Sometime in the dark winter days of 1968, Olav De Winter, the oldest of 13 children, had this idea of using a simple steel hook to connect two plywood panels. As a fine and accomplished cabinetmaker steel hooks at first did not appeal to him but innovative as he is, he realized the potential and the possiblility to use two or three hooks next to each other, to build in three dimensions without the need for double walls. As good designers do, he build a prototype and showed it to the second brother. Koen De Winter, at that time a student in industrial design, recognized the value of a good idea and together they developed the idea to use the holes in the panel, not only for the steel hooks but also for hinges and handles.
As good designers do, they both build some improuved prototypes but this time, they make them out of plastic. The plastic connectors did work well and somehow their colour and texture seemed to be more compatible with the warmth of the wood. But that choice of material also became a growing obstacle. Moulds for injection moulding were made slowly and with great precision from high quality steel. The costs were astronomical compared to the means of both brothers and the story could have ended there.
As most good ideas they seem to make a lasting impression and some of the most impressed ones was one of their younger brothers. They grew up in their father’s workshop and wood was for a long time the only material they knew and used. Shields and swords, racecars, crossbows and arrows, stilts every toy they ever owned had two things in common. It was a wooden toy and it was self-made. So, the younger Bruno De Winter remembered the project of his brothers. It takes more than good memories to revive a project like that, but Bruno is the quintessential entrepreneur. In his mind, when something can be done, it should be done and he puts his money where his mouth is. While working together with his brother Denijs, (according to many concert pianists, the best pianotechnician and tuner in the world) and his nefew Mathias De Winter, a young and eager industrial designer, they put the fourty years old pieces together, looked at each other and said: Let’s do it!
Mathias is not just an industrial designer, he also loves wood and beyond wood, the environment in which he hopes his children will grow up. To him the first question was not, is it a great idea, but does this idea contributes to the kind of environment I want to leave to the next generation. As a professional, he recognized the merits of building products by using the least possible amount of material. Having grown up with Lego© he was also very aware of the advantages of endlessly re-use the components in different configurations. As good designers do, he made prototypes, this time, not in steel or plastic but on his high definition screen. High quality is in the details and so it did take some time and some constructive conversations with a father and three uncles who could hardly contain their enthousiasm.
The happy ending of the story is the panels and plugs© program by Mope. Why did they succeed? Family history will tell, but they all remembered, their father and grand father, Pol De Winter’s advise on working together, on how to treat problems as well as solutions, hopes as well as personal ambition, to treat it all with respect.