Exploring the Evolution and Artistry of TEFAF’s Immersive Fair Design
Architectural design studio Tom Postma Design, stand builder Stabilo, and florist Ten Kate look back at their histories with the fair and how it has been transformed
- By Cheyenne Wehren
- Meet the Experts
Every year, a one-of-a-kind world dedicated to art and elegance is created as TEFAF transforms the Maastricht Exhibition and Conference Centre (MECC) in Maastricht and the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Since its inception in 1988, the fair’s design has developed into a seemingly effortless creation and timeless construction, built by Stabilo, designed by Tom Postma Design (TPD), and filled with fresh florals by Ten Kate Flowers. Here, they look back at their histories with the fair and how it has been transformed time and time again.
Since its first edition, the fair has been built by specialist stand builder Stabilo International. Since 1996, it has been run by Harry van der Hoorn, whose father founded the company in 1978. Known for their speed in building stands—back then mainly consisting of a number of core elements: side walls and back walls in standard colors, a frieze, and lighting—the company went on to become the in-house builder of the Maastricht Eurohal, where TEFAF’s predecessor fair Antiquairs International & Pictura Fine Art Fair was organized in the mid-1980s. “It was the first time that I also started building for the company; I’ve been around for a long time,” Van der Hoorn shares.
Until 1991, Van der Hoorn worked on the drawings for his father’s company. Due to a fire at Stabilo’s headquarters that year, he became more intensely involved with the organization of TEFAF’s fairs. “I took on more responsibilities concerning the fair build—the drawings, the materials, the calculations—as well as client relations. I had already been very involved but was now working on many different areas of the fair and continued to do so.” The core of what Stabilo built back then is still there. Says Van der Hoorn, “They are still the same walls, but the façades and environment have evolved. We went from a ‘regular’ entrance and hallways, decorated with trees and plants, to a more designed environment together with the team at Tom Postma Design.”
Tom Postma Design (TPD)
A turning point in the fair design was when architectural design studio TPD joined, who has been responsible for the fair’s creative design since 2001. “I started as an artist, a sculptor, and I worked on monumental public installations,” Tom Postma explains. “Clemens van der Ven, one of the founders of TEFAF, who knew my public installations, asked me to work on the floor plan of the fair. While the organization, which back then worked on the fair designs themselves, created an already modern and sophisticated environment, they couldn’t find the best solution for how to structure the floor plan. The floor plan is often very underestimated—it really starts with getting that right. I created a design that was received very well, and which still provides the basis of what we work with today.”
Consistent in its elegance and modernity, the core value of TPD’s design of the fair is a holistic approach. Likening it to city planning, Postma explains that “it’s about the entire space. There’s a lot to take into account: the rhythm of the space, the aisles, the lighting, the creation of squares that provide places of rest for visitors, the view lines, and the restaurants and bars that provide both sustenance and a social element.” All elements of the fair are considered together and balance each other out to support the best possible visitor experience. Postma’s initial thinking links back to his former practice as a sculptor: “It’s like working on a piece of marble. You have an idea in mind of what you’d like to create, but how do you extract it out of this block? You start working from all angles, sculpting bit by bit.”
Over the years, the firm has expanded to a team of over 15 creative professionals, with a new generation of designers now carrying the company forward. Joris Nielander, design director at TPD, also emphasizes the importance of their holistic approach to the design of TEFAF’s fairs: “Everything is connected, and all facets of the fair have to be considered as such. From the floorplan to the lighting, to the carpet and material choices. It all influences the way people experience the full space.” Another strong value the designers adhere to is to never compete with the art. “We strive for beauty in the design of the fair and it’s constructed ingeniously to make sure that the art on display comes first,” Postma shares. Both Postma and Nielander underline that the flexibility of, and relationship with, Stabilo has been key to the physical creation of the fair. “Their flexible attitude towards trying out new things has been a tremendous factor in the design of the fair and setting it up in such a short time span. These facets have enabled us to create a new design language for art fairs.”
The entrance of the fair is the one place TPD, together with long-time flower specialist Ten Kate Flowers, further elevates the experience to an awe-inspiring level as they create a new spatial design centered on flowers every year.
Ten Kate Flowers
Ten Kate has also been part of TEFAF since the start, providing its fairs with awe-inspiring flower and plant displays. Ten Kate was founded in 1895 and was taken over in 1975 by the parents of Bastiaan Hutten, who now leads the enormous project of TEFAF’s flower installations. “Ten Kate has been working with TEFAF since the predecessor fairs at the Eurohal. Back then, a group of people would drive down to Maastricht with one van full of plants, and they would drive back and forth between the fair and Deventer in the east of the Netherlands. That has definitely changed: I stay over three weeks in Maastricht and during the peak, we’re on-site with a team of about 30 people. It’s a huge undertaking.” Hutten has a strong connection to the fair and first visited at the age of ten: “I joined my father for one morning and didn’t want to leave anymore. I haven’t missed an edition of the fair since.”
In the beginning, the fair’s floral design focused on creating garden-like settings, including gravel, boxwood hedges, small ponds, and fountains. “We took inspiration from palace gardens such as Versailles. One year we created a forest with trees, Christmas lights, and leaves glued to the floor with wallpaper paste—which led to an unfortunate event of people walking through the leaves and getting them stuck to the carpet,” Hutten laughs. “Those designs were very popular back then, and now you can’t even imagine something like that at TEFAF.” The floral installations throughout the fair are a collaborative effort between TPD and Ten Kate, the ideas springing from TPD’s initial concepts and worked through with Ten Kate and their floral expertise. The fair’s entrance is a focal point of the design every year. “There’s a philosophy behind it,” says Postma, “We start by focusing on the location and think about how we can create a place of transition and let people enter another world.” Nielander adds, “We want to create a sense of rest and anticipation. Visitors should feel at ease, as if they’ve arrived, but they should also become excited to explore what lies beyond the marvel of the entrance.” “Over the years, we have grown into a direction of creating artwork-like installations, including a hanging display of flowers in test tubes or a painting-like plant wall,” Hutten explains. “It always starts as a challenge, pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible, and every year I’m proud of what we’ve all created.”
The development of the fair’s artistry and immersive design is never finished, as TPD, Stabilo, and Ten Kate already start thinking about next year’s design while the fair is still running. Say Postma and Nielander, “It’s an evolution—every year we craft a new and exciting show together, always aiming to create a more exceptional experience than what was previously thought possible.”