The affable, low-key Laarman, who exudes the youthful confidence of a star pupil, used to moonlight as a guitarist in a rock band, though he now spends most of his time at his computer, where for inspiration he keeps hundreds of files on robots, appliances and scientific experiments. He takes a full five minutes to scroll through his photo archive of antique toasters for me, and somehow, it’s fascinating. (“Back then they used only materials that were really pure,” he says. “Every single wire was there for a reason.”) One of his current projects is a hinged desk lamp that he created by Googling images of prosthetic limbs. “They are beautiful,” Laarman says of the manmade joints. “And they use the best metals that can be found in the industry.” However whimsical his designs might seem, they’re always rooted in discipline and efficiency. The height of design absurdity, in Laarman’s opinion: the latest six-blade razor—a “stupid” example of wasteful, market-driven excess.
At heart, Laarman is a lot like an old-school inventor of the Buckminster Fuller persuasion, though his idealism is balanced by the same degree of commercial savvy that has made fellow Eindhoven alums like Maarten Baas so successful. Thanks to the high demand for Laarman’s limited-edition Bone chair and chaise (both are sold out) and his regular collaborations with design giants such as Flos and Droog, he is finding it easier to finance his own fantastical experiments. One he currently has in mind is a low-tech individual airship. “You know—a single-person chair, with balloons attached, so you can fly away,” Laarman says. “It’s really a simple thing to make, but nobody is trying it.”