Cees Braakman: the revival of post-war Dutch design

Cees Braakman is not the best known name in Dutch design. If you ask connoisseurs of 20th century international design, they will spontaneously mention the radical style of the De Stijl movement with Gerrit Rietveld, or names associated with the contemporary design of the 1990s and 2000s: the company Droog Design, the designers Tejo Remy or Marcel Wanders. Yet Cess Braakman is the embodiment of the revival of the Dutch post-war furniture industry. Together with other designers of his generation, he created functional, clean-lined furniture that was accessible to the masses. His career as an entrepreneur and designer is closely linked to the Dutch furniture manufacturer Pastoe, which he managed from 1948 to 1978. Focus on a work that deserves to be rediscovered…

Cees Braakmaan (1917-1995) was born in Utrecht. He started working in the furniture industry at the age of 17 at UMS (Utrechtse Machinale Chair and Furniture Factory), which designs furniture from Rotsoord, a neighbourhood in the Dutch city of Utrecht. UMS was founded in 1913 and Cees Braakman’s father, DL Braakman (1885-1966), has been running the company since 1921.

View of the workshops of the Dutch company UMS in 1925.
Cess Braakman, portrait.

Cees Braakman inherited a certain taste for innovation from his father. In the 1920s and early 1930s, DL Braakman wanted to produce an innovative design. Unfortunately, this attempt resulted in commercial failures for UMS. The company had tried to market dismountable tubular steel chairs designed by the architect HF Mertens (1885 – 1960), but to no avail.

During the war, UMS was dismantled, but after the Second World War the company started up again and made a strategic decision to produce functional furniture that could be adapted to the needs of the home. This idea was taken up in the company’s new name, PasToe, in reference to ‘all-purpose’ furniture.

In 1948, Cees Braakman took over from his father as head of design at Pastoe. It was under his leadership and the need to supply a growing domestic market that the Dutch manufacturer took off. The company also benefited from a national furniture craze, which was crystallised around the Goed Wonen (‘Good Living’) Foundation, which advocated the distribution of attractive furniture designs to the general public.

According to the foundation, furniture should be good, practical, comfortable and unadorned. This is why Cees Braakman has developed a number of popular furniture lines for Pastoe, characterised by clean, elegant lines that are perfectly proportioned and suitable for small spaces.

Vintage sideboard model PB01, design by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, circa 1950. Made of high quality birch plywood.
CB01 furniture, Combex series, design by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1950s.
CB01 furniture, Combex series, detail. Design by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1950s. Cees Braakman develops furniture that is practical and modular.
CB01 furniture, Combex series, detail. Design Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1950s.
Goed Wonen publishes a monthly magazine of the same name that promotes good furniture for the Dutch family. Here, thefront cover of two issues from 1948.

In line with the Goed Wonen Foundation, which advocated inexpensive, user-friendly, flexible furniture that would fit well into small Dutch homes, Cess Braakman began offering geometric cabinet elements at the end of the 1940s that the consumer could change to create a cabinet of any size. The Oak (1948) and Birch (1950) series of furniture were designed on this principle.

Cabinet model KB04, Birch/Combex series, design: Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1950s.
Storage cabinet model BE04, Oak series, design: Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1948.

Like other designers of his generation, Cees Braakman went to the United States to learn new design techniques. He was particularly interested in the experimental approach of the duo Eames, who created pure forms by bending wood, as in the famous LCW and DCW Chairs . It was in this spirit that he in turn developed the SBO2 chair in the early 1950s.

Chair Model SB02, design by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1952-1954. The piece is made of teak plywood.
Small vintage sideboard model CB02, design Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1950s. This cabinet is part of the Birch series by Cees Braakman. The legs are distinctive, made of bent plywood, a technique developed by the Eames and followed by Braakman.

In the Dutch context, it is interesting to note that Cees Braakman is not the only talented designer of his generation to revive interest in design and furniture production. His colleagues are Friso Kramer, Martin Visser, Cor Alons, Wim Rietveld (Gerrit’s son) and Kho Liang Ie. Pastoe was not alone; other Dutch publishers and manufacturers made their mark: Artifort of course, but also Gispen, Tomado, ‘t spectrum and Ahrend De Cirkel.

Cees Braakman, who was active in the 1950s, once again made his mark with a remarkable innovation. In 1955, Pastoe specialised in flexible cabinet systems that consumers could assemble themselves. This innovative concept was developed in the Furniture-made-to-measure series. This system is based on a corner moulding on which shelves and other parts can be mounted in 4 directions. The consumer can use it to build his own cabinet and expand it later if necessary.

Advertisement for Pastoe and its Made to measure system, 1959.
Ed Suister
Vintage ‘Made to Measure’ wall unit by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1960s. Pastoe asserts its identity as a designer of modular storage furniture.

Three years later, Cess Braakman strikes again. In 1958, he designed a series of conventional cupboards: U + N, with a modest and sober design. A creation that became the trademark of the Dutch manufacturer.

Beautiful cabinet from the U + N series, model CU09, designed by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1958. The cabinet is veneered in teak wood and has an original white lacquered door. A sober and elegant design.
Cabinet from the U+N series, model CU09, designed by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1958, detail.

In 1967, Braakman refined the principle of cabinets made up of separate, stackable elements with the Pastoe Cube (1967) and the K 369 series (1971). Technological innovations were the basis for these geometrically clear cabinet systems. A PVC-coated chipboard panel is milled crosswise, after which it can be easily folded into a cube. Inventiveness and boldness that have won various awards.

Q-bus modular system designed by Cees Braakman for Pastoe. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pastoe became the benchmark for modular furniture in Holland.
Advertising for the Q-bus modular furniture series in 1973, design: Cees Braakman for Pastoe.
Maxi studio Drent

Inventive and innovative, Cees Braakman creates simple, functional design that is comfortable without being cosy. Pieces that have nothing to envy to American, Scandinavian and Italian mid-century designs. While he established Pastoe as the reference publisher of modular storage systems, he is also the creator of emblematic pieces of Dutch design such as the SM05 wire chair (1958), the S33desk (1958) and the TM05 sideboard (1950s).

Set of 4 Wire chairs, Model SM05, design by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1958.
Set of 4 chairs Wire series, Model SM05, detail. Design Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1958.
Desk S33, design Cees Braakman for Pastoe, 1958. A beautiful piece of inspired design. Braakman is often regarded as the Dutch post-war designer with the least ‘cold’ style, with less harsh cuts.
Vintage side table with magazine holder, model TM05. Design by Cees Braakman for UMS Pastoe, 1950s. An emblematic piece of Dutch design.

Cees Braakman is a talented designer who is not well known to the general public. He designed some of the most beautiful pieces of post-war Dutch design. Pastoe, the company he ran for 30 years, still exists. The brand has survived him. Today it specialises in storage cabinets (sideboards, wall bookcases, base units) and still expresses a sober and classy design.

Storage bookcases, Pastoe publisher.
Wall-mounted storage units, Pastoe publisher.

François Boutard