Rietveld Projects, timeless aesthetics and inspired entrepreneurship
The brothers, Peter and Thomas Moerman, share a distinct passion for quality, aesthetics and timelessness. The buildings they realize with Rietveld Projects effortlessly stand the test of time and continue to inspire.
The Moerman brothers, little else in the bunker
Peter and Thomas, grew up in a special house in the Rietveldstraat in Beervelde (Genste region). The house in which they lived was sometimes called the bunker by the neighbors. From an early age the brothers felt a bit different and they liked that. It is the childhood story of the Moerman brothers. Peter looks back with warm feelings on his youth, where the seeds for Rietveld Projects were already planted.
'Our parents' house is completely closed at the front and very open at the back. It is a creation of architect Piet Gellynck, a friend of my parents. Thanks to our parents, we grew up with a strong love of aesthetics. They would save for months or even years for a beautiful piece of art or furniture. One of those pieces of furniture was the round Tullip kitchen table by Eero Saarinen. At that table we discussed everything. From an early age, we were involved in decisions that affected the whole family. That table is still at my brother's house today.'
West Flanders work-entrepreneurs build on patato field
The Moerman brothers got their passion for aesthetics and entrepreneurship at an early age. Their parents were not entrepreneurs, at least not in the strict sense of the word. My father, from the coast, worked at the Esso refinery in Antwerp, my mother, a Bruges native, was head nurse at UZ Gent for forty years. Talking about West Flemish work-entrepreneurs.
'We were always the first ones to school, my mother opened the polyclinic at 7:30 a.m. sharp. That's where she got up. Together with our grandfather, our parents founded Vervamo in 1992, a modest patrimony company. They pooled their savings and had a striking building constructed, for the time, on one of my grandfather's patterns, in Sint-Michiels (Bruges). It was designed by the then young Benny Govaert, who would later create a furore with Govaert and Van Houtte, also the architectural firm with which we have meanwhile completed many fine projects.
Rietveld logo designed between toothpaste
Peter and Thomas did not immediately become entrepreneurs. After his ecomony and Vlerick studies, Peter went to work as a marketer at Unilever in the personal care department (toothpastes, deodorants, etc.), while Thomas made a career in real estate. During his lunch breaks, Peter thought about starting his own company. It was there that he designed the now famous logo of Rietveld Projects. The name is a tribute to the Rietveldstraat, where the brothers grew up, and also a reference to their predilection for the work of the famous designer and architect, Gerrit Rietveld.
'In 2004, the time had come, Rietveld was in the works, we were sitting together with our parents, a real estate agent, a lawyer and an accountant. That 'bookkeeper', Emmanuel Titeca, made a big impression on us. He stood out because of the great knowledge with which he spoke. We immediately decided to become clients of Titeca in Roeselare.'
During that first meeting we immediately received a golden tip from Emmanuel about building up our own patrimony. So from the beginning we invested our profits right back into the business.
Inside out ... about weighty and golden advice
Since 2004, the bond between Rietveld Projects and Titeca has been very strong.
Titeca, knows Rietveld Projects through and through, 'inside out' and they have a real helicopter view. And not just as far as Rietveld Projects is concerned. Titeca knows virtually all of entrepreneurial Flanders. Twice a year, we meet with our accountant/file manager to discuss the figures and prospects of Rietveld Projects. We do not work with investors, we want to keep everything under control ourselves, another golden piece of advice from Titeca.'
It is also partly under the encouragement of Titeca that the two brothers decided to venture into the rental market as well. 'We rent out sheds and offices to companies. That leg of our business has grown slowly, but we're putting more and more effort into it.'
Coo(n)stig different, they to the left, we to the right
They now have a second office in Ghent, but Rietveld Projects has so far mainly made a name for themselves on the Belgian coast, where their minimalist architecture and eye for quality have been a hit. This makes their realizations at odds with the average coastal residence.
'The Rietveld slogan reads: because top architecture connects us. We only work with top architects: Govaert and Vanhoutte, CAAN, Element, Callebaut. We also almost always work with the same contractors. That's the only way to get so much done with a small team. Our projects are always idiosyncratic. If everyone else goes left, we go right. We're constantly looking for new materials and styles. We want to stay original.'
Building a legacy, rigorous brand name monitoring
Rietveld Projects is more than a brand, it is a quality label just like the service of Titeca.
'It is our aspiration that even a Rietveld layman recognizes our buildings at first glance. What we do goes far beyond amassing an income; it is our mission to build out a legacy. Each building is a reference of quality and timelessness for the next. We do not compromise on quality and architecture, even if it means making less profit. We guard our brand name carefully, a tip I can give to any entrepreneur.'
'I think it's important as an entrepreneur to know very well what you want. Be distinctive. Rietveld Projects is the story of two brothers. That makes us unique. If you don't want to be a follower, you have to have a unique DNA, something that cannot be copied. Even when I go to a sandwich store, I look around carefully and ask myself, where is the distinctive character here? I also think it's essential to regularly add new touches. For example, there are too many catering businesses that were very innovative fifteen years ago and still offer exactly the same thing today and are therefore outdated in the meantime. Keep growing and evolving.'
'One of the biggest challenges we face ourselves as entrepreneurs is obtaining permits. Fortunately, we can also count on legal advice from Titeca.'
Peter and Thomas adhere to their grandfather's advice. 'Who always said: hurry slowly. We could grow faster by putting up mastodons of buildings, but that is not our ambition. Each project is equally important to us and we follow up on each client personally. That is a big difference with property developers who sell 150 apartments at a time. There is then little or no connection with the clients.'
'As an entrepreneur you have to look at your talents. For us, that's designing small-scale projects and assisting clients personally. If I had thirty employees in the office, that would make me very unhappy. At one time our tendency to control everything ourselves took its toll on my health. Fortunately, I've now learned to avoid that. My brother and I now have children. As a matter of fact, we regularly take them out to yards and involve them in what we do. We ask their opinion. We don't force anything on them, but we try to bring them up in the same way we were brought up.
That strong family bond is one of the driving forces behind Rietveld Projects. My brother and I only have to look at each other to know what the other thinks. My father really insisted on that when we were kids. He was never angry, except when my brother and I were arguing.'