13 October 2014

Van Der Spek Day: The Visit by Steve

Have you ever met some people and spent 3-4 days with them and thought that was such a wonderful experience that to explain it to other people who were not there will be very difficult. Well I have just had one of those wonderful experiences this last week....

It was nearly a year ago that I contacted Petra Van der Spek to introduce Philofaxy and myself to their company. We are in regular contact and as you will remember we have done some reviews of their Standard and A5 organisers.

In January Janet Carr (This Bug's Life) and I set up the Van der Spek organiser fans Facebook group and that has grown in the last few months in to quite a community with people from all over the world joining in. Lots of familiar names and faces of course.

Steve and Janet
Photo by Janet
Petra and her family have introduced some new product lines this year such as the 30mm ring Standard (personal size) organiser to widen their range. Petra has been so patient taking on board people's requests and responding to all their messages. Organiser sizes have been adjusted to allow for different paper sizes, different internal layouts, and their web-shop, almost nothing seemed impossible.

Petra had invited me to visit their factory and it was a lovely idea it just required a bit of planning. Janet lives in Stockholm, I live in South West France. I've always enjoyed reading 'This Bug's Life' so I thought it would be great chance to meet Janet... and Rotterdam is sort of half way n'est pas? So after a short interchange of messages between the three of us a plan started to come together.

The logistics of us travelling to Rotterdam and where to stay took up quite a bit of our initial discussions. Then we moved on to 'What are you going to bring?' I didn't really think about what the two-three days would be like, what we would see or get to do.

So that is how on Wednesday last week I once again found myself travelling on the nine o'clock train from Poitiers to Paris Montparnasse. From there I went by Paris Metro across the city to Paris Gare du Nord to catch another train to Rotterdam. The journey was fairly uneventful really. I had time to read my car magazine, which is rare these days. And just after three o'clock in the afternoon I arrived on-time at Rotterdam station in Holland (another new country for me).

Rotterdam station is quite a modern station, I had never been there before so I wasn't quite sure where we were meeting. But I headed in what I thought was the direction of the exits and I soon spotted two happy smiling faces. Janet had arrived at about lunchtime and Petra and Janet had lunch in the city whilst waiting for me to arrive.  So we had found each other, we took a short walk out of the station to where Petra had parked her car and we headed for our hotel on the river frontage.

We checked in and unpacked and then went for a drink in a riverside cafe. We chatted and laughed and joked a lot. Petra then suggested we take the water taxi to get to her apartment on the other side of the river. Nothing unusual in that I thought... so we got on board this small covered boat and off we went. I thought we would just go from one side of the river to the other.... well we did but we did get the full tour of the various ships and marina's and the captain of the powerful river boat did show off a bit with the boat at full power! We didn't get wet though so that was good! This was the start of few days when the unexpected kept happening!

That evening we met Petra's partner Leon, who was a great guy to chat with, we had a lot of similar interests and his and Petra's English is very good so there were no issues at all with conversation.

After a lovely meal in a local bar/restaurant. Janet and I made the short walk across the bridge back to our hotel. We agreed a time to meet for breakfast and Petra was going to pick us up and take us to 'the factory'

I suppose it was about then that I only really started to think about what we might see or even start to get sort of excited. The Van der Spek factory is in a small suburb of Rotterdam in a village of Puttershoek, it is a fairly modern building. We entered via the delivery entrance and then we saw the expanse of the workshop area. It all looked fairly familiar, having seen some photographs of the inside of the factory before on the Facebook group when other people had visited.

We were made very welcome by Rene and Andrea (Petra's parents) we settled our bags down at one of the work benches and Petra showed us around the factory and showed us the various machines and the different processes that go in to making a Van der Spek organiser which were familiar from all the photos that Petra had kindly sent me a few months ago.

The leather store was incredible vast varieties of types and colours. I thought we would lose Janet in there, she has done a special post on that part of the visit.

Photo by Janet Carr

Photo by Janet Carr

We also got to see samples of Petra's handbag and purses that she has recently launched under the BagusBag name.

Petra with her organiser samples case. I think I need one of those!
There was so much to take in Janet and I were like children who had been let loose in a sweet shop. It might have been the constant smell of the luxurious leather, but we seemed to lose the ability to hold a sensible conversation for a while! But we soon snapped out of our open mouth trance and started the important work that we had travelled to Rotterdam for.

I am sure you will all agree that a face to face meeting speeds up discussions and makes ideas easier to understand, especially when there are three nationalities involved. So the Rene, Petra Janet and I sat around one of the work benches and shared our ideas about different organiser designs, what we liked and what we didn't like so much. We made sketches and Petra was busy bringing our ideas together.

What surprised me though was Rene started to translate some of our ideas in to actual leather prototypes in a matter of minutes, we would be trying things out and making adjustments to certain dimensions and pow we had the mark 2 to try out. That was an improvement and in a bigger size too. So whilst we made adjustments to tried out different things on that working prototype Rene was  preparing the mark 3. We tried out lots more different ideas with this one. Whilst we were doing that Rene was working on a sample closer to a finished article for us to try out and discuss. What we were working on you will see an announcement about it in the new year.

I lost track of time, but it was soon time for all of us to head back into Rotterdam. We picked Vapianos to go for a pizza, Petra had not been to one before but as an experienced Vapianos customer I knew their system with their smart card well, so Dutch or English, it was the same!

