Marjolein Delhaas is a Dutch designer whose passion for office supplies has turned the light back on her graphic design work. The two are inextricably intertwined. Twelve years ago she started to bind blank books by hand. It was to experiment. “But now if I think thoroughly, there might have always been a modest dream of creating my own line of office items,” she says. “Since I can remember I have been pasting and glueing paper. I can remember my mama always saying, ‘give her scissors and a pile of magazines and she’ll be over the moon’, if someone asked what to give me for my birthday. So it seems like it was obvious I ended up doing what I do today, but funny enough it wasn’t that clear to me at all.”
Growing up she wasn’t aware of careers in fields such as graphic design. “Maybe because professions in the design industry weren’t that obvious as they are today,” she says. “I suppose there was less information available. It was before commercial television and programs like ‘how to become world’s best stylist, fashion designer’.” Instead Marjolein studied drawing and art history. “Through those lessons I discovered a different world, and got introduced to schools where you could learn to draw all day long,” she says. “The idea of that gave me great inner peace and I followed that feeling.”
After Marjolein started her own studio in 2006, she started to create and bind books. When they sold well, her side project soon turned into a serious business. But she is conscious of keeping it manageable, and focussed on design rather than sales. Since creating the range she’s had offers to design books and bespoke office products though.
While Marjolein has ideas to develop new items - pieces that she cannot find - they have to be based on her design criteria. “Meaning the right functionality combined with that certain radiance of bold but refined typography, white space and the tactile feel of paper,” she says. But Marjolein doesn’t want to feel pressured to create new products. “I want to develop an item when I think it adds something new to my portfolio, to my work as a graphic designer,” she says.
“The fact that ‘stationery’ has become a real trend in the last two to three years makes it easier to decide to stay small. I am not fond of trends, they come and go and I don’t want to be labelled as a stationery designer. In one way the success of my planner/s may be partially to thank for this trend, but on the other hand it was appreciated long before paper goods became mainstream.”
Which five words best describe you? A person full of contrasts.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I got the chance to take a good look in the kitchen by taking the job that I was offered after art school. And another one after that. Learning on the spot, in real time while working on projects that I knew I would not be able to do straight away if I had started on my own. I made books, and worked for both commercial and cultural clients. Being opinionated, becoming eager to do it all myself, learning about my weak spots and what I do best, developing a specialism, and thinking I could do it better, resulted in working for myself. Of course, looking back now and then and seeing how stubborn I was at that time makes me realise how patient the ones I worked with were. But it was exactly that what brought me to where I am today.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? That in the end it is just another job - you can do the job from 9 to 5 and in 4 or 5 days a week if you want or must: the pressure of a deadline can even help to force yourself to focus. It is a lot about time management and daring to say no. In my head I am always “on”, but that is the passion for what I do. I do a lot of overtime, but mostly because I haven’t been focussed when I needed to be or something in the planning changed. Not because it is a “must do” to get better results or “inherent to the business” as someone once told me. Time off is so important, to empty your head and make space for new ideas.
What’s your proudest career achievement? To be able to earn my own living with what I love to do most. Maybe it sounds a bit corny, but it’s true. Nothing is worth more coming home with a smile on your face and a satisfied feeling. Regardless if it pays good or if it has a huge career perspective; do what you love! I believe if you are truly passionate about something and work on it, it’ll at least help you to pay the rent and eat, but it will probably give you more than that.
What’s been your best decision? Finding an office outside my home before having kids. Although I still dream of a studio next to my house – with a separate entrance. I love dreams…
Who inspires you? People who stick to their own path. Stay true to their dreams and follow them. Focussed, concentrated and committed. Able to keep their work downsized, to the essence.
What are you passionate about? Letters, paper, ink and bound paper, in many forms. I can fall in love with stacks of paper. Also I am a true office supply geek, but probably superfluous by now to say.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? No one in particular that I can think of. I am not good in placing people on a pedestal. I have my icons, people I admire, but no special wishes to meet them. Over the past couple of years I have met a lot of inspiring people. I wish that to continue.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Having a tiny house close to the sea - with that small next door office.
What are you reading? With two kids, the youngest being 22 months, reading is still a bridge too far. But we might be at a turning point as I managed to read 350 pages last month of Purity – a book by Jonathan Franzen. Gifted by a dear friend and very cherished, as it forced me to read something else besides - too many - emails.