It was like meeting somebody from another planet. He had an incredible charm, charisma and energy,” says Claes when he remembers the first time they met the design strategist Cornelis Janssen. “One day, he just showed up at the factory together with a colleague from Kosta Boda. They were going to furnish Orrefors Kosta Boda’s new showroom in Manhattan and were looking for suppliers that could design the interior décor they wanted.”
It proved to be a very challenging, highly difficult project. The job demanded knowledge of boat design, advanced machinery and 3D software. It was extremely rare for a supplier to possess all three of these at the end of the 1990s. Ragnars met all of the requirements and Kosta Boda awarded them the assignment. Being located in the town of Forserum in the Swedish region of Småland proved to be a bonus – Cornelis supposedly once said that he preferred to work with people from Småland!
Kosta Boda’s new showroom was a success and Cornelis was impressed by Ragnars’ skilled craftsmen. At their second meeting in a café on Madison Avenue during a break in the installation of the store in New York, a discussion began that would come to change Ragnars' entire future. Cornelis recognized the company’s great potential and they began to talk about the possibility of Ragnars developing its own design concept.
Johan and Claes already had some design ideas they were mulling over – they just needed a little push to find the courage to make the leap and somebody who could help them package the concept. Cornelis, with his incredible energy and marketing finesse, was just the person they needed. He taught them to recognize the significance of treating simple details with care or surprising boldness. And to have the courage to look beyond Småland's borders. The concept Ragnars.Work was born.
“Cornelis was our master. He broke down our inhibitions and established a creative, dynamic atmosphere at our meetings,” explains Johan. “By provoking us, he got everyone to take the bull by the horns and do their utmost. He had a fantastic ability to make people understand one another and find courage to push the limits.”
They visited New York together on numerous occasions. Cornelis, who had studied at the Amsterdam School of the Arts, took Johan and Claes to visit MoMa and the Guggenheim Museum and introduced them to the Dutch design group De Stijl and the Russian suprematist Kasimir Malevitj. The affinity with Ragnars' design was tangible in the geometrically simple and primitively strict idiom.
“Art became a major source of inspiration for us when we took our ideas of raw functionalism and futurism even further” says Claes. “I find that the knowledge of Russian art and Italian futurism brings creativity to the process of creating new design expressions in the development of our furniture. The expression minimalistic futurism could summarize our idea of design."
However, not just work was on the agenda when Cornelis was around. He was a great connoisseur, not just of art and design, but also exquisite food and drink. “Cornelis taught us to enjoy life – at least you,” says Claes with a laugh, looking at Johan. “Yeah, that’s true,” admits Johan with a wry smile. “Cornelis came to influence our lives a great deal, both professionally and personally. Now that he is no longer with us, sometimes we have to stop and think ‘What would Cornelis have done in this situation.’ Then things usually work out.”
Cornelis J. Janssen passed away in February 2009 at the age of 69 after a period of prolonged illness.