In the 1960’s German toy designer Renate Müller attended Sonneberg’s Polytechnic for Toy Design. There, lessons about the Bauhaus and Friedrich Fröbel’s (1782-1852) pioneering ideas on childhood education taught her to always use simple materials and simple forms, for the best understanding of children. Encouraged by her teacher Helene Haeusler she started to design hand-crafted toys that could be used therapeutically by children with physical and mental disabilities. Müller created large stuffed animals –alligators, rhinos, elephants, hippos, seals - made of jute with coloured leather accents. These animals were used to enhance orthopedic exercises and balance coordination, as well as for sensory stimulation and hand-eye coordination. They debuted at the 1967 Leipzig Trade Fair and were tested (and deemed successful) by German psychiatric hospitals and clinics.
Designed to lead a hard life, to be actively played with and climbed on by children, the big animals are essentially pieces of furniture. They have an internal wood structure and they are stuffed with “wood wool” (fresh wood shavings).
The combination of pedagogical value with a recognisable aesthetics of simple solid shapes and colours and appealing contrasting textures make Muller’s animals very attractive.
Since our background is in art – we both studied Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam – our inspiration mostly comes from artists. We admire, for example, the colourful and playful works by Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder and Joan Míro, but also the simple and bold shapes from the Bauhaus movement, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Serra. In general you could say we are always looking for simple shapes and colours disguising a world of imagination and adventure.
But it is not only art we look at, we also come across so many beautiful toys and other designs that in one way or another inform our work. From today on every now and then we will share something that inspires us.
Let's start with a classic: Bauhaus Bauspiel (1923) by Alma Siedhoff-Buscher. During her training at Bauhaus, Siedhoff-Buscher designed this building game as part of the children’s room in the model house “Am Horn” in Weimar (Germany), built for the first exhibition of work by the Bauhaus design school in 1923. Afterwards the game was produced in different versions in the Bauhaus workshops. The Swiss company Naef has been producing this historic item as a replica since 1977. It is beautiful how Siedhoff-Buscher managed to carve a set of simple shapes from just two pieces of wood, which offer endless possibilities to create all sorts of imaginative buildings, boats, funny people and strange creatures.
Recently we saw this enormous whale made of five tons of plastic waste swimming in the ocean. With this project, originally made for the Bruges Triënnale but now on display in Utrecht, Architecture and design firm StudioKCA calls attention to the 150 million tons of plastic still swimming out there endangering and killing marine life. A while ago the Plastic Soup Foundation made us fully aware of this huge problem. When we started Kaplum our initial idea was to only work with recycled materials. Unfortunately this turned out to be too difficult, because using recycled fabrics and recycled wood meant that every single piece had to be tested to be in compliance with the European standards for safety on toys. So then we simply went with certified materials. We are constantly trying to improve our products. At the moment this means that we are doing a lot of research on eco-friendly materials, in particular for our soft toys (fabrics and filling). It will take some time, but hopefully in the not so distant future we will be able to present our very first completely plastic free collection of soft toys!