Isn’t it romantic?

Arriving in Paris a day early to attend Maison & Objet, the big home-furnishings show held at Parc des Exposition near Charles de Gaulle Airport, I played tourist and visited the Pantheon. There I paid my respects at the tomb of the founder of French Romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He attacked private property; held that the established social and political order was oppressive; and celebrated the “noble savage” (not his phrase) who was happy and uncorrupted in his closeness to nature. Et voilà: those ideals still resonate today, to judge from some of the booths packing Hall 8, home to now! design à vivre, the show-within-the-show of hip new work. From the embarrass de richesse of fabulous finds, here’s a selection. 

1-Wood gone wild

Individualism: nature rebelling against the established order. Rouseau’s concepts worked themselves out in witty ways at the Drugeot Labo booth. Rebelle starts out as a handsome, immaculately finished dining-room table made of solid oak from sustainable French forests, perched on Carrara marble feet; suddenly, its flat wood plane “rebels” and transforms into flailing ribbons or nautilus tentacles. “The idea,” explained Pierre Rochepeau, owner and designer of the Brittany-based firm, “is to show that wood lives and is difficult to domesticate. In the beginning, the table is flat because it has been disciplined and cowed by man’s technology. Then, suddenly, it explodes.” (Elsewhere in the booth, bookshelves look like they want to up and run away. “These break the traditional code of shelving, which is very straight,” Rochepeau told me. “We wanted to be original
and unstructured, yet functional. They look like they will fall down, but they won’t.”)

2—Marble or wood?

Philippe Boisselier is a member of the Board of Interior Architects of France. His Appoints furnishings collection for French supplier Elpe (wasn’t that the name of a Beatles movie?) includes a bench made of Carrara marble. It evokes a sawhorse, its feet consisting of two triangular marble planes. The wavy grey veins in the creamy white stone are reminiscent of wood grain. Notwithstanding the visual punning that extends to surfaces as well as shapes, this bench is an object of serene dignity and elegance.

3—Never too thin…

First produced in 1807 in Liguria, Italy, the Chiavari chair is lightweight, simple and stackable. Italian architect and Domus magazine founder Gio Ponti abstracted and updated it as the Superleggera chair for Cassina in 1957. Now Portugal’s Branca Lisboa’s Aya and Skin chairs (Skin is shown) add plain and fancy variations to the theme. Says company founder and designer Marco Sousa Santos, “I have dinner every day in the Ponti chair. I invented a superstructure [an articulated undercarriage] to make Aya more interesting. The Skin chair looks very architectural, but part of it is covered in foam, so when you sit on the chair, it doesn’t hurt your back.”

4—Up, up & away 

Goodbye beanbag chair; hello, Baloon chair. An unending procession of smiling faces, no matter how tired or jaded the visitor, made their way to the booth of Paris-based Youknow, which founder-designer Florence Jaffrain had filled with bright-red samples of her Baloon ottoman. Baloon is filled with polystyrene beads that conform to the curves of the body, providing support regardless of position or posture. The ottoman’s light weight allows kids, big and small, to move it around easily. No one could resist fiddling with the bit at the top, proportioned to resemble the bellybutton-like extrusion that remains after a balloon is tied.

5—Two seats in one 

Let’s hear it for the sleek, contemporary tailored sofa. A particularly handsome example is the Duo modular seating system from the French firm Arfa. New for the show was a big end element, available in left- and right-facing versions and intended for use in waiting rooms and reception areas. The element is higher on the outside, for short waiting periods, and lower on the inside, for long waits, where you want to sink in to the sofa, relax and maybe catch a few winks. So clever!

6—Paper thin

They always know what time it is at Dix Heures Dix. The French lighting supplier’s new Papier pendant LED lamp, designed by Fabrice Berrux, plays the materials-substitution game with good-natured, minimalist wit. An aluminum-composite panel, available in two sizes and with a red or white silkscreened interior finish, is folded to resemble a big sheet of paper.

