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Paul Coenen folds single sheet of steel to form furniture “that can last a generation”

Designer Paul Coenen has opened up his workshop in Eindhoven as part of Dutch Design Week to display a collection of monobloc furniture and homeware, made from stainless steel without the need for coatings, adhesives or fastenings.

Instead, the standardised sheet metal is folded into shape to form three seating designs, a mirror and table lamp, which are currently on show as part of the Tell Me I’m Pretty group exhibition in Eindhoven’s Sectie-C warehouse district.

Camber stool and SST mirror by Paul Coenen at DDW
Paul Coenen is exhibiting a collection of steel furniture and homeware at Dutch Design Week
“All my work from the last two years is made entirely from one material,” Coenen told Dezeen. “When I have complete freedom I get lost in all the possibilities, so I like to give myself some limitations.”

“Sheet metal comes in certain standard sizes and the machines that work with sheet metal all have their limitations,” he added. “Within these limitations, I like to create something new.”

Closeup of Cambio chair at DDW
Each of the pieces is made from one sheet of metal
Coenen’s process begins by playing with sheets of paper to visualise – on a smaller, less labor-intensive scale – how he could fold the metal into functional design pieces.

The resulting pattern is then transposed onto a sheet of stainless steel much like a sewing pattern, before being bent into shape using a combination of manual force and an industrial brake press.

“It’s like a conversation between what the machine can do and what I can do myself,” Coenen explained.

Steel bench by Paul Coenen
The pieces are sanded rather than finished with a chemical coating
Sanding helped to produce a soft matte, almost opalescent finish for the as-yet-unnamed lamp prototype, as well as for the Camber chair, stool and bench.

To create the SST mirror, the metal was simply polished to a high shine so that it can reflect its surroundings.

“I like the idea that you can make this mirror from one material in one piece,” Coenen said. “So the reflection goes around the corner all the way to the back where you have the hanging system.”

Cambio stool at Dutch Design Week
They are bent into shape using a mixture of manual labor and industrial machinery
Also on show as part of Dutch Design Week (DDW) are some of Coenen’s older pieces, including the Tension shelf and side table. These are also made entirely from stainless steel but consist of multiple pieces, including a curved metal sheet pieced by several shelves.

Although steel has a notoriously high carbon footprint, Coenen believes that the material offers superior durability and thus a longer lifespan than aluminum and other metals.

Solar Buddies solar lighting system by Zahra Ghiasi, Jason Pi and Lucien Tirou of Lund University
Lund University students design solar-powered lights to reduce our reliance on the grid
“I know that steel is not the right material to use, it’s not a clean process,” he said. “But I believe that, with all of my products, if you treat them well they will still be there in 200 years.”

“I want to create pieces that can last a generation,” he added. “I try not to follow trends, so they look like they could’ve been designed 20 years ago but also 20 years from now.”

SST mirror edge by Paul Coenen
The SST mirror is made entirely of stainless steel
Tell Me I’m Pretty also features work by three other Dutch design firms that share the same workshop and showroom as Coenen.

Among the other participants are sculptural designer Onno Adriaanse, Tijs Gilde’s Studio Guilty and local designer Tim Teven, whose squashed Pressure vases and Tube seats explore the possibilities of working with steel from a different angle.

Tension shelf made from stainless steel
Also being presented is Coenen’s tension series
“Tell Me I’m Pretty is a bit satirical,” Coenen explained. “When we were designing the expo, we thought about how we can create a space that is nice to be photographed for Instagram – because it’s very important obviously.”

“So we thought let’s make fun of the whole idea by saying: look at us designers, tell us we are pretty because we’re insecure.”

Exterior shot of tell me I’m pretty exhibition at DDW
The pieces are on show as part of the Tell Me I’m Pretty group exhibition
Other standout projects from this year’s DDW year include a collection of solar-powered lights designed by students from Lund University to reduce our reliance on the grid and a photovoltaic canopy from V8 Architects that marks the end of the Solar Biennale.


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