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Studio Cadmium founder Wouter Stoffels on the thrill of discovering vintage design

Wouter Stoffels founded Studio Cadmium in 2013 to pursue his passion for 20th-century design from France, Italy, and Brazil—and today has a client list that spans royalty, Hollywood stars, and fashion icons.

Twenty-five years ago, Wouter Stoffels stumbled across the word cadmium. This soft, silvery-white metal is the chemical element of atomic number 48, and is best known for its use to create vibrant – and expensive – red, yellow, and orange pigments. “I don’t know why I liked the word so much,” recalls Stoffels. “But, somehow it stuck.” Just over a decade ago, he was in the process of establishing a 20th-century furniture dealership in the city of Echt, in the southern region of the Netherlands. He recalled the evocative word that had persisted in his mind throughout the years, and Studio Cadmium was born.

Stoffels has always been interested in interiors and architecture, but it was his early job in a high-end design store that really fuelled his passion for design. During his years in retail, he not only had the opportunity to work amongst beautiful objects, but also learned about design history, interior design, and – perhaps most importantly – what people are looking for when they buy design objects. “I learned that if it’s good design, you just know it,” he says. “You get a certain emotional reaction.”

Driven by this passion, he began a side project purchasing and reselling design classics. Within two years, however, he was consumed by the thrill of discovering and restoring classic pieces and realised it was time to leave his long-standing job in the design store to open his own furniture dealership.

I learned that if it’s good design, you just know it. You get a certain emotional reaction.

Wouter Stoffels, founder, Studio Cadmium

Initially, the idea was to have a traditional gallery but Stoffels soon realised that an online platform would open up his client base to the world. Today, he has a large warehouse in Echt, where the collection is stored, alongside the online retail offering, which relies on high-quality studio photography and detailed descriptions to showcase each piece. While clients can visit the physical warehouse if they desire, an astonishing 95% of Studio Cadmium’s sales come from online sales outside of the Netherlands.

Since opening in 2013, Studio Cadmium’s offering has been carefully refined. “In the very beginning, I was dealing with the more obvious design classics, like Eames and Saarinen – and the first piece I sold was a Philippe Starck plastic chair,” says Stoffels. “Over time, we have become more niche and exclusive. Our style, however, remains very broad.”

In particular, Stoffels is attracted to 20th Century furniture, design objects, and lighting from France, Italy, and Brazil. Flicking through the exquisite objects in the extensive online catalogue for Studio Cadmium, this style encompasses everything from a set of four original Les Arcs stools designed by Charlotte Perriand for the Les Arcs ski resort in France, and a rare set of six Italian modernist bent plywood dining chairs that date back to the 1970s, to a pair of Lia armchairs designed by Sérgio Rodrigues, who is often called the “father of modern Brazilian design”.

One of the most memorable pieces Stoffels has ever come across was in the very early days of Studio Cadmium – a rare Jo-Jo chandelier designed by Gino Sarfatti for Arteluce in 1953. The playful light, which features three deflectors that resemble yo-yos in different colours, remained a mystery for almost a year. Finally, Stoffels came across the chandelier in a design book that had been sitting in his library.

A rare 1953 Jo-Jo chandelier discovered by Studio Cadmium, designed by Gino Sarfatti for Artluce

Other memorable purchases – and currently some of Stoffels’ favourite pieces – are the rare Uchiwa chandeliers designed by Ingo Maurer in the 1970s. Each one is handcrafted from bamboo and Japanese rice paper to create the appearance of interlocking fans that filter the light to create a warm glow.

While these 20th-century objects might seem diverse in their provenance, they are united by their modern yet timeless forms, which are undergoing something of a revival. “It’s difficult to characterise work from this period as there were so many different forms, from the out-there, artsy Italian stuff to the very natural French style, and the sober Italian pieces,” explains Stoffels. “It has to somehow trigger an emotion. Sometimes, I see things that are at first glance really hideous, but if you live with it for a while that can change. Basically, I just buy what I like.”

A 1970s Uchiwa chandelier by Ingo Maurer, handcrafted from bamboo and Japanese rice paper

Stoffels isn’t the only one to appreciate the pieces he procures. Not only does he have an impressive roster of interior design clients, but he has also sold pieces to royalty, Hollywood A-listers, and renowned haute couture designers. As well as conventional sales, Studio Cadmium also rents pieces to film studios – and Stoffels admits there’s a thrill in seeing his pieces on the big screen. “It really gets your imagination going, seeing the furniture in those settings,” he explains.

I love going on the road to search for new pieces, and the freedom that gives me…. That surge of emotion when you find a really beautiful piece is why I do what I do.

Wouter Stoffels

Given the diverse nature of the pieces in the ever-evolving Studio Cadmium collection, it’s not surprising to hear that Stoffels sources pieces from around the world. He and his small team visit large markets in the south of France and Italy throughout the year, and scour online dealerships and auction houses for the Brazilian pieces.

Each acquired piece is then carefully restored by out-of-house experts to achieve the highest quality. Seeing these pieces, which might date back 60 years, being brought back to life is one of the most satisfying parts of the process for Stoffels – take, for example, two Brazilian mid-century Móveis Corazza lounge chairs that were purchased online and arrived in appalling condition, with everything from the upholstery to the metalwork needing careful restoration.

Yet, even after more than a decade, it’s the thrill of the chase that Stoffels still finds most rewarding. “I love going on the road to search for new pieces, and the freedom that gives me,” he says. “Sometimes we don’t find anything for months, then you discover something good when you least expect it. You get to hold onto it and enjoy it for a brief moment and then you pass it onto a new owner. That surge of emotion when you find a really beautiful piece is why I do what I do.”

Effect Magazine is brought to you by Effetto