interview: pia jane bijkerk and paris: made by hand

by Grace Bonney

today i’m thrilled to share an interview with stylist, photographer and now, author, pia jane bijkerk. i’ve been a fan of pia’s work for years so i was over the moon when i received a copy of her new book, paris: made by hand yesterday. pia’s book is filled with beautiful photos and a wonderful guide to discovering handmade artisans, shops and specialties in one of my favorite cities, paris. pia’s love for handmade work is infectious, and her in-the-know guide to this incredible city is a must-read. whether you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to parisian handmade design, or just a few insider tips for great shops, pia’s book has you covered. i’m so grateful that pia took the time to sit down and chat with me about her book and i hope you’ll enjoy her answers as much as i did. i could listen to her talk about paris, her favorite cities for design (hint: one is vancouver), styling tips (she shares her top 3 tips below), and tricks for finding great local artisans and stores all day.

CLICK HERE for the full interview (and photos from the book) after the jump! (you can also click here to get a sneak peek into pia’s houseboat in amsterdam)


Design*Sponge: Hi Pia! Congratulations on your new book, Paris: Made by Hand! Before we dive in, can you introduce yourself for readers who are new to your work?

Pia Jane Bijkerk: Thank you Grace! My name is Pia Jane Bijkerk (pronounced ‘by-kerk’) and I am a freelance interior + food stylist, photographer and writer. I work internationally but I am originally from Australia. I moved to Europe a couple of years ago and now live and work in a houseboat, in Amsterdam, in The Netherlands.

D*S: Your new book, Paris: Made by Hand, just hit shelves- can you tell us about it- and what inspired it?

PJB: I have always been inspired by objects that have been beautifully crafted by hand, and as an interior + food stylist I am often on the lookout for interesting props for my shoots. I also love supporting small businesses and artists as I used to own a boutique myself once upon a time, and so I know how hard it is, and how much small businesses need all the support they can get. So when I moved to Paris in 2006, my natural inclination was to look out for boutiques and ateliers (studios) in search of handmade homewares. I met a friend while living in Paris and asked her if she knew of any such boutiques/ateliers, and with a few addresses under our belts, off we went exploring the lesser known streets in search of beautiful handmade items. We found the some incredible places. It felt as if we were peeling back a layer of Paris and finding a whole new one underneath, one that had been around for hundreds of years yet was unknown to visitors and lovers of Paris. Being in Paris is inspiring enough, but being in Paris in search of all things handmade? For me, it was heaven.

D*S: Why did you choose to write about Paris?

PJB: No matter where I am in the world I tend to go on a hunt (and gather!) for such items, be them handmade, vintage, or antique. I have a bulging stylist’s black book of incredible boutiques and ateliers from cities I’ve lived and visited around the world. Since I moved to Paris though, my stylist’s little black book became so bulging, that it seemed only fair to release it! In the meantime I’ve gathered even more addresses, just in case anyone would like a Paris: Made By Hand 2 (:-) ). What can I say, it is an ever-inspiring city.

D*S: How would you describe the visual “style” of paris and the work its artists create?

PJB: The thing about Paris is that everything in it is impeccably crafted and designed. The French have an eye for detail and an ability to visualize things in multiple layers from the onset- each layer is individually thought about, created and styled, so that the final piece glows. This can be said for so many things – French food, wine, and fashion included. So with this in mind I think it’s not that Paris has a particular visual style as the range of artistry is so diverse, but from my observation what binds it all together is passion – every artist and artisan is so passionate about their work, crafting each layer of their creation so thoughtfully that it is intoxicating and makes you giddy with inspiration, walking out of their studio whispering “I want what she’s having”.

D*S: Besides Paris, what are some of your other favorite cities to find handmade work? (Specific examples of shops or markets are welcome!)

PJB: Oh my, I have so many!! But to name a few…

1. I adore Amsterdam as much as I adore Paris for all things handmade. Again, Amsterdam has so many beautiful time-worn layers and one of them is most definitely the art, craft and design kind, unfortunately well hidden from tourists by the fascination with coffee shops and the red light district. A favorite street I like to peruse near Centraal Station is the Harlemmerdijk – here you will find some beautiful stores dedicated to handmade items, including a favorite of mine -Vivian Hann – where you will find lovely ceramics. The Noordermarkt which is an open air market held every Monday morning is also a fabulous space to find great handmade and vintage objects as well as beautiful textiles and craft items for making your own handmade things.

2. SYDNEY! I was born in Sydney and have lived there most of my life, so I know this city like the back of my hand. It is also where I started my styling career, sourcing props for magazine shoots from one end of town to the other, so as you can imagine I have a bulging black book of Sydney addresses! Some absolutely favorite places of mine are Mud Australia, Dinosaur Designs, the floral sculptural studio of Tracey Deep, and Object Gallery just to name a few, and I love to peruse the paddington and bondi beach markets on weekends.

