The SPICE of life

The renowned French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss once irreverently quipped, “In the old days, people used to risk their lives in India or in the Americas in order to bring back products which now seem to us to have been of comically little worth, such as brazilwood and pepper, which added a new range of sense experience to a civilization which had never suspected its own insipidity.” But to paraphrase his follow-up to that line, it always seems that the reverse is true, at least for design. It is from Europe that “our modern Marco Polos now bring back the moral spices of which our society feels an increasing need as it is conscious of sinking further into boredom.” Levi-Strauss said that this time they take the form of photographs, books and travellers’ tales, but in our case they take the form of scènes d’intérieur, and as always, Maison & Objet Paris is the forum to see the finest examples of contemporary interior creativity. 

Somewhat poetically (when seen in the light of Levi-Strauss’s drollery), this autumn session was also the stage to officially announce the launch of the first Maison & Objet Asia fair in March 2014 and Maison & Objet Americas in May 2015. Mark your calendars!

1-Sweet Danish

There was a lot of eye candy among the 27 participants of the Danish Crafts Collection “CC17” in the Now! design à vivre hall, for example the beautifully minimalist Facet (a) stool prototype made of Oregon pine and maple by Foersom & Hiort-Lorenzen; the ingenious Play-Fold-Bird (b) cotton apparatus by Fabelab that doubles as wall/floor art or, with a few knots, a soft seat; and my favourite, the smile-inducing Tuft (c) by Povl Kjer, a stool that wraps lambskin over ash wood and looks like it came out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

2—Free form

Despite first impressions, this is not some optical illusion or a fancy magic act. While the fibreglass and felt Foldchair by Olivier Grégoire for Specimen Editions is completely sturdy, it appears like a weightless ribbon on which we must sit lest it fly away, caught in an updraft.


The Bangkok-based outdoor lifestyle company Deesawat is known for its thoughtful, eco-oriented furniture lines, but the new products most eye-catching at their booth this year highlighted not just nature’s materials, but its occupants as well. Insects is a clever line of stools that strongly resemble beetles and other arthropods, but thankfully not in a David Cronenberg kind of way.

4—Leather bound

Like any good design trade show, there was a vibrant satellite show spotlighting creative young talent. In the case of Maison & Objet, it was at the Now! le off show at Les Docks, Cité de la Mode et du Design. Among the mini-exhibits there, Interieurs Cuir (leather interiors) elegantly explored the structural properties of leather. Two products here stood out. Tabouret Ondulé (a) by Antoine Monnet is a stool where two layers of leather enclose a third in a manner similar to corrugated cardboard; the metal base is very simple, thereby focusing interest on the leather. In stark contrast, Compression de Cuir (b) by Margane Dornat takes an almost abusive approach to the material, compressing it to the point where the folds, bulges, and creases define the chair, and eliminate the elegance and finesse of such a noble material to instead honour the industrial process.

5—How’s it hanging?

A combination of swing chair, hammock and hanging garden seat, the Cacoon by Belgian company Hang It Out was designed by a team of professional sail makers, and was originally commissioned as a relaxation solution for a luxury spa hotel in Britain to complement its coastal location. The concept was inspired by how the weaver bird stitches together its tiny hanging nest.

6—Make it mean something

It may not look like much at first, but the Accordion has meaning. Its legs spread out laterally to create a tabletop stand, and then in a simple accordion-like movement folds back into a slender stick, making it “the most compact trestle in the world,” say its creators, MWA (Makers With Agendas). MWA was established this year by Julien De Smedt and William Ravn, who used M&O as a coming-out party not so much for their products but for their philosophy, which is to advocate removing design from aesthetic concerns and toward societal issues. After all, an M-shape trestle is hardly imaginative if it wasn’t for its collapsing function that reduces significant amounts of packaging and fuel for transport.

 7—The sequel

Just like Hollywood, furniture companies often return to their hits. French firm Qui Est Paul? scored one with its Rock Garden modular planters by Alain Gilles, so decided for 2013 to turn them into seating. Hence the cheeky Rock Party.

9—The fresh maker

If their design products are any indication, they must have a lot of fun on the tiny island of Taiwan. Their national pavilion at the show took the banner “Fresh Taiwan” and selected 10 design brands steeped in creative energy. For example, the Rubber Band teaware set, designed by Biaugust for Toast Living, takes a mischievous shot at the conventional stuffy porcelain tea set by wrapping it in colourful rubber bands.

9—Bells and whistles

Hong Kong brand Latitude 22N, designers and makers of all things porcelain, unveiled its new collections at Now! design à vivre. The Ding lampshade was a definite standout; it’s versatile enough to be used as a suspension, a wall sconce, or carried around by hand. The design clearly evokes the massive bells seen at Buddhist monasteries, and yet the gold interior finish creates a rich, warm intensity.

10—All banged up

From a distance, Dent looks like a shiny polished-copper shade that was either hit by a hammer or dropped in the factory. But the pressed- or blown-metal appearance is merely clever trickery from its designer, Chak: it is in fact soft and lightweight polyethylene that comes flat packed and takes 30 seconds to put together with no tools.


The small booth of upstart French firm Art & Lux was dominated by one brilliant new product – and brilliant not just for the light it casts: a flat plywood lamp that puts a two-dimensional twist on that famous classic icon. Designed by Julie Gasiglia, the range comes in four models of different sizes, all bearing a version of the designer’s name (Jules/Julien/Juliette/Julia).
Shown here is Jules.