DEURNE, the Netherlands – Founded in 1971 as a local Dutch manufacturer of wallcoverings, Vescom has since established itself as an international brand renowned for its high-quality interior products.
On a warm summer day, Frame was invited to the Vescom office in Deurne, the Netherlands, for a behind-the-scenes tour of the production facility where the wallcoverings and upholstery and curtain fabrics are made.
‘When we began operations in 1971, the focus was on delivering wallcoverings to projects in the Benelux countries,’ says Arno Beurskens, marketing and sales director at Vescom. ‘We now have 16 dedicated sales offices around the globe, as well as exclusive distributors in roughly 80 countries focused entirely on serving the customer. However, all the logistic and production facilities are based right here in the Netherlands and in the US.’
It’s a beautiful building. At first glance, the opulence of glass – in the façade, the floor-to-ceiling windows, the partitions and walls – gives the impression of a workspace suited to a high-end fashion house or a New-York hedge fund. Taking the stairs from the front lobby is vertiginous and reminiscent of Apple’s floating glass spiral staircases in its retail stores.
Where’s the industrial production facility I came here to see? The production manager John Koolen smiles at me as he leads the way down a ground-level corridor to an innocuous white door which looks like it opens to a storeroom for office supplies. Beyond this nondescript door is a vast factory space, far higher and wider than the corridor outside: stacked with rolls of wallcoverings and fabrics, hot and busy with the sounds of machinery, with passages leading off to other manufacturing areas entirely. It’s like the cupboard leading to Narnia.
‘Everything begins with 60 colours of vinyl film,’ says Koolen, gesturing at the rows upon rows of stacked fabric rolls. Additional colours can be printed on these films, which yields approximately 2,000 colour choices for Vescom’s vinyl wallcoverings.
‘We have a very wide range of products,’ says Beurskens. ‘And it’s important to have very short lead times. That’s why we have state-of-the-art production facilities that enable us to produce small quantities as required, so we can respond quickly to market demand.’
The tour continues, following the entire manufacturing process of a vinyl wallcovering. Amongst other things, I learn that Vescom uses cotton backing, which is stronger than the paper alternative and easier to repair. Billy Joel croons over the speakers as we dodge forklifts on the factory floor. Off to one side, a man with a sailor's weathered gaze stands before a machine that rapidly unfurls a fabric roll. He’s checking each roll for printing errors: human-assessed quality control that can only be done in two-hour shifts. ‘Otherwise your eyes get fatigued, and you start to miss the mistakes,’ Koolen explains.
Koolen then leads the way to the colour-mixing area, which he calls ‘the Kitchen’. ‘Each colour is a combination of three or four different colours,’ he says. ‘We mix the pigments here to develop the colours for Christiane Müller, the Vescom design director’.
Müller apparently frequently walks through the Kitchen to check on what the colour specialists are up to, and the wide range of colours in the Vescom collections must all be developed to her specifications. For instance, Nero alone is available in 54 colours, each of which is hand-mixed in its development phase.
Samples of each collection are collated into a card to be distributed to architects, design studios, and of course, Vescom sales offices and representatives around the world. The sample cards are mounted by hand, in what has to be my favourite room in the Deurne facility. The people folding, gluing, stacking, and boxing the sample cards greet us with friendly smiles, continuously working together like a well-oiled machine – if that machine were an incredibly cheerful Dutch family.
These genuinely happy faces remind me that Vescom is a family-owned business, a stark contrast to a corporate environment where employees hardly look up from their computers except to glare at intruders.
In a separate corner, a huge printing machine is slowly imprinting tropical leaves and flowers on a 130-cm roll of vinyl for a custom order. ‘Our digitally printed wallcoverings allow designers to translate a desired mood into one breathtaking print of the size required by the space,’ says Bram Evers, a marketing and communications representative at Vescom. ‘We recently covered a 40-m wall in Radisson Park Inn, Amsterdam, and printed Vermeer’s Milkmaid for a showroom in Chicago. The possibilities are endless.’
One of the last rooms shown to me is one solely for the visual testing of samples in natural light. The samples are held near a wide window using a vertical vacuum wall – an ingenious way to mount the wallcoverings, vacuum suction being quicker than magnets or tape.
This deceptively simple and straightforward approach is characteristic of Vescom. When I ask about the difference between the manufacturing facilities in the Netherlands and in the USA, Christiane Müller tells me that replicating production in the two countries requires that everything from the design files to the machinery be identical: with one small exception. ‘The embossment rollers are 2 cm wider in America – maybe everything is bigger in America!’ she jokes.
Everyone I speak to in Deurne is not only an expert at what they do, but also deeply passionate about it. Their perfectionism extends down to the millimetres, and up to the hundreds of kilometres of fabric studies that are developed by Müller before a collection is ready for production.
When we’re walking through the Vescom staff offices, Nancy van de Pol, the marketing and communications manager, tells me that they’re in the middle of refurbishment and about to start installing the wallcoverings. I make a joke about going on vacation while the work-disrupting installation is done. Van de Pol replies with a serious look: ‘It can be done in one day; we don’t have to move or work somewhere else while waiting for paint to dry. The office is good to be used again instantly. That’s the benefit of wallcoverings.’
This level of precision and craftsmanship is a predominant theme in my interactions with Vescom.
This is the first in a series of four in-depth articles featuring Vescom which will be published over the next month. Next week, we speak to Christiane Müller about the creative process behind Vescom's wallcoverings and upholstery and curtain fabrics.