Pieter Compernol is a Belgian designer and antiques dealer. His wife, Stephanie Grusenmeyer, is a Belgian architect. So how did they come to be living and working in Bangkok?
“Stephanie and I always wanted to live in the East at some point in our lives,” Pieter tells us. “We had been travelling between Belgium and Thailand for 15 years. Bangkok is a great hub and fascinating, chaotic yet vibrant city – and never boring…”
Specialising in oriental art, the couple assisted interior designers by sourcing antiques for various projects and fairs across Antwerp, Brussels, Maastricht, Paris and London. Fatefully, says Pieter, “On a buying trip in Asia for an apartment in New York we stumbled upon fantastic antique wooden boards locally used as beds. This find turned out to become a whole new company: P.Tendercool.”
So who is this P. Tendercool? It turns out he’s a figment of Pieter’s imagination. Don’t worry, though, he’s not a dark alter ego – he’s Pieter’s stand against the ‘designer cult’. Rather than naming the company after himself, Pieter felt that the name should represent “the whole group of experts that make our designs into the creations they have become. None of our creations would exist without those specialists, everything is 100% handmade and is a genuine team effort.”
P.Tendercool claims to produce ‘cross cultural creations’, and by all accounts this is a reasonable statement. Behind the brand is a multitude of personalities including Belgian antiques conservators, an Italian bronzecaster, a Belgian woodmaster, Thai carpenters, a French photographer and even an Australian web designer.
“Such is the world, and the future,” says Pieter. “People travel more and more, cultures are mixing whether we like it or not… They learn from us, we learn from them. The combined input of all these people from different cultures and backgrounds creates a plus, not only for our creations, but for all involved.”
What an inspiring, positive perspective (cue heavenly music). But before we get too carried away, Pieter is quick to balance the serene statement with a bit of characteristic humour. “Don’t get this wrong,” he says, “P. Tendercool is not the guru of a hippie commune…”
That’s what he says. But you can’t deny the easygoing approach that sees the positives in every opportunity. Moving your work and family to Bangkok could be seen as a risky choice, but Pieter says, “P. Tendercool would not have been born had we stayed in Europe. The costs and risks would have been astronomical.” He also mentions the 5000 year-old Thai tradition of bronze working as a definite plus for the design business.
Of course, there are downsides as well. “Our biggest challenge was to arrive at a world class level of quality in a region mostly known for fast production, low quality items, too often with a ‘handicrafty’ feel,” he says.
In this respect, their products certainly buck the trend. Simple, sophisticated designs and pure materials respond to the approach of ‘simple but powerful ethics and aesthetics. Slow furniture in hectic times.’ It’s a look that appeals to design professionals and design lovers internationally, and to showrooms across New York, Miami, San Francisco, London and Amsterdam.
There is much in the global and local design landscape that inspires Pieter. From the “zillions of Bangkok youngsters” who creatively combine and translate Thai, Western and Japanese influences to minimalists Jean Prouvé and Kjærholm, and the Bauhaus movement (“the Barcelona pavilion of Mies van der Rohe always gives me goosebumps”).
You can see all these influences, plus a dash of their own happy-go-lucky approach, in Pieter’s wonderful description of his and Stephanie’s own home:
“When we moved to BKK we had no idea how long we’d stay. We rented three rundown ‘shophouses’, which had been abandoned for years in a backstreet of a subsoi (no expat would ever want to live there!).
“We then transformed the three into one house – without asking the owner – into something we love to live in: a simple minimal concrete box with a lot of light and room for our collection and some prototypes of our furniture. We have never had a formal rental contract, but make sure we never miss a payment. We know that the owner would kick us out once he’d discovered we seriously upgraded his ‘house’. But we took the risk and have been living there for almost six years now.
“We don’t own a car, spent the cost of a decent one in a house which isn’t ours, but haven’t regretted for even one second. When we showed this simple refurbished shophouse to a client, we got a contract for an apartment on Central Park, New York. When we went on a buying trip to decorate that apartment we stumbled on the wooden planks I mentioned earlier. Without the abandoned shophouse, we would have had no project in New York, and no P. Tendercool…”
It’s sounds like good karma and it’s smiling down on one Mr P. Tendercool.