There are many things to see when you make a trip to Amsterdam. There are the picturesque canals and waterways, the stunning gothic and baroque architecture, the world famous museums and historical sites, and of course, you’ll surely experience the warm and inviting nature of the Dutch locals. It’s one of those European cities that deserves a top spot on your bucket list. But for lovers of mid-century furniture and wooden art pieces from the 1930s-70s, a must-see shop to visit is WonderWood, located close to the Dam Square, Munt & Stopera. WonderWood features a deep and varied collection of over 100 vintage plywood chairs, along with a plethora of assorted wooden antique collectibles. We met Wiet Hekking on our most recent Amsterdam trip and asked him a few questions about his truly unique shop.
When did you first start WonderWood and what was your inspiration behind starting it?
The first plywood chair I bought was in the mid 80’s. I spotted Grete Jalk’s iconic GJ lounge chair, a 1963 splendid piece, made out of impossibly bent plywood. This chair was the foundation of my private collection which started with the search for 10 different plywood chairs around the dining table at home. After having worked in the Dutch textile industry for over 30 years I decided to launch WonderWood (the wonder world of wood) in 1999 and my own collection of about 100 different plywood pieces was a solid and nice base to start.
What is it about wood furniture, art and design pieces from the 1940s-60s that you love the most?
I love the strength in design of many vintage plywood items, the round edges and forms, the widely varying veneers and of course the patina. Old and used pieces often look livelier and better than re-editions. Strong designs from the 30s/40s/50s still look modern and up-to-date these days!
Who are some of your favorite designers, artists and architects from this period?
My favorite designers are not always the well-known ones ( Han Pieck, Hein Stolle from the Netherlands or Hans Brattrud from Norway), but the well-known favorites are:
-Marcel Breuer, plywood furniture designed in London for ISOKON in 1936
-Gerald Summers, armchair and trolley for the Makers of Simple Furniture in 1934
-Alvar Aalto, pieces designed for the Paimio hospital in 1931/1932
-Charles and Ray Eames, the plywood series for Evans/Miller around 1946
-Hans Wegner, his Shell bench and chair for Fritz Hansen in 1948
-George Nelson, with his pretzel chair for Plycraft in 1952.
-Grete Jalk, the origami folded lounge chair and the set of matching nesting tables for Jeppesen in 1963.
How do you go about sourcing most of the items you carry – does it involve a lot of antiquing/hunting?
Sourcing is mostly via dealers national and international, worldwide auction houses, and private contacts. Worldwide publicity is an additional tool for web contacts and visitors to Amsterdam.
Wonderwood is both a shop and gallery – how do you make this balance work?
An option was to create a gallery with only top pieces, but I like to present pieces in a public setting.I am dealing with pieces which are rare and special, but they should be used and enjoyed. To create this home feeling WonderWood presents a range of special plywood editions , some re-editions , related art and even some gadgets.
What are the current favorite pieces you have in your shop right now – the ones that will be hard to let go off?
There are always pieces hard to let go off, but this changes always and that helps! The pieces I have now that I truly cherish are:
-A rare French organic Rispal floor lamp from the 60’s
- A set of original Rietveld ZIG-ZAG chairs (with good provenance)
-An early Aalto nr 31 lounge chair from 1931/1932
-“The Kiss” a two- dimensional unique wooden sculpture ( called standing drawing) from famous Dutch artist Jeroen Henneman from 1995.
Lastly, for anyone visiting Amsterdam, why should they visit your WonderWood shop?
WonderWood is the only existing shop/gallery specializing in worldwide vintage plywood items. Prices range from 1 Euro, for a simple but nice wooden pencil to high-end prices for pieces with museum quality. The mix of vintage plywood, some re-editions, art, gadgets combined with WonderWood’s easy access creates a special atmosphere that provides surprises , not only for collectors, but for everyone interested in design, art and fun.