Interview: Leslie Oschmann, founder of Swarm


Founder of Swarm, Leslie Oschmann reclaims objects found in Dutch markets, French homes or Belgian antique shops to create something unexpected and beautiful. Visual Director for US Anthropologie for 8 years, she was inspired by the beauty and possibilities in reclaimed objects from Europe. Now based in Amsterdam, Oschmann endeavours to preserve natural charm, reveal new use and create bespoke design from overlooked paintings, furniture and found objects.

What was your background before setting up Swarm?
Most of my work experience has been in display and merchandising. I worked for several small specialty shops and then Conran-Habitat in the US. My last “real” job was for Anthropologie. When I started out as visual manager in Seattle, WA the company had just 10 stores. Towards the end I was Visual Director, based in their home office in Philadelphia, PA. Great experience and one of my best customers!
What was the first thing you ever made from reclaimed materials?
The first thing I made was an altered painting. I have always loved going to markets and when I moved to Europe, a whole new world of finds opened up to me. Paintings were in abundance – Holland being the land of painters I suppose. I bought several – some better than others. Then I began to think about altering them. If it was a portrait for example, I would take a portion of the collar out and replace it by stitching on a vintage 60’s scarf.
How would you describe the Swarm aesthetic?
Unexpected materials utilised in everyday objects.
What is your favourite type of reclaimed object/material to work with and why?
Something worn, with a bit of age. I like natural patina. Something with a bit of soul. I enjoy making something old, new again.
What do you think constitutes good design?
That’s all in the eye of the beholder! What I personally like is a design with a story – a bit conceptual, a bit practical. Too conceptual and it goes over your head – too practical it’s boring. A nice balance of both is hard to find – but great when you do.
Chrysanthemum Bag
Painting Chair
Painting Pillows
Altered Paintings
Altered Painting
Wood and glass bead necklace
Images via Swarm

Author: Antonia Edwards

Antonia is the founding editor of Upcyclist. Based in the UK, she is the author of two books: 'Upcyclist: Reclaimed and Remade Furniture, Lighting and Interiors' (Prestel 2015) and 'Renovate Innovate: Reclaimed and Upcycled Homes' (Prestel 2017).