Photo by Janet Carr
The next morning saw us back at the factory for another full day. Rene and I were fitting rings to organisers that were going to be despatched that day. Janet meanwhile was exploring the warehouse area and find all sorts of buried treasures!

Selecting and checking rings prior to installation. The boss and his apprentice!
Photo by Janet Carr

A few minor adjustments!
Photo by Janet Carr

A quick polish
Photo by Janet Carr

Done... next one Steve...
Photo by Janet Carr
Janet emerged from one of the many parts of the warehouse with this leather she just fell in love with it.....

Looks and feels beautiful

Hmm smells good!

There were lots of finished organisers ready to be shipped that week, here is a small selection of them. Can you spot yours?

After lunch, Petra and I filmed a couple of videos, one comparing the 25mm Standard with the 30mm Standard organisers. And another explaining (hopefully) the differences in the different types of stiffener that is available on any of the Van der Spek organisers. I do understand the differences myself a lot better now too. I will add links to these here later today.

After lunch Janet and I sat down with Petra to discuss some future (and exciting) plans for the Van der Spek range, which we will be telling you about in the next few weeks/months. It was a vibrant and exciting discussion. We managed to prioritise things as well and set some realistic goals for the announcements.

Petra writing notes in her Van der Spek Junior.
Photo by Janet Carr

Janet and I both ordered some new organisers, it was wonderful to sit with Petra and work out the designs of these and pick out the leather and we both look forward to them arriving... naturally I will be doing a review when mine arrives and I'm certain Janet will be as well.

Photo by Janet Carr

'Are you sure Steve? !'
Photo by Janet Carr
Before we left that afternoon we were very kindly given some gifts to take away and we posed for some more photographs.

That evening we ate in another restaurant in Rotterdam with all of the family once again.

Three shady characters! (Leon, Steve and Rene)
Photo by Janet Carr
Sadly all good things have to come to an end at some point. Petra took us both to the station on Saturday morning to catch our trains. Janet was heading north to catch her flight back to Sweden. I was heading back through Belgium to Paris to get home. But there was one last photo call with Petra!

Photo by Petra Van der Spek

Photo by Petra Van der Spek

It had been a wonderful few days I can't thank everyone enough for making it so special. Petra and her mother and father for being so patient in answering all our questions, their hospitality and for just letting us have access to all parts of their factory to look and photograph anything we wanted. Janet for her wonderful support and friendship, it had been worth the wait to meet her at long last. I look forward to meeting all these people again in the future. Lots of happy memories from the last few days.

I started drafting this post on the train to Paris, but it became obvious that there was going to be more than one post. So after a quick exchange of messages with Janet we formulated a plan. Janet has created a lot of posts about different aspects which add to this post and form an even broader picture of our visit and are part of 'Van der Spek' day. Links to those posts will appear here during the day and also in Web Finds tomorrow so you don't miss any of them.

Naturally you can visit the Van der Spek web-shop to discover their wonderful range of organisers for your self. And if you have any questions, Petra will respond to your emails, but there is also the Facebook Group, where you will also be able to ask all sorts of questions and see lots of examples of all the different combinations of leathers and colours that people have already purchased.

You should also read the posts by Janet Carr over at This Bug's Life:


  1. I'm so jealous! What a wonderful visit it sounds and I'm looking forward to seeing the next posts - and the organiser you both designed.

  2. Fantastic post with stunning photography. Panorama shots were amazing; even on my iPhone I was able to see all. the way around.
    What I want to know is this-was that Janet's Mulberry handbag sitting on a worktable in one of these pictures?

  3. Oh wow! And oh wow again! Sounds like the most amazing trip ...

  4. The love and care that goes into each of those binders makes me want to cry. So beautiful! What a wonderful trip. Looking forward to all the delightful news. How exciting!

  5. How fabulous this all sounds and I for one say thank you to all of you here.What a wonderful family the Van der Speks are. So generous with their time and expertise and full on craftsmanship.. It has fuelled my yearning even more for one of their binders. The photo of Mr Van der Spek with his rings on the bench, was just a lovely one. Can't wait for the new announcements!!!

  6. Wonderful post Steve! The panoramic photos were amazing! Linda the bag on the bench is my own design, in black ostrich leather

    1. When I see gorgeous bags like this in the background- I know that they probably belong to you--it was stunning!

  7. Wow, what an incredibly fabulous post! The pictures are amazing! It was the next best thing to being there, thank you so much for sharing. My experiences with Petra and Van der Spek have been the best one could ever hope to have in retail. Their binders are my favorite, hands down. In a few days I should be opening a VDS handbag and can't wait! Thank you again for the wonderful photos.

  8. I am Very jealous! That would have been a fantastic experience.

  9. Loved both this and Janet's posts

  10. Fantastic post! Such beautiful craftsmanship. I loved reading all about the trip and seeing all the photos. I'm saving my dollars for a VDS planner; this post just made me more eager to save more! Looking forward to reading all the rest of your and Janet's posts.

  11. What an interesting post. For an Aussie who is still fairly new to the planner community, this was a real eye opener. Custom design your own planner? Wow! And knowing that you are supporting a family run business...why would we ever buy from Filofax again!!

  12. What a wonderful opportunity to visit the family run business. Yes, I am jealous too, as I would have loved to check out the wonderful leather samples, so much variety and color to choose from. Eye-candy for us all. Thank you for sharing so many photos with us. I look forward to reading more about the visit.

  13. What a wonderful and unique experience. Thank you for sharing. The pictures really came out so well.