Joost Bakker

Early Years

Joost's early years were spent in Rustenburg, a 20 minute drive north of Amsterdam. At school, the reward for completing set work was drawing. The teacher could see the pattern Joost was developing and suggested he draw one afternoon each week with leading Dutch artist Jan Hollenberg. For an artist of Hollenberg's calibre, the idea of having a nine year old watching each brushstroke must have been disconcerting. "I loved using water colours as much as working with heavy graphite pencils," says Joost, who was comfortable sketching portraits and landscapes, as well as simple household objects such as bottles of cleaning fluid. "It's quite embarrassing seeing my art on relatives' walls every time I return to Rustenburg," he adds.

Down Under

Melbourne, Australia, is a long way from Rustenburg. Joost's original home was literally surrounded by water. So it must have been a great shock when the family arrived in 1982 to one of country Victoria's most difficult years. As well as storms and droughts, there were bush fires. Economic hardship was also common. "Children used to turn up to school with either their house burnt down or a parent losing a job," says Joost, whose family was living on Melbourne's fringe. One migrant asked Joost's father, what was he doing here?

Failings of the First Crop

The first crop produced on Joost's family farm, chrysanthemums, failed in the forty degree plus temperatures. For a nine year old coming to a new country, it must have been overwhelming. "Our family never seemed to give up. Friends were always dropping into the farm, helping or simply providing emotional support. In typical Joost style, friends were accommodated on the farm and fed well by Joost's mother. "My mother would often prepare meals for up to twenty people. She'd use ingredients in her kitchen garden or anything at her fingertips. Meals were never planned, but she always managed to create the most amazing dishes. And she rarely repeats anything".


At age 17, Joost had enough of school. Working on the family farm seemed more interesting. And after a day tending to tulips, Joost would tinker with his Ford truck, circa 1973, often until midnight. "I never saw the point of working only 7.30 to 6.00pm. I knew I could achieve more by putting in extra hours," says Joost, who continues to drive himself today, working long hours and responding to calls and emails as soon as they arrive.

As well as doing a stint of modeling, Joost spent three months in Nepal, with extraordinary species of Rhododendrons and wild tulips. He also spent six months back in Holland.

Blue Tulips

By the early 1990s Joost was ready to start his own business, 'blue tulips', a colour which didn't exist in nature, but worked beautifully on letter head. Tulips grown on the Monbulk farm were exported to the Philippines, New Caledonia, as well as to Hong Kong. Local businesses also became interested in Joost's flowers, including Melbourne's Blue Train and River Caf?. At first, Joost's flowers were simply delivered in cardboard boxes. He might have continued delivering flowers this way had the hospitality industry been more proficient at flower arrangement.

"I started bring vessels, as well as flowers. But I'd also bring things I'd found on the farm, such as wire baskets and test tubes," says Joost, who was encouraged to push the boundaries by people such as Vernon Chalker, owner of the bar Gin Palace. Other venues, such as Melbourne's Hairy Canary, also appreciated Joost's unorthodox arrangements. Jumper leads, interwoven with vines of cherry tomatoes, became installations on the ceilings. Disused G-clamps, with wooden handles, were also a favourite, ideal for single stemmed waratahs during the mid-90s.

150 Clients

By 2000, Joost was servicing 150 bars, cafes and restaurants with his floral installations. As new venues opened, each wanted a Joost design, different from the others. On the back of these installations came pendant lights, referred to as 'nests' and made from reused fencing wire. "I've always been interested in using recycled materials, but at that stage they were the type of materials I could afford to use," says Joost. As Joost's repertoire of designs increased, so did his reputation in the hospitality industry. One person to notice his talent was gallery owner Paul Scott.

First Exhibition

To say Joost's first solo exhibition in 2002 was poorly received, would be an understatement. Nothing sold, with most people considering Joost's designs more suited to a farm than a gallery environment. Plant holders, nest lights and furniture made from recycled materials were left unsold.

Space Furniture -2004 Exhibition

Fortunately, neither Joost nor his 'converts' gave up on Joost's designs. John Parker, owner of Format Furniture & Lighting, then Manager of Space's Melbourne showroom, saw talent. Driven by instinct, as much as by future trends, Parker cleared out one floor of Space's Richmond showroom. "I arrived at 9.00am in the morning, thinking they'd be a little space for me between the B.& B. Italia or other designer pieces. I was really overwhelmed to be given an entire floor," says Joost, who this time, sold numerous pieces, as well as leaving with an endless list of requests from disappointed patrons.
One man, who spent $10,000 on Joost's designs mentioned at the time, "this stuff isn't particularly my taste, but I know I'm going to want it in the future," recalls Joost.