3. Vancouver. I am smitten with this city and absolutely flipped when I discovered Granville Island some 7 years ago. Centered around the art university named after Canadian artist Emily Carr (a huge inspiration to me), I used to dream of what life might be like living on a houseboat on the harbor of this magnificent place dedicated to art, craft and fine Canadian produce… little did I know I’d one day be living on a houseboat in Amsterdam instead! I simply cannot get enough of Vancouver which is a constant stream of incredible art and craft, and I still dream about living there, surrounded by it all.

D*S: As a stylist, you talk about being drawn to handmade work- what is it about handmade work that you love and makes you want to choose handmade pieces over mass-market items?

PJB: What draws me is the fact that each handmade item has the unique handprint of each of its creators.

And this for me is not only something extraordinarily beautiful but also very essential – working as a stylist, I can be booked on several different shoots at one time, and if I am on editorial shoots for magazines I have to ensure that each shoot has a different look but is still part of the trend du jour, so that each magazine issue stands out from each other and does not feature the same things. Its a fabulous challenge! And the only way to ensure this is to source out objects from little boutiques and ateliers. and many times I even have things made especially for a shoot.

D*S: If you had to pick a favorite shop out of all of the shops listed in your book, which would it be?

PJB: If I had to pick a favorite shop? that is just too tough!! I was asked to write an ‘authors favorite’ list for the back of the book and in there you can see I have selected 12, that’s about the best I can do as far as narrowing my favorites down, and even that was tough!

D*S: Do you have any tips for finding great handmade work or artists? (and how did you find the people/places listed in your guide)

PJB: Yes, my best tips to finding great artists and ateliers would be…

– Explore streets in your city that you haven’t already, or simply hop over to the other side of the road on your walk home from work! I know it sounds a bit simple but it truly is that easy – most of these places are right under our noses, its just that we get into such a routine and often forget to look around.
-Talk to your local craft shops and ask about short courses run by local artists.
-And last but certainly not least, reading blogs is one of the best sources for finding such great work!

D*S: I love that you talk about artisan supply shops, and not just retail stores- what is it about these shops that you love so much? Do you have any tips for styling with products from these stores, as opposed to ready-to-use design objects?

PJB: I love making my own things when I have the time, and visiting craft supply shops gives me such a high! What can I say, I’m a sucker for glass jars full of feathers, buttons, and ribbons – I can’t begin to describe to you how I felt when I first walked into La Droguerie and Ultramod, two of the craft supply stores I featured in Paris: Made By Hand.

I love styling with craft supply items because they are raw, loose, and look so darn good when clumped together in gorgeous colors. I also love using these items as embellishments for less exciting pieces around my home (like plain lampshades and cushions) and on shoots – they are very handy to have in my styling kit!

D*S: Many of us are incredibly envious of your styling skills- could you share some common styling mistakes people make, and how to avoid them?

My goodness I’m so flattered, thank you! I think overstyling is a common mistake. Its a soft, natural look that we are loving at the moment, and trying to create it can be tricky so I suggest being a little more carefree with placements, but not careless. It might be easier said then done, but just try it and see what happens. Lots of practice helps!!

D*S: Could you share your top 3 best styling tips?

For a room and home – if styling for a shoot, always look through the camera as it’s a whole different world in there! And if styling for a client or for your own home, walk about the room to view what you’ve created from different angles but always keep the entrance as your most important viewpoint as this is what you and others will see when you first walk in. You want your space to not only be ‘wow’, but also be comfortable, warm and inviting.

For vignettes – be a little carefree, and simplify. I will often place everything I WANT in set or on a shelf, but then I being a process of elimination until I have found the feeling and vision I want to create.

D*S: Could you tell us about the process of creating this list- were there any fun shops that didn’t make the list- or any funny stories that happened along the way?

PJB: Oh yes, I could write a book about writing this book! There are many funny stories I’d love to share one day, and there were unfortunately some shops that didn’t make the final cut for a number of reasons, but mostly because I felt the stock just wasn’t quite right. But also I met a number of fabulous crafters that I wanted to feature but they didn’t have retail spaces and my publisher and I really wanted places that were easily accessible to the public. So to accompany the book I have decided that I will feature these artists on my blog over the coming months.

D*S: Handmade work often carries a higher price point over mass-market work because of the time that goes into producing them. What would you say to people who aren’t entirely sold on the idea of handmade work, to convince them to spend the extra money on artisan-made products?

PJB: Oh dear what wouldn’t I say! I have a lot to say on this subject. It is very dear to my heart, for so many reasons. But mostly I would just say: think of your children’s future, because the extra money you save and then spend on handmade items over mass-produced, is an investment into their future.

