We’re pleased to present an abridged version of “20 Years of Kikkerland,” a print piece commemorating their ‘Vicennial’ anniversary on the occasion of the ICFF, courtesy of our friends at the Dutch-via-NYC design company. Founder Jan van der Lande was happy to indulge us with the inside scoop on particularly memorable moments of the past two decades, adding a few anecdotes to the comprehensive chronology.
A houseboat on the Hudson river on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was the home of Jan van der Lande and Kazumi Hayama and it became the (home) office for Kikkerland when Jan incorporated the business in 1992.
As the name implies (Kikkerland is a nickname for the Netherlands, and literally means frogland), the original focus of the company was to import and distribute Dutch Design. Being that there are a lot of houseboats and water in Holland, the boat was the perfect starting place for Kikkerland.
A basement on the Upper West Side served as a storage and shipping facility, and many of the clients were in New York City, so in the early days, Jan delivered most orders personally, by bike. This was the base of operations for Kikkerland from 1992 until 1995.
Bottle opener (1994) designed by Gert Jan Vogel
After studying agriculture and environmental studies, Jan changed course completely and started working at the design store Gallery 91 in Soho (1989–1991). He learned a lot about the design business there and met a number of designers.
Jan also had friends from Holland who were active in the design world. Dick Dankers and Cok de Rooy from the Frozen Fountain and Rob Dashorst from Daskas introduced him to many other designers and products from Holland. In fact, Jan has represented independent self-producing designers since 1987.
During his research and scouting trips to Holland, Jan met many designers who had recently finished art school, such as Hella Jongerius, Richard Hutten and others. It led Kikkerland to start importing their designs to the USA.
Jan helped produce the “Mouse Lamp,” designed by Martha Davis and Lisa Krohn, during his years at Gallery 91. These lamps turned out to be a precursor to Kikkerland: besides their design sensibility, these lamps foreshadowed things that define the company today: originality, humor, affordability, and environmental concern.
The “V Vase,” designed by Rob Dashorst, was one of the early successes for Kikkerland. Jan and Rob went to the same kindergarten in Holland, so they had known each other for a long time! Originally Rob wanted Kikkerland to produce these vases in the United States to save on shipping, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated than expected, so they ended up being imported from Holland.
Prior to this catalog (left)—printed in black & white except for the cover—the promotional material was photocopied, and handed out in combination with color photos. With the first color catalog in 1997 (right), Kikkerland was starting to become a real company! There would be one more Xeroxed catalog after this one, but from then on, the catalogs were printed in full color. Kikkerland relies on these semi-annual catalogs, as well as tradeshows, web sites, and packaging for promotion.
“Duck Mirror” by David Dear
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, many designers produced and distributed their designs in small quantities for design stores and museum stores. One of those stores, Mxyplyzyk in the West Village of Manhattan, was a client of Kikkerland and became an important source of information. Owner Kevin Brynan introduced Jan to a number of the designers whose products he sold in his store. (Later on, he joined Jan on several scouting trips to Asia and even now reports trends from the retail perspective to Kikkerland.)
In 1996 he introduced Jan to Chico Bicalho, who, in turn, introduced him to former classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) David Dear and Jozeph Forakis. These seemingly small events turned out to have a big influence on the direction and success of Kikkerland.
The “Flip Clock” by Michael Daniel, who was another connection made through Kevin from Mxyplyzyk. Michael used to produce these robot clocks by hand with existing flip clock mechanisms. The factory that made those mechanisms burned down in the 1970s and so they were no longer produced. The whole mechanism needed to be retooled for Kikkerland production.
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