The Interview: Haring Piebenga of Authentic Models

We interview Haring Piebenga, founder of Authentic Models, for an in-depth look at the brand's historical and nostalgic designer lighting and accessories.


The Interview

Steeped in history and nostalgia, Authentic Models is renowned for evoking a feeling of the past with a collection of designer furnishings, lighting and home accessories. Taking inspiration from sources such as vintage aviation and nautical travel, the collections are striking and utterly unique, bringing a quirky edge to interior spaces. We speak to company founder, Haring Piebenga, to find out about his passion for design as well as his love for days gone by…

Q: How did Authentic Models begin?

A: In the mid-1960s, I worked as a freelance product consultant in Amsterdam. To both house my family and use as an office, I purchased an early 19th century monumental school building and the ground floor had large windows looking out onto one of Amsterdam’s canals. That inspired me to launch a model ship gallery, the model ships appealed both to my love of sailing and history. I had found a workshop in a high security prison in Spain where a French bank robber made the most wonderful models for me, it really was like being in a Birdman of Alcatraz story! My interest really took off and I was able to develop Authentic Models into a solid company.

Haring Piebenga Exclusive Interview - Authentic Models model boats

Q: Did you always want to work in design?

A: I’m more a combination of business and design. Although I know what I want and where I want to go, I still need a skilled designer to draw things out. I usually have too many ideas, which can pose a problem! I’m interested in many things which makes for an eclectic collection but after moving to the USA, I learned to focus more. I think I know exactly who my consumer is though, and that’s the person I am always keeping in mind.

Q: How do your own tastes and passions influence Authentic Models’ designs?

A: I guess I was born in the wrong century. Dutch traders travelled everywhere in the past and I think I’ve visited most colonial places the Dutch have been to. I’m always trying to imagine how it must have felt to sail into an Oriental port with a completely different culture, language, smells, colours and customs. I wish I could travel back in time, I am a Cabinet of Curiosities person.

Haring Piebenga Exclusive Interview

Q: How would you describe the Authentic Models look?

A: Classic with a twist and eclectic but, above all, original and authentic. I see Authentic Models creations popping up in major auctions and antique stores, it’s often hard to distinguish our creations from originals made in centuries past. I also try to present things together with their story. Take a little pocket compass, for example, it has a great story and combines iconic design with early science. We package smaller products in handmade boxes to allow people to enjoy the context and always use our mermaid logo, she’s both mysterious and beautiful by nature.

Q: Where do the inspirations come from?

A: Inspirations come from museums and old books but it’s more of a tapestry from the New Yorker Magazine to Proust. Often I see something in a décor magazine or a newspaper and think, ‘I can do that better!’

Haring Piebenga Exclusive Interview- Authentic Models Casino Royal Games Table

The stories are sometimes as important as the products themselves. The difficulty is to tell a story in a few words, people don’t have time, they want to learn the gist of things in seconds. I write all the stories myself, so it’s both a challenge and a frustration.

Q: Authentic Models pieces have a wonderful feeling of nostalgia, is that very important to you?

A: Yes, a sense of history is essential. I’ve just worked on some wonderful replicas of Grand Hotel room keys from the Belle Époque. I’m not a peeping Tom myself, but who wouldn’t like to know what went on in some of the luxury suites of the 1900s? If we don’t appreciate the past, how can we deal with the future?

Q: How would you like Authentic Models designs to make people feel?

A: I learned about the idea of a ‘conversation piece’ in the USA. I think people want to associate objects to be grounded in a way, that’s why people pick up rocks from mountain climbs or shells from a tropical beach, to create memories and associations. Life is ever lived faster but you can’t beat a rocking horse for a kid, and then when they grow up, it can be passed on to the next generation. That’s a real feeling, our creations are valued and become heirlooms.

Haring Piebenga Exclusive Interview - Authentic Model Victorian Rocking horse

Q: Many of the Authentic Models pieces are inspired by travel and exploration, do you travel a lot? What made you want to make this part of the look?

A: I do travel a lot: I own an apartment in Amsterdam (still my favourite city) and a large bungalow in a tropical garden paradise in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, close to the eighth century Borobudur Temple. I also have a lakeside cabin with sailboat and docks in Oregon, close to the Pacific Ocean beach and every month I’m travelling around the world. In my backpack I have a copy of a 16th century Dutch VOC ship’s captain description of a voyage to Muscat, Malacca and Nagasaki. On my Kindle I have books on Venice and Titian since we just did a reproduction wall map of 16th century Venice as well as a Venetian oil lamp.

Q: How would you describe your own personal style?

A: I would say it’s eclectic and minimalist. It’s comfortable but not showy. Some of the stills in the Authentic Models catalogue are shot in one of my own dwellings.

Haring Piebenga Exclusive Interview - authentic models furniture

Q: What do you love to use when you are decorating a room? Particular colours, prints etc?

A: I love old maps and selected antiques. I love to use things such as trunks from the 1900s, a beautifully embroidered Suzani from Samarkand (complete with its bridal story), a Chinese elm wood chair from the 1800s with its stark elegance, exquisite Java Wayang dolls and a model of a Dutch East India galleon from the 1750s.

Q: What do you like about working with Houseology?

A: It’s always great to work with smart people who share a passion for design, appreciate my focus on the past and know the business inside and out. And of course, it’s always fun to see Authentic Models pieces worked into someone else’s room statement and discover more about how people incorporate my passion into their own style.

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