D*S: Is it possible to shop for/buy handmade artisan work in Paris on a budget?

Yes yes yes! The places featured in my book sell handmade items that range dramatically so that every budget is accommodated. You can buy things from just 1euro (like the little ceramic letters in Le Petit Atelier de Paris), to more expensive objet d’art. I also feature a shop that specializes in selling original (and stunning!) wall art that starts at just 60 euro. Its a great concept and a way of getting artists out into the marketplace. Imagine being able to bring home original art from Paris for just 60 euro? I love it!

D*S: What do you hope people take away from your book?

PJB: I always just hope to inspire and “enhance the everyday ” which is my ethos. So if I can achieve this through Paris: Made By Hand and in the process encouraged people to buy handmade, I would be thrilled.

D*S: And last but not least- what’s next for you? Can we expect a follow up book? (fingers crossed)

PJB: I have many projects in the works and yes, I would love to do a follow up book or a series featuring different cities around the world. Bring it on!!


Thank you so much to Pia for taking the time to speak with me. You can check out (and pick up a copy) of Pia’s new book, Paris: Made by Hand, right here.

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  • oh, man. i am completely inspired by pia. her enthusiasm for handmade is infectious (even people who make things sometimes get ho hum about or fail to maintain a vision about it so the injection of excitement is awesome.) i hope her book is very successful. and its true….respecting, making and searching out handmade is a vote for a certain kind of future.

  • I love Emily Carr in Vancouver…I could only dream of going there. Wonderful post and lovely interview. You sucked me in with the hint:Vancouver. :) I think you blogging wonders in the design world are on a mission to make me homesick. heheh…It is the most inspiring place I have ever lived.

  • Lovely interview. I just signed the lease for my first apartment ever in the LES, and not only has this post inspired future decorations, but the entire website! I am addicted to your DIYs, and may even submit my own over the summer while decorating the apartment!

    x Nikita

  • Such a wonderful interview and I also love visiting her inspiring blog. I can’t wait to get the book! Do you buy all these items or are they worked into your client’s budget? There are many things I see, like and would love to photograph…but I can’t afford or have the space for all the lovely items. Also, any photo tips on cameras or lighting? Again – love your work!

  • what a thorough interview. pia’s description of paris’ visual style is captivating and her dedication to handmade artisans is inspirational. thank you for the daily pick-me-up!

  • wow! i enjoyed getting to know more about Pia. She is really inspiring. Thanks grace. Pia I can hardly wait to get myself a copy!

  • For those who are interested, Toronto has a fledgling area similar to Granville in Vancouver called the Distillery District. Check it out the next time you visit the T Dot.

  • Thanks! Ran straight to Amazon & bought that sweet lookin’ book.
    Can’t wait.

  • Great interview Pia and Grace! I love learning more about Pia and I am SO EXCITED to get my hands on a copy of her book.

  • I just put this on my wishlist yesterday–now I HAVE to buy it for my upcoming Paris trip. Thanks so much!

  • Grace, this was a great interview, and a very inspiring one… I definitely want to take a different route to work every day now! Pia, I’ve added your blog to my Google reader and am loving it so far. Best of luck to you. Congratulations, too.

  • I so want to go explore Paris now (not that I didn’t want to before!). Thanks for the interview. I look forward to seeing the book.

  • I know everyone loves Paris…and it almost seems cliche to love Paris and to love design…but it makes me so so so happy to see this book and have a fresh and new view of Paris!! I cannot wait to pick it up!!

  • Pia is definitely one of THE people to listen to when it comes to handmade.I am so very glad we get to see her choice of ‘handmade’ in Paris,I trust it to be an awesome collection,cant wait to have a look!
    I do agree,as in all areas of life itself,many times the more unique people and their creations are to be found if you look carefully in ‘hidden’ unknown places! :)

  • Thanks for the inspiring interview! My daughters and I had a memorable trip to Paris last June … I wish I had this book while we were there. I’ve put Pia’s book on my “so what do you want for Mother’s Day” list and most definitely will have to plan a return trip to Paris soon!

  • thank you everyone for your beautiful comments! I am so so happy to hear that you are inspired by the book. yay!!

    thank you so much grace!


  • oooh, what gorgeous photographs and great finds in paris! congrats pia on the beautiful book. can’t wait to get a copy. :) btw, i’m a life-long vancouverite. see you at granville island!

  • Design Sponge and Pia you are my two new loves.
    I am off to Paris to celebrate a big birthday in a couple of weeks and now I will be armed with Pia’s insider tips, what better way to spend a big one…Merci beaucoup! I too am Australian but living in NYC and always on the hunt for crafty fleaey things. Thanks you again.

  • I love the Paris book and am now going to Paris in the morning but left my book back in the states. Am try find the name of the store that had pictures of bins with doll heads and many thing for one euro to 15.