7—One man’s trash… 

“Reduce, reuse and recycle” was overdue for a send-up: the Trash Me lamp, by American designer Victor Vetterleined for & Tradition, does it to perfection. “The idea is to recycle a well-known material, though not used before in our industry, and combine it with a classic form,” the Copenhagen-based company’s Trine Krogh Hakansson informed me. “It’s funny and it has a low retail price, so it’s a consumer product that can reach everybody.” The lamp is made of paper pulp from old egg cartons. The evident lack of any effort to smooth the unprettified texture or the joint down the middle where the two moulded halves come together adds a humorous, ironic note.

8—Blowing up a classic

Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame, liked to be photographed beside the Anglepoise drafting lamp in his studio. So when the late novelist’s museum commissioned a giant-size version of the British design classic, the company made two extras, keeping one and auctioning the third (which went to director Tim Burton). Now you can buy it in Canada for $3,600. If it looks the same as the familiar desk model, but bigger, note the tweaked proportions – and thereby lies a lesson in how appearances change with scale. “We shortened the shade a touch,” product manager Ed Lamwarne told me. “Otherwise, it would have looked too long.” And evoked a hair-dryer hood, this reporter asked? “Yes.”

9—The light fantastic

The super-sharp screens on smart phones are powered by organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). At the booth of the French firm Blackbody, they were making a lighting fashion statement, used as a grid in reading lights. The main event, however, was a very large pendant lamp comprising dozens of suspended OLEDs. Viewed from below, it’s a starry night. Viewed from the side, it’s a gaggle of mushroom valves, those tapered plugs atop a cylinder in an automobile engine that let the pre-combustion gasoline vapour in and the after-combustion exhaust out.

10—Basin instincts

The Silenzio washbasin, designed by Domenico De Palo for Italian bath-fixture manufacturer Antonio Lupi, is like a Rorschach test. Does it look faintly sinister, like a horseshoe crab’s eye, or sexual, like the red “lips” of Salvador Dali’s Mae West sofa? The LED-illuminated Corian sink, once encased by the drywaller, seems to want to emerge from the wall. With a new coat of paint, you can dress the “naked” sink in new clothes.

11—Tops in tables

Philippine Lemaire was an architecture student at St. Etienne, near Lyon, when for her graduation project she c
reated a series of four ganged solid, sawn-oak tables evoking lily pads – which can be configured as a long, narrow console table or a square, curvy-edged and very leggy dining table. Lemaire entered Itasy into the annual Cinna competition for lighting and small furniture, sponsored by Maison Française magazine, whose winners are showcased at Maison & Objet. This brought it to the attention of international furnishings giant Ligne Roset, from whom it will be available in walnut as well as oak and in a smaller version that works as a side table.

12—Par for the course

De Stijl is always in style. Take a bunch of rectangles and restrict the palette to the primary colours of red, yellow and blue,
plus black and white. These elements were introduced circa 1917 by the Dutch de Stijl group, starring furniture and architecture by Rietveld and paintings by Mondrian. At the booth of the Italian firm Sculptures Jeux, company designer and co-founder Bernard Vuarnesson revived the aesthetic with his Par4 table; Vuarnesson has an engineering degree from the Ecole Supérieure du Bois, in Nantes, France, and his skill at woodworking shows in this imaginative piece. Available in coffee- and dining-table heights, the versatile table has a solid wood structure and four removable and reversible tops. With the tops extended, it looks like a disassembled Rietveld Red-Blue chair.

13—Finishing school

The De Castelli booth was filled with metallic chests, wardrobes, etageres, bookcases
and slope-angled cubical planters that looked contemporary yet ancient, thanks to their complex, patinated finishes (shown is the Kata planter). Applied with a loose, uneven quality, like laying a wash while painting a watercolour, these finishes add warmth to the cold material. The translucent, layered look shines with glints of the raw, natural metal peeking through.