30 July 2017

Van der Spek Special Custom Order A5 Organiser

Has any one designed the perfect organiser? Is that possible?

I had bumbled along with using an A5 and either a Personal or an A6 organiser until about a year ago, until I was asked to review the Filofax Heritage Compact A5 organiser.

That was a 'light bulb' moment for me. It was the start of a major change in the way I used my organisers, and it has only deviated a little bit since then.

The significant change was to stop using a smaller size as well as an A5 and stick to just A5, but split across two organisers. One for planning and notes, the other for reference pages such as addresses, maps, reference pages. The pages from one get moved in to the other and back again as the need arises.

The 'reference' organiser has remained as one of my larger ringed Van der Spek A5 organisers, it sits at one end of my desk ready to hand when I need to refer to it, which isn't that often.

My main A5 'planning' organiser sits open on my desk at my side, normally open at the weekly view for the current week. The planning organiser however is used elsewhere in the house or it travels with me out of the house, so it needs to be portable. (I will be doing an in-depth look at my set up in a future post)

The Filofax Heritage Compact A5 organiser was a great starting point, with only 16mm rings it got me to take a critical view of what I was carrying in my planning organiser. I was surprised how much I could fit on to 16mm rings.  The lack of pockets apart from the ones on the flyleaf meant I was carrying cards and other essential paperwork in a Filofax Flex Slim. It worked but it would have been nice if everything was together.

I then started looking at my collection in a new light, what else did I have with just 25mm rings or smaller in A5 size that might be able to work in a similar way to the Heritage A5.  I tried a few out some for longer than others.

The A5 Holborn with a clasp has 25mm rings, and an excellent internal layout. It works really well but it a little too stiff and structured, but I'm keeping it in reserve!

The organiser section in the Gillio A5 Mia Cara was the next candidate. Simple like the Heritage, but the lack of pockets or a pen loop when used on its own and the width issue with side tabs sticking out was also an issue. The outer jacket though had lots of pockets so that helped, but I didn't want to have to carry both parts... if I could help it!

I then started using a Van der Spek Custom A5 Manager in the Touch Me leather, this has been excellent in terms of what it carries, it is light weight and very flexible.

By now I realised that 25mm rings gave me more than enough capacity and I am able to easily carry a full 12 months of weekly inserts, 12 months of monthly inserts and plenty of notes pages too.

That would have been the end of the journey, until over Christmas I was looking again at the Mia Cara with thought to solving its issues and seeing if I could come up with a solution.

Put simply we needed to make the organiser section wider! If you wanted to retain using the pen slot in the spine, then the outer jacket would also need to be wider as well. Without using the pen slot though there is ample room for a wider organiser section.

So I sketched my design, I tried a full size cardboard prototype the proposed height and overall width, wrapped this around some 25mm rings and tried it out for size. It worked. So then I just had to decide on a detailed design.

I've seen a lot of custom designs made by Van der Spek for people in our community, but actually designing one for your self helps you realise how much time and care you have to put in to the design if you want the final result you had been thinking of.

For my design the rear cover would be left plain like the Gillio one, but I wanted it in full leather. So there are no pockets in the rear cover.

The front cover though I had freedom to design what I wanted. I added a pen loop, this means I have a pen when I'm only using the organiser section on its own.

I copied the design of the Van der Spek A5 I was using in terms of inside front cover layout.  It has three vertical card slots, two different size, but wide slots that take cards or small documents. There are also two full height slip pockets.

Quite comprehensive because once you add it to what the Mia Cara outer jacket has with even more card slots, vertical pockets, a zip pocket, popper pocket and full width back pocket, then yes it is quite a beast and easy to loose things in!

So the new organiser section was made for me by Van der Spek. Marrying the two designs up in terms of leather finish and colour took a bit of work.

I took the A5 Mia Cara with me to the meet up in June and between Petra and myself we decided that the 'Janet Leather 104' was a nice contrast to the Mia Cara green. I also chose white stitching for the new organiser section. I was happy to settle with 25mm rings.

It was very special to sit and discuss my design ideas with Petra who a natural flair for what can and can't be done with leather.

I entrusted my modified drawing to Petra and the team and patiently waited for it to be made.

This is the result. As you can see there's no clasp but that isn't a problem, because in the outer jacket that has a clasp.

