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Design Museum Gent Presents 100 Years of Demeyere, Made in Belgium: the Art of Cooking
Portrait of Maurice and Christophe Demeyere. © Demeyere NV.

GHENT.- Design Museum Gent presents 100 years of Demeyere, Made in Belgium: the Art of Cooking. The start of this fascinating family story takes us back to the year 1904, when Emmanuel Demeyere (born in Heule in 1861) moves to Antwerp. The plumber and zinc worker from Kortrijk is invited by renowned biscuit company De Beuckelaer to produce tin cans for the company, using his excellent knowledge of the trade. Later, Emmanuel even rises to the position of foreman-plate maker with renowned Antwerp car manufacturer Minerva!

His son Maurice Karel Demeyere (born in Kortrijk in 1891) inherits his father's talent. He learns the metal worker trade and is a daring entrepreneur. In 1908 he establishes himself as a self-employed worker in a building in Provinciestraat in Borgerhout, creating the spark that would lead to the current family business. As a 17-year-old, he is running a company which employs four workers, all of whom are over 40 years old! In short, Maurice is no stranger to initiative. During World War I he is part of the combat engineering troops with the Belgian Army. As he is by nature eager to learn, he succeeds in making a virtue of necessity and absorbs a wide range of technical knowledge. One military booklet from this time, highly treasured by the family, is proof of this fact.

Starting in 1919 he again picks up the company activities along with his brother Willem. The Demeyere brothers gradually extend the firm, taking over a failing manufacturer of household items in 1921, and transferring their company to Herentalsebaan in Deurne in that same year. 1922 then sees the official foundation of nv Demeyere & Zonen. Father Emmanuel stays by his sons' side, giving advice and assistance until his death in 1927. Sisters Martha, Jeanne and Helena also work in the Demeyere company, usually until their marriage, as was customary at the time. Half brothers Emmanuel and Karel do remain on the Demeyere payroll until their retirement, and Alfons Eykens, husband to Helena, is hired as a representative.

The golden 20s: extension and acknowledgement - One greatly significant acknowledgement of the young company's technical skill was the large order placed by Bell Telephone from Antwerp. For this communications company with branches all over the world, Demeyere produces millions of capacitor parts in the 1920s, besides the company's proprietary product range. Business is booming. In 1931, the first printed catalogue featuring the household items produced by the company is published. To this day, this catalogue is treasured as an item of great value. It shows us the various metal objects the company produced for the local and regional markets. Besides typical kitchen items such as kettles, coffee and tea services, it also features cooking pots, decorative flower pots and smoking sets! This catalogue is the first in a long series of promotional printing material which is to this day available to distributors and customers in a contemporary format. In the middle of World War II, the company is given the name 'Werkhuizen Demeyere' ('Demeyere Workshops'). The company survives these trying years primarily thanks to the production of large soup pots which were required for the breadlines of the day.

Continued growth after WWII - Fortunately, the war had not crippled the company, ensuring succession. Maurits Emmanuel Demeyere (born in Antwerp in 1921) is an industrial engineer graduate and definitively places the company focus on cooking utensils as of 1946. At the end of the 1940s, Frans Lanckpaep (husband to Joanna Demeyere, daughter of Willem) joins the company. Emmanuel Matthys, son of Jeanne Demeyere and Jozef Matthys, is equally unable to resist the call of the Demeyere company. He will later rise to the position of head of the press department. A number of years later, Leon, son of Karel Demeyere, also joins the company as a specialist mould builder, until his unfortunate passing.

Maurits invented ‘Silvinox’, a world exclusive product in the field of surface treatment for cooking utensils. Thanks to Silvinox, cooking pots, frying pans, kettles, coffee pots and other items retain their shiny and clean look, despite frequent use and washing. This adds to the company’s ever-growing renown. The range of household items is likewise gradually extended. In 1980 he opens a new workshop (30,000 m) in Herentals to answer the call of continuing expansion.

Into the 21st century with full confidence - A third generation enters the company with Jan Demeyere (born in Wilrijk in 1947). With his basic training as a civil engineer in electromechanics, he is the suitable successor to face the challenges of the future. He takes his first steps in the company in 1975. Maurits not only closely monitors technical developments, he also has a keen eye for new trends. With the future in mind, he fairly early on starts researching a new cooking technique: induction cooking. At the time when this revolutionary and energy-saving cooking method breaks through, Demeyere is at the ready with a wide selection of suitable and stylish products. Induction cooking requires new metal alloys for the bottom of cooking pots, but also for the sides in order to optimally distribute heat across the pot. By enlarging the domestic and foreign markets, he also ensures that cooking becomes an art form within everyone's reach. Maurits transfers the entire production to Herentals. The old familiar plant in Herentalsebaan in Deurne is definitively closed after 77 years.

His son, Christophe Demeyere (born in Leuven in 1973), has been working in the family company since 2004. The young economics and marketing licentiate represents the fourth generation and is jointly responsible for a company which is now 100 years of age and which has a sales area spanning 30 countries spread all over the world. Thanks to the significant growth of these past few years as well as the evolutions in the cooking and lifestyle product market, Demeyere can face the future with confidence.

Designer John Pawson - Besides functionality in products, Demeyere strives to produce items which look the part. These past decades, the company has called upon renowned designers to accomplish this goal. At the occasion of the company's 100th birthday, Demeyere is introducing a brand-new, highly modern product range, designed by renowned British architect/designer John Pawson.

Although his work is described as 'abstract', it is unmistakably rooted in the quest to accurately grasp the essence of daily life. Whether the object at hand is a house, shop, gallery, bridge, monastery or cooking pot, the ultimate challenge for Pawson always lies in the following: how to harmonize people, space and objects.

'One museum director once said about my work: “It all begins with the kitchen”. What he meant was that houses are at the heart of my work, and kitchens are at the heart of the houses. My collaboration with Demeyere started off with the idea of equipping this important contemporary living space with a set of basic tools which would combine functional sophistication with the highest design values.

A pan may seem like a very obvious object to design. However, the reality is that smallness of scale does not correspond with lack of complexity. The fusion of form and function must be seamless. It would be useless to find the perfectly simple profile, for instance, if the rim is unsuitable for pouring. Equally, visual comfort would in this sense lose its value if the pan did not feel good to hold in your hand. I knew I could leave the more technical properties to the Demeyere team. I have focused my efforts on the shape of the pot and on the detail, and the angle of the connection between body and grip. My objective was something which looked different but 'right', both at home on the stove as on the table – modern but not fashionable and therefore prone to quickly losing its fresh edge.'

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