CLOUD-9 design

Karin An Rijlaarsdam

Creative director and founder CLOUD-9 design. Born in The Netherlands, living in Shanghai.


Design philosophy 

Our design philosophy is based on transformation. Transforming thinking patterns, transformation of objects and the use of materials & techniques. My personal thinking patterns are strongly influenced by exploration and research during my travels. This is often reflected in our designs.


Living and working as a global nomad gives me an awareness and a context of cultural differences, which manifests a crucial influence to my design approach. Spending extensive time in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, slums of Mumbai and nongtangs in Shanghai showed me the magic of improvisation. How survival is materialized and 'designed' into smart solutions in daily life. In the midst of enormous social and economic challenges, these places demonstrate ingenuity and the inspiring power of reusing & recycling found materials, giving them a new function and renewed value.  

Children in a favela in Rio de Janeiro (many of them are built on the hills) sledding from a slope, in a self build sled created out of plastic crates connected by a metal wire. Observing their joy I wonder; what's the difference between a roller coaster, a skiing slope or this inventive handmade 'zero costs' sled in happiness? 

A hose connected to a tree in a Shanghai nongtang becomes more than a functional hub to prepare food. It is a communal place that connects generations... a place to be together, to socialize, to gossip, to laugh and learn. Those outdoor installations -although slowly pushed out of the present cityscapes- are still common in China. In both scenarios handmade inventive, highly functional and low cost items contribute and enhance the social fabric in ways that are spontaneous and unmeant, yet very human and outgoing. To me these phenomenons embody ultimate beauty. 

We are not searching for flawless beauty in our designs, rather a dialogue between quality and passion

We find quality in the use of materials, in experimenting and taking materials & handcraft techniques out of context by using them in nontraditional and unexpected ways. Sensitive and tactile details as well as colorful contrasts give us a canvas to express passion in our designs. 

Most of our designs are handmade

This can seen be in our spatial designs, porcelain lights and our rug collection, even in my personal attire of handmade clothes and shoes. Our work evolves by learning from local craftsmen and by collaborating with them to explore new ways of using traditional techniques. I enjoy working with craftsmen because the human fingerprint signatures each piece, making it unique and real. By experimenting, studying and rethinking tradition our work comes to life. Prototypes and design changes can be made in a fast and affordable way during the production process of handmade designs, allowing flexibility and more space for experiments. Spontaneous outcomes during the process of handwork intrigue me. Unexpected compelling changes in texture, shape or color makes me curious and greedy to experiment more.  

I believe handcraft will become more influential in design production than ever. In the last 20 years sustainability and the human factor has become more important in design. Even in China, a nation known for mass production, there is a rising surge in the traditional handcraft industry. This exciting re-discovery over the last 10 years proves that more people are looking for handmade products. The search for meaningful design, quality, identity and uniqueness will become greatly significant as we progress.

Handcraft is also defining an effective and proficient way to a more sustainable production system. This trend is especially augmented as like minded design firms are choosing to work with sustainable materials and collaborate with craftsmen in sustainable work environments. My preference is to work with handmade designs as much as possible, while searching for a 'democratic' design. That is, designs which are affordable to a larger audience. Seemingly a juxtaposition, however the assumption that industrial design production is less costly than handmade products is not unilateral. Handwoven East shows this by being the most affordable rug in the Danskina-Kvadrat collection. 


Transforming my thinking, my lifestyle, and habitats has been an unstoppable fascination and devotion in my life. Crossovers and cultural differences create an impulse and a contrast into the nature and language of my designs. In one moment leading to a pure and silent design and in the next project into a provocative, flirtatious or extravagant design.

Within different worlds

Being born and raised in The Netherlands drives me to gravitate to find a pureness and simplicity in my work. Being surrounded by water, looking at the Dutch skies and the flat country side triggered my imagination. Growing up in a socially open minded and multicultural environment and the straightforward Dutch social interaction shaped my personality and values.

Living in China for almost 9 years opened my mind in unexpected ways. It forced me to think and look at life in much more flexible and adaptive terms. A place where community rules over individuality can have many negative sides, it can also foster a strong social and communal behavior, where people work and live together in an optimistic and powerful balance and ambition. Shanghai, the mega city where CLOUD-9 interior design is based, does not sleep. This metropolis is never silent, there's hardly any nature and it produces a never-ending flow of people. Yet surprisingly daily life is harmonious, optimistic and ultra social. Living in China also gives me access to endlessly explore and study its culture, handwork and traditional handicrafts.

Spending a lot of my time in Brazil gives a passionate, sensitive and tactile character to my work. Brazil taught me to redefine context which gave me freedom in thinking and creating. Finding a modified method to create an object, to redefine and reshape the being of an object while evoking a feeling of joy. I strive to capture the richness and simple pleasure of walking on the streets in Brazil, hearing music, feeling the sun, being surrounded by natural passion and a melting pot of people and culture, into our designs.

In India I am intrigued by the intensity and colorful chaos in daily life. In this well functioning and productive chaos you can always find a free and autonomous structure. These organic unorganized and lawless mini economies often seem more human and smart than over-organized and over-developed Western societies. And of course, India means a divine source of inspiration to me in vibrant colors, fantastic patterns and detailed handicrafts.