Double Feature

Paris’s once-competing furniture fairs couldn’t be closer. The former Salon du Meuble left its home at Paris Expo and merged with Plante Meuble, an offshoot for the general public. It reappeared this past January as Meuble Paris at the Paris Le Bourget trade fair site, not far from the Paris-Nord Villepinte Convention and Exhibition Centre, home of Maison & Objet. A shuttle-bus ride between the two sites takes all of 10 minutes.

With over 540,000 square feet of stands and more than 3,500 brands participating, the combined fairs – sharing a similar schedule, give or take a day or two – overwhelmed even the most savvy visitor. But, in the end, a show within each of the shows presented itself as the jewel in the crown: VIA: Les Aides la Cration 2008 at Meuble Paris, and now! design vivre at Maison & Object.

VIA (which stands for Valorization of Innovation in Furnishing) was formed in 1979 by French furniture manufacturers and the Ministry of Industry to promote and contribute to innovation in living environments. Each year, it awards a research grant (Carte Blanche) to one or several designers, enabling the designer(s) to develop products focused on everyday activities; and 10 project assistance grants, each of which allows the designer(s) to develop a project to working prototype stage. For highlights of the VIA exhibit, see page 65.

Beginning as a sidebar to M&O in 2000, now! design vivre – in a hall of its own as of last year – offers the fair’s most adventurous design. Who better, then, to be named now!’s designer of the year than the peerless Patricia Urquiola, honoured with a retrospective of her always imaginative work. The Spanish designer showed two new things: Mini Log, a set of side tables, the latest addition to her Log collection for Artelano; and Retrouv, a brand-new collection of outdoor metal furniture for Emu. Judging by the hive-like activity around the Emu booth, Re-trouv generated the show’s biggest buzz. And no wonder: evocative of past forms yet distinctly modern, Urquiola’s curvy and colourful chairs, tables and planters seem to encapsulate the whole lovely notion of summer.

A number of other big names were showing as well, including the Bouroullec brothers (a cunning chair of steel and wood), Patrick Norguet (a concise collection of desks, stools and sofas) and Jean Nouvel (a sculptural seating system). Tucked into one criminally cramped corner of the hall were the littler names, including two talented designers from the U. K.: Dominic Crinson, whose zany tile and wallpaper is an eye-opener; and Rachel O’Neill, who works wonders with Velcro. Big or small, at the top of the heap or up and coming, they were all now!-worthy.