"To me solving problems is a fun challenge" - Thor ter Kulve

Sometimes you meet designers whose philosophy is very close to your own. Thor ter Kulve is one of those people. Like us, he values going outside, getting some fresh air and exploring his surroundings. This very idea of exploration is even where he gets his inspiration for his designs from: with his products he wants to redefine the public space and solve problems he runs into.

Could you introduce yourself? 
My name is Thor ter Kulve. I am a Dutch designer but have lived in the United Kingdom for around seven years now. I finished my master’s degree there in 2015, set up my own studio and just stuck around. I also own a large workshop, a communal space where multiple creative minds come and work together. I work there both by assignment as well as for my own studio. 

Is it true that you live on a houseboat in London, without permanent berth? Why did you choose that lifestyle? 
The permanent berth did get added after a while! But I did indeed float around for 5 years, looking for a new spot every 2 weeks. It is a system that’s tolerated in England, or well, it is just allowed. Not having to pay for a permanent berth brought down my monthly costs significantly. I started doing it when I was studying. Like many students I too was confronted with London housing prices and wanted to find a solution. 

So, there was a financial drive, but in a way, it was also a challenge to find an alternative way to live. I sat there in my tiny student room and thought to myself: “I need to get out, I need to be able to go outside. I want to live in relation to my surroundings and not passively in a 3 by 3 room, waiting until I was allowed to go back outside again.”
Is that partly because you also get your inspiration from the outdoors? 
Definitely! The outdoors is a huge source of inspiration for me personally. It is in the way that I live, where I live, who or what I run into and the solutions to problems I think of. It is the freedom I experience. 

This solving of problems seems to be a common theme throughout your designs. Why do you think that is? 
I don’t know… why do some people love artichokes and others don’t? To me solving problems is a fun challenge. I just really like thinking of solutions. I’d describe it as riddles in my head, but in a 3D-shape. I don’t know exactly why I like it. I just do. 

It gives me a rush to start with a problem that needs solving: what is the most efficient way to do it? What is the most fun way? What is the cheapest way? There are many different approaches to solving a problem. And to me, that is a fun kick starter to designing things. 

Didn’t you think of the Carrier from a similar starting point: the solving of problems and something you missed in your daily life? 
Yes, the Carrier is a good example of that. It has kind of turned into a real allrounder. It came from the ritual of lighting a fireplace. When you do that every morning in your house or houseboat, it becomes a ritual similar to making coffee or tea. I was really missing a toolbox that could keep all the items you need for this ritual in one place. Because to light a fireplace, you need a lot of tools: from a lighter and a piece of paper, to small twigs and an axe. All these items need to be carried from outside to inside. The Carrier offers a possibility to easily carry all these items with you. It brings together all the essentials. And then you can sit on it too!
Going back to your design philosophy, another important point in your designs is to ‘redefine public space’. Could you explain what you mean by that? 
What I mean by that is that I hope to inspire people to look differently at their environment, through products, interventions or art. And whether you call that environment the forest, the public space, your hiking path or your outdoor kitchen, you can name it. I sometimes feel like there’s a lot more energy in everything and that there’s a lot to discover by simply putting on different glasses. That’s something the Swing does very successfully in my opinion. 

Now that you mention the Swing, could you tell us a bit more about this design? 
The Swing was a part of a graduation project of several objects inspired by the theme ‘playground in the public domain’. I wanted to give recognizable objects a new purpose. It is a philosophy that to this day still returns in my works. I’d say the Swing is the most autonomous of all the designs. What I mean by that is that it asks for a lot more creativity of the user itself, because all you need is a vertical pole or tree. As a user, you start to look at your environment in a way where you’ll go: “wait a minute! I can hang the Swing there, and that tree is perfect as well. And if I had longer tension straps, I could even wrap it around that entire pole.” You know? You just suddenly start to see it everywhere. 

What would be your ideal spot to use the Swing?
I spent last summer in Zürich, Switzerland. They had this bridge that was made up of small poles. It went over a very clean water, in which a lot of people were swimming. And I thought you could hang around 10 Swings from this bridge. You could swing and jump right into the water when it’s 25 degrees. That was definitely a place where I felt the Swing should go.
To Weltevree, durability is important in everything we do. How do you see your role regarding this topic? 
I think designers have an exemplary role in this. The designing of things is already a privileged position to be in and I think that everyone who’s privileged should try to make conscious choices. Whether that is about designing something new or buying a new t-shirt. 

For me personally, I don’t see it as my goal. I don’t start with the idea of making a durable design. But create something and then start to think of my choices and whether they are durable ones. Hopefully I will bring products in the world that people will cherish. And that will counterbalance the throwaway society. But I think that we’re all so much more aware of it now, that is almost intertwined in our thinking. 

Finally, do you have something you would like to share? 
I would like to say that I very much share the philosophy of Weltevree. Both in my life and in the way you look at things. I also value the importance of going outside. Breathing in the fresh air is the best thing there is. And I think that we, definitely in the urbanized west, should celebrate the outdoors a lot more. That is something both Weltevree and I share. 

For more information on Thor’s work, check out his website here