make it look like a real dinner party?

CB: Since our ‘Dinner Party’ was on display at the V&A, we were not allowed to use real food, of course. We had designed textile Vegetables, which we exhibited on the table. We also bought beautiful ceramic pieces, like an acorn and our espresso cup, designed for Georg Jensen, was filled with fake coffee. It was a real challenge!

If you display a product out of context, how can people imagine what it will look like in their own home? In that sense, it is a natural way of exhibiting real, functional design products.

DK: What have you got coming up in the near future?

CB: We designed a new tilt table for Hay. When tilted, the table can be placed flat against the wall. Its Dutch origin goes back a long way to the times when living rooms were not nearly as large as they are today. To create more space, people used to fold the table to an upright position. When placed against a wall, the lower part of the table is visible. It’s very attractive looking. In our case, the table has a colour gradient, but in the old days they were sometimes decorated with a painting. Tilt tables give a room a neat look and add a touch of colour.

The Dinner Party/True-to-Life Design by Scholten & Baijings is on show until 22 September at The Norfolk Music Room in the British Galleries.

Words: Dijana Kumurdian
Photography: Inga Powilleit

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