Many brands of furniture grow out of a family business that was set up many decades ago. Not so for Jongform and Sur&Plus, which were set up by Marc Huls himself.

By Bie Luyssaert

Surprisingly young

He was already working for Interform in 1984, a very progressive furniture business in Limburg at the time. It was one of the first furniture businesses in Belgium to offer Danish and Italian design. This pure, timeless design had not quite yet arrived among the Belgian furniture manufacturers and Marc Huls saw an opportunity. At Interform, he often collaborated with an independent upholsterer to put sofas and chairs in the same material as the rest of the home. And that is what started the ball rolling.

Marc wanted to do something young, something fresh in the seating sector. He would sketch something, the upholsterer would go to work on it, and then he would hit the road with that “young design”. Literally. Marc visited the furniture stores with his trailer and presented his first model, which attracted many comments, but was still a bit too new for the market. The third model, the Palace, was a hit. The furniture stores began buying and the orders came rolling in. After eighteen months, what was needed, apart from himself and the upholsterer, was a representative to cover the provinces of East and West Flanders. A designer was the next step, along with a large production area in Genk. More than 30 years later and the sofas are still manufactured in Belgium. And in addition to stitchers, upholsterers, a sales team, etc., Jongform also has its own R&D team.

Diva, Matthias Demacker for Jongform

Three years after starting up, Marc Huls had designed about a dozen sofas and felt that the time had come for innovation and extra input. He started worked with designers then, but retained, as the creative director, the brand and company style. Being innovative and being different are the two mottos. To steer well clear of the mainstream, he collaborates with young designers. In this way, he can turn all the attention to the design and not the designer. In the meantime, the trailer once used by the company reps has been replaced by a beautiful architectural showroom in Hasselt OPUZ, where the experience is extremely important if the buyers are to be persuaded. It is an ideal ice-breaker, just like a catalogue, and a perfect illustration of the fact that Jongform goes for a smaller, manageable, perfectly finished range.

His knack of spotting young talent has not gone unnoticed. As far back as 10 years ago, Marc was the only Belgian manufacturer to sit on the jury for Salone Sattelite in Milan, through which it was possible to spot young talent even earlier. Designers are allowed to present sofas and chairs that cannot actually be made. He works with them on the challenge of retaining the spirit of the design, while making it possible to construct them as functioning sofas. Comfort and aesthetics are of equal importance.

Boots, Bart Lens for Jongform
Books, Jean-François D’Or for Jongform

In addition to Jongform, there is also Sur&Plus, a range of sofas for the private market, aimed chiefly at the higher segment.Sur&Plus has had to reposition itself twice in the market over the years, from makers of good furniture for the young starter to real designer pieces with an accompanying price tag. This has also affected the risks that could be taken. Whereas once they may have decided to create a piece that was outside the box, they are now in a segment where such things are less acceptable. People pay a great deal of money and expect a timeless piece that exudes serenity, class and elegance.

Balance, Peter Van Riet for Jongform

The designer portfolio contains many Flemish and Brussels designers, such as Roel Vandebeek, Stefan Schöning, Peter Van Riet, Bart Lens and Jean-François D’Or, as well as the American-Korean Sean Yoo, the Swiss Lor Zingg and the Germans Andrey Munteanu and Mathias Demacker. Roel Vandebeek designed the very straight-lined, minimalist sofas for Jongform and Sur&Plus, such as the Border, the Rambla and the Forum. Austere sofas with surprising details and a subtle interplay of proportions. Stefan Schöning has shown signs of remarkable versatility, with a surprisingly angular Count & Basie, the straight Dexter, the James that plays with straight and round, the Solo singular unit and the broad Wilson. In each of these models, he manages to strike an attractive balance between volumes. Peter Van Riet creates a suggestive design in his Balance, with its visionary play on lines.

Lady, Thomas Wagner and Dirk Loff for Jongform
Lady, Thomas Wagner and Dirk Loff for Jongform

As a manufacturer, Jongform aims to bring passion, but Marc Huls himself has a real passion for Belgian design. He passes their portfolios to other manufacturers, gives them contact details for lighting manufacturers, for example, and so much more.

He loves to help them get started by working for him, to chart a course together. In this, like every good manager, he weighs the aesthetic and personal against the commercial. If a sofa looks good, radiates passion, has identity and gives identity and sells well, too, he is a happy man. Sales are essential to keep the 60-strong business running. This responsibility is what keeps Marc Huls’s finger on the pulse. In 2014, Jongform and Sur&Plus will be getting a little brother, Koozo. Certainly worth getting to know!

If you want to test Jongform’s furniture properly, you don’t go to the factory showroom in Genk, but rather, you are invited to OPUZ, a showroom or platform for architectural living, set up by a number of Belgian manufacturers (ArtSound, Jongform/Sur&Plus, Modular and Niko). A very deliberate choice by Marc Huls, founder and director of Jongform.