Extremis, in conversation with the founder Dirk Wynants

extremis, salone milano

Extremis, AMAi, photo courtesy

“My view on the continuation of this company does not lie necessarily in the family” - explains Dirk Wynants. My father was a carpenter, and indeed my father-in-law had a steel business, but I started my very own.”

How did you develop your business model and company?

My parents wanted me and my three younger brothers to join their family business, and I was the only one who thought this was not the best idea. Unfortunately I was right, and it ended in closing down their company. I’ve learned quite a lot from that experience.

The wooden interiors they made were far from modern, but I learned everything about carpentry, about making invoices and offers because I was the only one in the family who could use a typewriter. 

I studied interior architecture, and a whole new world opened up to me. I wanted to establish my own furniture company because during interior architecture it became very clear that was my passion. In school you don't learn about the commercial side because they wanted to nourish the artist aspect of us. Design is also about economics, sales and mass production. I wanted to write my thesis about the connection of the public with design. 

My most important work experience was to become the Benelux agent for some design companies, such as Sawaya & Moroni. I started my own business with all the knowledge that came from that period. I had a good wage but I did not want to stay in that golden cage. So I started my own business with € 6000 at the age of 30 and put everything aside.

extremis, salone milano, gargantua

Extremis, Gargantua, photo courtesy

Did you start it by yourself or with somebody?

No, just by myself. My wife joined in many years later, because she was working with her brother in her family business. It became difficult for me to do everything.


When was a transformation point for you and your business, when did you realize you had made it?

To think to have made it, at a certain point, can be very dangerous, it is a continuous process that never ends. When I started my business, it was really with the idea that most likely this was going to go wrong. Maybe I will not succeed. The chances were high.

My first international fair was the very first Salone Satellite with Gargantua (after a second participation then they kicked me out because I was growing too fast!). It was a product that I needed myself. My wife asked me to buy some outdoor furniture, and I couldn't find anything that pleased me. So I thought - this is a gap in the market that is still open. 

Timing was quite good, you always need to be a little bit early. If you're not too early, you are too late. My instinct was good in that sense.

From the beginning in ‘94 I started to focus on the international, because Belgium is a very small country. The first international customer was a shop in Dusseldorf. I came there and delivered the piece and assembled it in the showroom myself. A nice guy who was dressed in a very funky way was amazed by the furniture, he was lying under the table saying - wow, this is so fantastic. He was Zanotta Ceo. At this point I thought it could grow into something. It gave me some courage. 

Today we have our offices in USA as well. Our oldest son Thomas is living there. The plan was that he was going to work in other companies first as well. But when he met a girl in the USA, they settled in Michigan and joined the family business.

Although my children are working in the company, it does not mean that they will take over the company. That is an interesting aspect. They're aware of that. At the beginning it was a little bit difficult to make them understand, but having your children running the business can be a poisonous gift as well.

extremis, salone milano, stand

Extremis, Salone del Mobile.Milano 2022, photo courtesy

You spoke about leading roles, do you run your company as a leading role or team work?

I'm a designer, I'm involved in everything, I'm not the manager. This's a very big difference, because I want to focus on design. On my business card I have BIG BOSS, but the real boss is my wife.

The first thing that people have to do when they come to our company is to invent a non-standard title that describes their job sufficiently. But not boring titles, we want to have a very flat organization.


What are you working on and preparing for the next Salone del Mobile?

We have about 20 projects on the table, and then hundreds in the fridge. Things that didn't make it in the selection, some go in the waste bin, some go in the fridge. And then we have the things we are working on, and only a few will make it to the market.

We are now working on the first prototypes of what we are going to present in Milan. There are still some choices we have to make.


Are there some products you are particularly attached to?

That is a question that is often asked, but I always tend to say the next one, the one I'm attached to is the one I'm working on now. I have to remember that Gargantua was the starting piece. I'm so happy that we still have this in our collection.

extremis, sensu, salone milano

Extremis, Sensu, photo courtesy

How are you facing this economic, social moment?

I don't want to be influenced by a temporary situation where I cannot change anything. We just continue as usual. The signals we get are still rather good. Things will slow down but panic is never a good reaction. It's an opening to new possibilities. This is the moment where we have to be creative and we have to continue, this is the wrong time to have a pause.


Do you think about the metaverse world and having your products there?

I want to improve the interaction of people. I actually think that metaverse is the opposite of sharing, I am not interested in joining these worlds of artificial things. I prefer putting products on the market that improve real life. Understanding what value people find in this parallel reality is, however, something I want to understand, as well as the intentions of those who are building it. We are living in an ever changing world, and I’m not ready to become the dinosaur who didn’t see things coming…

extremis, gargantua, salone milano

Extremis, Gargantua, photo courtesy

extremis, gargantua, table, salone milano

Extremis, Gargantua, photo courtesy

extremis, amai, bench, salone milano

Extremis, AMAi, High Low Bench, photo courtesy

Salone del mobile Salone del mobile
14 March 2023