And here it is 'installed' in the Gillio Mia Cara outer jacket.

I like the contrast between the two colours. The original Gillio organiser section is green and cream on the inside. I think the natural brown goes very well with the Gillio green.

This shows the internal layout of the front inside cover with the pen loop as well. 

Closed with tabs and nothing sticks out the edge! I had the option of square or rounded corners. I picked rounded because it would then be easier to insert the organiser in to the outer jacket.

Very importantly, the organiser section fits in to the iPad slot of my small messenger bag perfectly.

Or if I really need to take the whole organiser including the outer jacket, the dividers easily come out and I can carry it all including my Gillio Giramondo and Van der Spek Nomad Travellers Notebooks, and slotted in the back my iPad Pro, 'planning' for any eventuality!

Here you can see the extra width compared to the Gillio organiser section. This photo also shows the difference in the internal layouts of the two.

The difference in size and design to a conventional A5 are fairly small. I had to impose a maximum height of 230mm to ensure it slotted into the Mia Cara ok. This maximum height is very similar to other A5's I already own.

It is surprising how much they vary in height. Overall width is the same as a normal 25mm ring A5 Manager at 405mm, the A5 Mia Cara insert measures just 375mm.

I've really settled in to using this new combination organiser this week. So far I am really enjoying using it.

I can now use my two luxury favourite brands in the one organiser!

Thank you to Petra Van der Spek for her patience and helping making my dreams come true!

If you have any additional questions please post them in the comments below.


  1. Well I have to say I have bought several organisers over the years for various reasons, colour, texture, interior layout etc., but it wasn't until I read Janet Carr's article about her Touch Me Junior that realise what a well thought out design that is, with so many interior features. So, I took the plunge, and asked Petra for a pebbly finish in black. Well, I'm not disappointed. The interior is all I could wish for and the leather is sublime. I realise my needs don't require the larger sizes, so I think I have found my ideal.

  2. I love Janet leather 104 so much, it feels so thick and takes on it's only characteristics quickly. I think it looks great with the green Mia Cara, it's a lovely contrast!

  3. Absolutely brilliant. I would have never thought to custom design a portion of the Mia Cara planner. I, too, love that design, but it seems a bit intimidating due to its heft and size. But you've got my wheels turning now. Thank you for a wonderful post.

    1. I didn't say this in the post as it's been covered before in previous posts.

      The Mia Cara is fairly unique in its design with having the removable organiser section. So I always imagined that how I'm using it was what the designer intended. i.e. to remove that part and use it on its own. Otherwise what is the point of having it removable! Especially in A5 were the empty weight is quite significant.

      Sadly it is spoilt by the error on sizing, this came about because the inserts they designed it for aren't A5 but half letter size (narrower but taller than A5)

      The only disadvantage to my design is not being able to use the pen slot when closed... and I guess finding a colour of leather to contrast/match your existing Mia Cara.
      But the pen issue is mitigated with the pen loop on the new planner anyway!

  4. This is beautiful Steve. Brilliant design. I could back to owning a Mia if they changed to a true A5 or I did a design like yours.

    I love VDS for the customization. For that reason, I'm getting most things from them.

    Congrats on your lovely binder. I like the bag as well.

  5. Brilliant, Steve! I love how you had a design problem, and I'm so glad you and the VDS team came up with a solution! I go gaga over a clasp-free binder. Also, very glad you've found peace in A5! Can't wait to read about your detailed set-up!

  6. Thanks for a wonderful post. I think that the customer service & options available from Van der Spek are amazing. If I wasn't so content in my red Winchester, I would buy a standard Touch Me with 30mm rings...

  7. Great article. Love the design. Very creative and practical! The leathers work well together too.

  8. Excellent idea, Steve. And really like the leather/look too.

    Two thumbs up!

  9. Looks good Steve. What stiffener option did you use? Seems like there would be some merit in this case to have the right hand side "with" and the left "without".

    1. I went for Bontex frame on both sides. But yes solid Bontex on the right hand side might have been a better choice. I just give the cover a little wiggle to get it fully in to the rear pocket on the Mia Cara.

  10. How about getting this coordinated bag from Tusting for your travels?

  11. Artistic, well thought out and I love the colors you chose.