Always in search of extraordinary stories showcasing men of great ambition (and character), we met with Jaap Giesen. The co-founder of inspirational custom ceramic tiles brand Palet is bringing innovation to an old-fashioned space and taking the world by storm from a self-developed workshop in the south of The Netherlands.

The impressive endeavor of long-time friends Jaap and Gilles den Brock officially started during the pandemic. Originally named Studio GdB (Giesen being the “G” and den Brock being the “dB”), the outfit recently underpinned its worldwide ambition by rebranding itself to the more universal Palet – a major step in their efforts to further their global success in bringing their uniquely innovative approach to more major markets and enabling anyone to create their own custom designed and made-to-order ceramic tiles.

We got together with Jaap, his best friend and partner, Gilles den Brock, and their new third partner; experienced executive (producer/marketeer) Niels Monsieurs in their ‘s-Hertogenbosch workshop. After capturing the trio, we sat down with Jaap to learn the story behind the product, how this company gave him and Gilles a chance to apply their individual experiences to one ultimate venture, and how the recent rebrand and addition of a new partner will help them grow while retaining the creativity that set them apart from the moment they started.

I always lived under the assumption Studio GdB (now Palet) started prior to 2021, before not during the pandemic. Probably because it was so visible right from the start.

The practice did start in the period before, with our research phase. In this, we tried all kinds of things, but also found that it was not yet a product that could enter the market. We did a lot of research and development during that time until we were really satisfied with the product. Then in 2021 we took the step to go to market.

What was your background at that point?

Gilles and I met 16 years ago at a secondary vocational education college in Eindhoven. We’ve been best friends ever since and both did internships in Antwerp, at different companies. Then Gilles went to the art academy in The Hague, and I went to Rotterdam, which I didn’t finish. After the third year, I quit and started working at different design agencies.

Gilles did finish the academy and then also got a master’s degree while working as a multidisciplinary designer. He did so with a great fascination for technology and a great drive to understand processes completely. This is also reflected in what we do together. If we have a fascination with an idea, we look for the technical implementation. That is also really the basis from which Studio GdB arose.

In addition to working as a designer, I also started working in the vintage furniture business. I remember very well that at one point I walked into the gigantic space of the Waalwijk vintage dealer Morentz and a world opened to me. In particular a desk by Osvaldo Borsani. That one really sticks with me to this day.

So, you could say that after we met in Eindhoven, Gillen and I really went down totally different paths, but always remained close friends. And when in the run-up to 2021 this idea to create Studio GdB slowly manifested itself, the time came to do something together. The idea itself was the result of Gilles’ experiences during a previous assignment in ceramics. The techniques available to produce anything in ceramics were quite limited.

The curiosity to find more interesting possibilities for this, and our shared drive to set something up together, eventually resulted in our very own production technique of bringing ceramic tiles on the market step by step. First in a basement in Antwerp, where we both lived at the time. Then from a real workshop and finally from our workshop in Den Bosch where we moved to for our launch in 2021.

The pandemic also happened at some point in this timeline.

Right, that was also why we both moved back to the Netherlands. Gilles had also lost a lot of clients because of the pandemic. So, in that strange way, the pandemic had a major influence on all of our lives. It also created the necessary time to research and develop everything to the level needed to enter the market as Studio GdB.

You were still working, though?

I was still working, indeed. I had to. My role during the conception stage of Studio GdB was a little more on the sideline. Each week I would see how things were technologically developing and then we would sit down and sharpen the concept.

Conceptually, where did you see the greatest unique value for your company?

That was very much in the “custom” part. There is an extremely distinctive strength for us there. The market for tiles is very old-fashioned – hardly any innovation has taken place or is even taking place. Almost everything is made in large quantities, especially within our price range. The fact that we actually offer a customer something where their own choices can be made in small runs: that’s unique. Once we started, we noticed more and more that hardly anyone had our approach in terms of efficiency and really offering the customer something unique. So that became an even stronger focus in how we moved ahead.

Things actually went very well, very quickly.

We worked hard for that too. But there was traction from the beginning. And interest from the media for that matter. We quickly became visible on social media and assignments soon followed that kept the momentum going. But as I said, we also went full steam ahead. So, once we got started, we also turned to our entire network that we had built up over the years.

How did you guys go about this as a duo?

Once we had started, there was a kind of natural division: I took on sales, also because of my experience and network in the vintage design world. Gilles focused mainly on the technology behind the product. In terms of the design signature, we have actually always worked very closely together. Also, to reflect our different tastes in what we offer.

Relatively soon, after two successful years, you made very conscious choices to take the next step. Both in terms of composition of the team and by doing a major rebrand where you moved away from the original name to Palet.

We could have continued on this path for some time, but since we have a strong ambition to grow more, it was necessary to take things a little more seriously. First, we found Niels as a third partner, who brings years of experience as a marketing executive. Then the rebrand to the more “universal” name Palet, away from the “studio” association.

What is it like when a third partner becomes part of a company run by two friends?

Before Niels joined, Gilles and I were completely occupied. The day-to-day operational things were taking over our day-to-day and we felt pretty quickly that a third person would help us keep an eye on our bigger ambitions. Niels was a good acquaintance with years of executive experience at various international media companies such as MediaMonks and Netflix. Whenever he was in the Netherlands again, he would sometimes visit us to see what we were working on, and what started as a joke at one point became a serious question: “What if you joined us?”

In a way, it gradually became an increasingly real scenario for Gilles and me, especially when the company became more and more demanding and we still wanted to pursue the big ambitions that we started with. Organically it came to the point where we sat down with Niels in a serious manner. And by chance, that came at a perfect moment for Niels, who wanted to settle back in the Netherlands after having lived abroad for years.

Helped by these favorable circumstances, we found the way to go into business together. Business-wise, we did that from a very healthy position. Our margins have always been good from the beginning, so there was no urgent need to change anything. But our position also helped us to take the necessary steps for progress; I saw it primarily as an excellent opportunity. And that also immediately bore fruit.

A few monts ago, you went live with the rebrand and a new name: Palet. How do you look back on that transition, which you shaped largely as a trio?

The new name is the ultimate reflection of what we stand for: we offer a unique palette of options for your tiles. We also continue to focus on larger projects where we continue to work entirely made-to-measure and can offer unique patterns, formats and even glazes for projects. The rebrand definitively shows that we have outgrown the “studio” thing and shapes our larger ambitions. The interaction between Gilles, Niels and myself in the final creation showed above all that we understand each other well, and can each contribute from our specialism.

An online design tool will be added in the near future, allowing everyone to design their tiles online and order samples very easily. With these new online tools, we will soon be able to keep the threshold even lower for anyone interested.

By taking these steps, the path to realizing even greater ambitions in the future seems clear. How do you look ahead?

On the one hand, there is a lot of clarity now. In the new structure, we have all kinds of targets to meet. We are working toward clear goals that serve the overarching goals we have set for the company. Niels plays a very important role in this. That creates a lot of calm and overview. Even regarding the new markets we want to conquer, where America has our special interest. I want to go full throttle for that.

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