The Genuine Article

A Michigan-based trio crafts honest homages to Dutch artisanship.

You could be fooled into thinking of Pieter Van Tuyl, a furniture company that launched last May, as something of an inside joke. For one, its presumably Netherlandish designer, Pieter Van Tuyl, doesn’t exist. And being based in Grand Rapids, Michigan—which, granted, has a sizable population claiming Low Countries descent—it’s not even Dutch. At a time when assorted frauds and fictional identities have permeated the zeitgeist, and given the cachet heaped on design from Holland these days, the name Pieter Van Tuyl has the whiff of a joshing polemic: Would you take us more seriously if you thought we were Dutch?

You could think all this, but you’d be wrong. “We’re more earnest than ironic,” says Tod Babick, the company’s Vermont-born design director. “If anything, we’re honoring the legacy of Dutch artisan practices.”

Founded by Babick, Gary Petertyl, and John Van Zee—all homegrown Americans—Pieter Van Tuyl makes poetic, of-the-moment furniture informed by old-fashioned notions of sustainability, nature, and craftsmanship. Handmade in Michigan, whose dying crafts industries the company hopes to ­support, the debut collection spans from a wool-felt rug embellished with hand-cut embroidered ­blossoms to a bench of sustainably harvested walnut and reclaimed white oak, its carved backrest textured with graphic beeswax flowers. As for the pseudonym, Pieter Van Tuyl is the original de­rivation of Petertyl’s surname—chosen because “it means ‘the stonecutter from the village of Tuyl,’” Babick explains, “which for us alludes to making things in a genuine way.”

Babick, a craftsman and Rhode Island School of Design graduate, met Petertyl, who oversees marketing, when both were consulting for Izzydesign. (Van Zee runs the business and production side.) Aim­ing to reconnect humans with nature, the furniture is infused with metaphor, whether through the tree branch framing the collection’s mirror and chalkboard or the slate tabletop carved with a pod-shaped channel, its seedlike divots seeming to sprout the legs. Natural life cycles are referenced throughout the line—“trees bearing flowers and fruit that produce seeds that grow trees,” Babick says. And since this is the com­pany’s inaugural collection, the pieces are for the foyer—or, as Babick puts it, “entryways.”

Indeed, with their conceptual bent and neoRomantic rigor, Pieter Van Tuyl’s offerings might even look a little like contemporary Dutch design. But given the company’s own discrete narrative, the comparison has its limits. “Remember,” Babick says, “it’s a different kind of Dutch person in western Michigan than there is doing design in the Netherlands.”

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