You will find plywood in almost all of his designs. It must be about the only constant in the life and work of Nick Bal. His relentless sense of experimentation makes him one of the most interesting interior designers of his generation.
He is startled for a moment when I address him. Lost in his smartphone. "Sorry, YouTubing a bit, getting inspiration," he smiles. Nick Bal's head and hands never stop moving. We agreed to meet in Caffènation, the well-known Antwerp coffee bar for which he designed all the furniture. There are many such places. It seems that every little contemporary coffee or lunch spot manages to find Nick. Soon, one of his works will even open in Mexico. The (early) thirty-something man has grown into a household name in his own city and the surrounding area. Nick Bal is a designer in the most essential sense of the word. Not a designer par excellence; that term does not cover him. But someone who dares to think beyond the purely aesthetic and functional interpretation of an interior. Someone who constantly broadens his own perspective in order to approach every new world he creates from a broader perspective. Tattooing, 3D printing, laser cutting, glass blowing, you name it. He has already sampled almost every craft discipline or construction method. “I have to be able to constantly reinvent and upgrade myself,” he says. “My life is an unending journey of discovery. There is something instructive in every craft. I want to know and be able to do everything. I do not feel like copying myself over and over again. I need to be able to move forward.”
Plywood, straight lines and curves
Nick Bal studied Industrial & Interior Design at Sint-Lucas in Brussels. He has now been working with Urban Outfitters for nine years as a Display Coordinator. He works on his own projects after hours and on weekends. There are more and more of them. In the past, he left his mark on the design of hipster favorites such as fashion label LNknits and lunch spot Tinsel.
The fully expanded and renovated Het Eiland Sports Club in Antwerp recently picked up his signature, as have the entrance hall and meeting room of the printing company INKO in Mechelen. “I increasingly evolve toward total projects. Perhaps the best example is my parents' house, on the estate of my grandparents, just next to their farm. That was the moment when I could give something back to my family. My mom and dad have always supported me in everything I did. Everything started on the farm: there, I knocked my first nail into the wall, experimented with wood for the first time and did so much more.”
Nick Bal's interiors exhale a certain artistry. Each interior is an experiment in itself, without that being obvious to the eye. Experiment need not be synonymous with spectacle. Simplicity characterizes his designs. The use of plywood is often a certainty, which he increasingly combines with materials such as marble and steel. He balances straight lines with organic shapes. “Lately, I have had a soft spot for curves. Curved contours, rounded volumes, circular lighting. I have the feeling that my style is constantly changing. Now I go for natural forms, later that will change again.”
Why is a premium quality business card so important today?
I understand that many people benefit from using a strong calling card. I have had 1 calling card in my career; this was a 2 mm thick wooden card, completely homemade. But I had to be very sparing with them, because the production cost was too high. Currently, I receive my job offers mainly through word of mouth and via social media. So I thought it would be interesting to see how I come across to future, bigger clients if I used calling cards again, especially because these calling cards look and feel better than a standard calling card.
Text: Bart De Maesschalck