The Invisible Party's bespoke spaces.
There's good design, and then there's groundbreaking design — Amsterdam-based studio The Invisible Party reaches new levels of innovation by taking every last detail into account to create unforgettable bespoke spaces.
Working internationally with big and small clients on interior design projects, the studio goes far beyond interior aesthetics, reaching product development, brand strategy, and even curation for their industry-transcendent clients — among which there are major names like Nike and Patagonia.
At the core of each project, dedication to capturing the client's unique story dictates decisions in every direction, from the material, color, form, and beyond.
As a design practice constantly operating on the cutting edge, The Invisible Party holds unique knowledge on the future of the industry and the increasingly prevalent role that sustainable design will play.
In this exclusive chat with founder and creative director Vivian van Schagen, she shares insights into their circular design perspective, the most sustainable project of all time, and how her team translates individual stories into physical spaces.
What was the driving concept behind creating The Invisible Party?
We're a boutique design studio and I come from the field of brand design, having worked for Nike a long time. In that area, we design from a story told from the perspective of the brand. We still do that — when you step into a space, you enter without needing a logo, you just feel out the identity and personality of the brand. Nowadays, we still do that in the studio that I started. I still work the way I worked at Nike, but for different clients — both small businesses and big brands.
We always design from our client's story — it could be the brand's, or a personal story, but that's how we step into a space and come to understand the values of our client. Materials, colors, art, furniture — every element helps tell that story, every detail matters. I love the layers of a story that you continue to unravel and unpeel, constantly discovering new parts — that's my passion.
A vast variety of materials is characteristic of your design work, like the diverse selection of recycled materials featured in the Commons project. How do you go about sourcing your materials, and what story do they ultimately tell?
I like to approach every project as a unique story — one that we as designers need to capture and translate the intentions of. We develop that narrative with our client, or it's our task to filter information and understand what we're trying to tell, what the unique part is about the location, brand, or building. We translate that uniqueness into the materials, but they're just one part of it. You can tell a story in many ways. From a different way of looking at things, we identify these boxes to explain why we do a lot of different things, but it all comes down to the same storytelling design approach.
How does incorporating leather upgrade an interior design, and what does the material add to the narrative of the space?
Leather has a unique property: It gets more beautiful over time. There aren't many other materials that offer this quality of patina. It's interesting to use it in hospitality settings, like restaurants. It's both a functional and aesthetic decision. In our Madam Pancake concept, it was all about the Dutch heritage of baking pancakes in the context of an American dinner setting.
In researching American diners, that's where we found our design clues. We chose a long leather sofa to reference the aesthetic, but also because it's easy to clean, it maintains its beauty, it's durable, and it's elegant. It doesn't matter how many people sit there, the piece will just get more beautiful over time.
An interesting thing about The Student Hotel project is that we used a lot of vintage furniture to give the pieces a sustainable second life. Nearly all the furniture we reupholstered in new fabrics, new colors — except the leather ones. The material just has a very long life cycle, and older leather gets even more beautiful — it carries a kind of warming effect.
We're always happy to find furniture in mint condition, but with leather pieces, we don't need to reupholster because they're even better as they are.
Can you think of a few favorite uses of leather you've seen in past projects?
The interesting aspect of it in The Student Hotel is that we were focused on exclusively using the most sustainable materials. In this instance, we actually didn't use any new leather, we only used vintage leather pieces.
In other projects, we designed a high-end footwear store featuring lots of Italian design — it's urban meets Italian consumer meets Italian craftsmanship, in a high-end setting like Balenciaga. It was an interesting mix because Italian heritage comes with traditional craftsmanship, like the one you can see in big Italian fashion brands — but in this case, we were working with sneakers.
We really merged those two worlds in the materials we used, putting industrial materials like concrete and brass in contrast with rich leather. The warmth of the leather pieces we featured created something really beautiful, which was interesting to match to all the leather sneakers within the store."When we use leather with furniture, the pieces live."
You can use it without feeling like it's a negative thing, it makes pieces really beautiful and, in a way, self-sustainable — because people will show more care toward the piece and keep it for longer. You form a sort of a bond with the object over time, because it's so alive and takes on a kind of personality. Sometimes a vintage chair is even more valuable because of its worn leather, because you can't reproduce that character — it only comes with use, and that's what makes it so special.
Do you think sustainability is always a necessary part of good design?
I think we're at least moving in that direction — we can't stop it anymore. Sustainability and circularity are important, but it's a very gray area. There's no list that says, "If you do this, you've done the best for the world and for the environment." Like in everything, there's a scale.
In the end, the decision isn't always a good thing to do for the future — but sometimes it's economical, it's a good outcome. Things don't necessarily need to be more expensive in regard to durability, to things lasting, or to things being recycled.
With The Student Hotel, it took a full year to research materials and to develop the interior on such a circular level where no glue was used and we were able to unscrew everything.
Then, we had to source materials that could be recycled or taken back by the supplier. It's a big investment from the client's side to invest that kind of time. Of course, doing more of those projects brings new knowledge, but it's still not black and white.
Sustainability is increasingly important in good design, and we can't stop it — our future is to work best for the environment. There may not yet be a better alternative to something, but as a designer, you should think about it.
We're not done yet: dive even deeper into the sustainable walls of The Student Hotel here.