Career StoriesPassion 24 January 2017
Career Stories: Esther Stam of Studio Modijefsky

Have you noticed that so many new bars and restaurants today just look drop dead gorgeous? If it’s in Amsterdam, there’s a big chance Esther Stam and her team did the design. Esther runs (and founded) Studio Modijefsky, a leading interior design studio, based in Amsterdam.

Over the years, Esther and an international team of architects and interior designers worked on many different projects you might know as well. Beautiful and popular bars and restaurants like De Kanarie Club, Mama Dough, Bar Botanique, Bar Basquiat, De Gouden Hoek, Holy Smoke, De Biertuin, Eddy Spaghetti, Smokin’ Barrels, Bar Bukowski and Waterkant are examples of Esther’s work.

That’s certainly not all: Studio Modijefsky does hotels, public spaces, and even bus design too. Esther: “Running a studio is not only designing spaces, but also defining an office structure, creating a healthy financial environment, a business strategy, a work philosophy, and a vision for the future.”


Photo: Maarten Willemstein

Why do you do what you do?
Esther: “Interesting question. And at this moment for me a very urgent question.
With everything going on in the world, I feel this is a question that everyone should ask themselves.
At my studio, we design spaces that are exciting and inspiring, places where people perceive their space in new ways and users dare to look beyond the ordinary and be surprised. The design meets the ideas and use of the public and evolves with the user in time. Every new spatial design proposition aims to enrich the use of the space and its surrounding. At the moment, I am wondering how I can use my skills to contribute to a better world. I must admit, it’s a question that has been going on in my head, and I would like to start acting on it as one of my goals for 2017.”

What did you want to be when you were a child?
Esther: “I don’t know if I had a particular dream about what to be when I was young. My mother tells me I was always intrigued by beauty. When she would take me to the flower market, I would pick up all the fallen flowers from the ground and my desk at home was covered with small vases filled with flowers. Creating has been something I liked doing from a very young age.

Photo: Maarten Willemstein

Where do you go to get inspired?
Esther: “I am inspired by many things. A walk in nature, a theater play, great architecture like the Prada Foundation by OMA in Milan, but also of course traveling. I’m not seeing as much of the world as I would like to, and that is another goal for sure, but every time I am abroad I find myself taking pictures and registering new surroundings till the very last detail. I am always interested in discovering the way in which things are made, how landscapes change and how different sensations are experienced in different places, the smells and tastes of life are ever changing.”

What has been the most difficult part of growing your own business?
Esther: “To develop into someone that is not just making nice designs, but also a business woman. Running a studio is not only designing spaces, but also defining an office structure, creating a healthy financial environment, a business strategy, a work philosophy, and a vision for the future. With more people involved, everybody needs to be on the same page, and together we need to know where we are heading to.”

What tool, object or ritual could you not live without in your workday?
Esther: “I drink lots of tea throughout the day, so I guess my thermos on my desk. And music. I play music all day and love to discover new songs to add to my playlists. Certain songs can really make your workday more efficient.”

Photo: Maarten Willemstein

What was the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?
Esther: “I think my time. I absolutely feel that I would love to spend more time with the ones I love. My boyfriend, family and friends, and even time for just me. It is my ambition to find/create a better balance in my time. Where I have the space to be the person that I want to be for the people I care about most next to having a flourishing design studio.”

Which project are you most proud of at the moment and why?
Esther: “Our latest is always a favorite… So right now I really like Kanarie Club; for this venue, we created the name, identity, and interior. It just opened its doors and I think it turned out really nice. It has a style of its own, and the location is very elegant. Our use of materials, colors and composition and the surrounding complement each other in an exceptional way.”

In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
Esther: “By now I know, that when a project is almost finished, I start to have doubts about the design and dislike some of our choices. By being aware of this recurring feeling, I can deal with it. Next to that, I have fantastic people around me like my boyfriend ( who is a designer himself; Frederik Molenschot), my best friends and sister that are also my fan club, and take me through hard times. They’re all super talented and great people, and help me with difficult situations, tough choices and business strategies.”

Biggest career lesson you learned along the way?
Esther: “It’s all about being the best person that you can be. And that it’s as much about the person behind the design as the design itself.You need to be able to sell it and people need to believe in you to give you the opportunity. Next, to that, I think I’ve learned to be flexible. Not everything is always possible and going the way you want it to, and being able to let go of the initial idea and find new solutions is a skill that keeps the energy alive.”

Photo: Maarten Willemstein

As a woman, do you feel responsible for working with a girls only club, or is it accidental your Studio Modijefsky is a girls only squad?
Esther: “Definitely no. It just happened for my studio to turn into a girls squad. I would have never imagined that I would have a total feminine team, and I think if you would have told me on forehand, I wouldn’t have thought it would work. But my team consists of real-time power chicks; that have a very big ambition, and great character, next to lots of talent and most important; they are real fine individuals as well. A few weeks ago, we had our yearly Christmas dinner, and I wrote a letter to each of them, realizing that they mean a lot to me.”

Do you have a role model?
Esther: “I think role models change with time. Right now, I think I have several. As a woman with my own studio, my role model is my friend who is the mother of 2 kids that I absolutely love, as well as Michelle Obama and Piet Oudolf.”

Any big project dreams for the future?
Esther: “I would love to design a space with natural surroundings, something out of the urban setting. A spa would be very interesting to design or a shop for a very specific product where we would reinvent the way it is usually presented with details that portray great craftsmanship. And of course, I wish to work on projects that will be Studio Modijefsky’s contribution to a better world.”

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