"Joost has an extremely refined aesthetic, even though there's a rawness about his furniture, lighting and objects," says Parker. "I've always preferred that handmade and crafted feel to many of the sleek European designs," he adds. Parker also recalls the backlash from management when he gave Joost permission to graffiti the showrooms expansive glass fa?ade. "But the graffiti suited the exhibition," says Parker, who has always followed his instinct.

Eureka Tower

Architect Nonda Katsalidis also recognised that there was something quite unique about Joost's designs. Even before Melbourne's Eureka Tower was complete, Katsalidis approached Joost to have an exhibition of his work on the top floor of the tower. Four hundred guests were invited with 600 RSVPs (The word got out!). Even the view of Melbourne from the top of the Eureka did not overwhelm Joost's installations. As well as hundreds of sprouts suspended from the ceiling, there were trees wrapped in plastic and displayed in glass and steel cases. Found by Joost in a quarry, massive disfigured trunks wrapped in plastic created an eerie and hauntingly beautiful experience of nature combined with architecture.

At Home in Monbulk

Events, such as the Space exhibition in 2004 and 2005, along with the exhibition in 2006 at Eureka gave Joost a name, not just in design circles, but in the wider community, with favourable press following the events. Joost's own house in Monbulk, featured on the front cover of Vogue Living, gave even more credence to the emerging recycling phenomenon. Designed to be completely non-toxic, Joost's house was constructed from totally natural materials such as steel, corrugated iron and straw. The courtyard style home is framed with iron bark sleepers and Joost's indelible trademark, plant walls, hundreds of terracotta pots arranged in rusty steel cages. "I love the idea you can use the outdoors throughout the entire year," says Joost, who collaborated with Architect Brendan Jones and architectural practice Antarctica (check this detail).

Melbourne Cup

More comfortable on a building site than attending the Melbourne Cup, Joost was initially reticent to take up Macquarie Bank's offer to design a corporate marquee for them in 2006. However, always keen to rise to the challenge, Joost designed a sustainable marquee using recycled plywood intermeshed with plant walls. He also designed the furniture, made from recycled packing crates. And to demonstrate his efficiency for materials, Joost's chairs 'morphed' into stools, as well as into tables, depending on how they were arranged. A recycled rubber floor was the perfect backdrop. And when the marquee was dismantled, the plant walls headed back to Monbulk to frame the family home.

The Following Year at the Cup

The following year Joost's marquee was made from steel, straw bail walls and featured a garden roof. This design didn't initially receive approval from the Victorian Racing Committee. So, with time against him, Joost redesigned the marquee utilising plasterer's angles, made in Monbulk and transported on the back of a truck. The building's operable walls made the 36 degree temperature on Cup Day tolerable. "It felt like standing under an oak tree," says Joost.

Rob Adams --City of Melbourne

Rob Adams, Urban Planner for the City of Melbourne, saw the potential of Joost's marquees. And in 2008, suggested to Joost that he use Melbourne's Federation Square for his next installation, daubed the 'Greenhouse'. Made from light gauge steel, straw and plywood, this first greenhouse included a roof garden, designed to grow organic vegetables to be served to diners using the caf?.

Caterpillar Crates

The furniture for the 'Greenhouse', also designed by Joost, was made from caterpillar crates, as well as disused road signs. A second 'Greenhouse', made from disused shipping containers, appeared in Sydney at circular key in 2011, erected for only six weeks. And there's a permanent 'Greenhouse' in Perth. Located on St.George's Terrace, in the heart of the city, the Perth greenhouse shows that even the corporate end of town prefers an organic future, rather than fast food. In March 2012, a 'Greenhouse' appeared at Queensbridge Square on the Banks of the Yarra as part of Melbourne's annual Food and Wine Festival.

London Calling

Like the great song by British punk group 'The Clash', Joost's voice is now being heard in London. There are current negotiations to erect a 'Greenhouse' in London's East End. And rather than simply see this structure disassembled at the end of six weeks, this one is to remain for at least ten years with a fixed lease. "It's extremely stressful erecting the greenhouses and dismantling them in such a short spate of time," says Joost.

Clear & Succinct Message

Rather than getting on a soap box and trying to educate people about the ways of a sustainable future, Joost prefers to create and inspire people, whether through architecture and design or through the food we eat. "I don't believe in telling people what to do. I'm more comfortable collaborating with like minded people who share a similar philosophy. And if I can inspire people to think and act differently, what more can be said?

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