The Veneer - a magazine by Decospan

Timelessness and warmth

Timelessness and warmth

You will find inspiration in the most ordinary places, in the view of Thomas Ostyn of the Obumex family business. But the goal is always the same: to design something that will withstand the test of time.

Thomas Ostyn cycled around the Provence a few years ago. It was hot and he stopped at one point to take his breath. His gaze was suddenly drawn by something lying on the ground. It turned out to be a piece of wood, naturally weathered into a chequered pattern that Thomas had never seen before. He immediately picked up the piece, determined to reproduce the unusual colour. “It has become one our best-selling shades,” Thomas says. He relates the anecdote to indicate how inspiration can be found anywhere, provided that you are open to it. Certainly his eye has been trained professionally to notice that sort of thing. Thomas is responsible for the R&D department at Obumex, an interior design company in Staden, Belgium. When his grandfather Eli Ostyn established the company in 1960 it produced furniture for schools. More than half a century later Obumex specialises in home kitchens and interiors, in Belgium and abroad. Thomas has been working for the company for the past five years, although he had learned to love the business since infancy. “I was brought up with it,” he says. “If I go in anywhere and see a piece of furniture or detail that interests me, I’ll look at it more closely. My parents are just the same. But that is the way that inspiration works. You try to come into contact with as many things as possible. You get good ideas from living, not from reading magazines or searching online.”

“ You must dare to experiment.”Thomas Ostyn

Over the years Obumex has evolved a design philosophy based on five pillars: timelessness, clean lines, warm materials, functionality and sustainability. These parameters have to be present in each design and are always tested. “Our aim is to place a timeless object in people’s homes, a design that remains equally beautiful after 10 years,” Thomas explains. “We work with veneer and certain natural stones a lot, because they radiate a certain exclusivity and warmth. In this way you create a homeliness that people feel good in.”

“If the customer’s back here five years later, we’ve done something wrong.”

At that level wood is an underestimated raw material, he believes. Natural stone is very popular, but you express precisely the same with wood. The only problem is that no one considers this, and the average Belgian knows just three types of wood. “If you investigate the material more closely, you will discover an incredibly rich and versatile world full of hidden treasures,” he says. “But you have to be involved, test things out, invest. Some people fly to Carrara in Italy to select marble. Wood deserves the same attention. Take Macassar Ebony, plain sliced. That is really top class. But to find something like that you have to take the trouble, to wait until a trunk is thick enough. You must also dare to experiment. For example we’ve sandblasted walnut, and the result is magnificent.”

The clean lines then help to supersede the transience. Obumex aims to be able to stand by its designs after 30 years, and then you have to strive not to follow trends blindly. “Our idea of a luxury product is something that stands the test of time,” Thomas says. “At the moment everyone wants Mortex and cranes painted black. But you know that the cranes will flake off after five to 10 years, just as in the 1980s, and then you can replace everything. We try to explain this to the customers and to present them with alternatives. Stainless steel with a special coating, for instance.”

The clear lines of Obumex have led to working with renowned architects in Belgium and abroad. John Pawson, Joseph Dirand, Charles Zana, Daskal & Laperre, Nicolas Schuybroek - the list is impressive. Working alongside professionals of that calibre means you immediately see how they have earned their reputation, Thomas says. “They have a clear vision and do not deviate from it. Within their field they are very innovative, but they stick to their principles. It’s not stubbornness. They have simply thought about it for a long time and drawn clear conclusions. The principles are then the power behind the design.”

Thomas Ostyn - Obumex