Wednesday. 1/2/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Alex Cretey Systermans

Making a mark

This week we discuss Cartier’s reopened Paris flagship (pictured) with Cyrille Vigneron, the French luxury brand’s president and CEO, while also paying a visit to Casa Costa, a breezy, climate-responsive apartment in Barcelona. Then we hear from the creative director of scenography at Swiss furniture company Vitra, take a quick rest on the modernist Vanessa bed from 1959 and check out a new side table by Danish furniture firm &Tradition. But first, Nic Monisse on the secret to close collaboration.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

It takes two

The working relationship between a craftsperson and a designer can often be fraught with technical and creative tension. It’s not unusual to hear a furniture designer lament the limitations of a carpenter’s skills; equally, it’s not rare to hear a carpenter complain about a furniture designer’s unrealistic visions. So what’s the solution? One possible route is to maintain a sense of mystery surrounding your collaborator’s work and the skills required to do it.

“As a designer, if you have too much technical knowledge about construction, you can’t bring the necessary creativity to a project,” says Alexandre Willaume, of Marie et Alexandre. As one half of his namesake design duo, Willaume and his co-founder, Marie Cornil, work with artisans across France to create distinctive work that blends high-end design with traditional craftsmanship. For their latest project, which I saw recently at Signé gallery in Paris, they have worked with ceramicists to produce a collection of objets d’art that blend mirrored surfaces with striking ceramic forms.

To produce the pieces, the duo brought their designs and ideas to the makers with very little understanding of how ceramicists work. This, Willaume says, was deliberate and done to ensure that they could approach the project without being weighed down by years of working with the material and expectations of what it can and can’t do. “We don’t ever want to learn too much about a craft,” says Willaume. “By staying at the beginner’s level, we can take our knowledge as designers and add value to the work.”

He believes that this is beneficial to both parties collaborating on a project. For the designer, not knowing exactly what is possible can be freeing. For the maker, receiving proposals that might seem impossible to execute can encourage them to explore new processes and methods. Perhaps, then, not only can approaching a collaboration with naivety lead to smoother professional relationships but it might also allow both designer and maker to improve their craft.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor.

The Project / Casa Costa, Spain

Domestic bliss

Tucked away on a narrow road on the fringes of Barcelona’s Putxet neighbourhood, David Martí Vilardosa and Nina Ordeig Masó’s Casa Costa gives no clues as to what lies behind its walls. “It’s easy to forget that there’s a street on the other side,” says Martí Vilardosa, who is the editor responsible for product development at lighting brand Santa & Cole, which Ordeig Masó’s father co-founded in 1985. Ordeig Masó herself spent several years working at the company, before moving on to become communications manager at Barcelona-based rug company Nanimarquina and co-founding communications agency Quintanas Ordeig.

Image: Mariano Herrera
Image: Mariano Herrera
Image: Mariano Herrera

The layout and the exposed-concrete ceilings and floors give the building a serene, sanctuary-like feel that is a world away from the bustle of the city around it. Crucial to this effect is the compact garden, which is enclosed by the indoor living spaces. “The building is completely open to the garden,” says Igor Urdampilleta of Arquitectura-G, who designed the house with Aitor Fuentes. The choice of artwork on the walls has a particularly personal touch: there are pieces by Martí Vilardosa’s artist father, Melcior Martí, as well as Ordeig Masó’s father, Gabriel Ordeig Cole. “Coming from creative families, it feels natural to have their work around,” says Martí Vilardosa (pictured, with Ordeig Masó). “Our house is basically a reflection of all of the important people in our lives. Luckily, the people we love make amazing work.”

Designer’s note: In building a breezy structure that embraces the climate, the architects have not only made for an energy-efficient home but an attractive one that’s in tune with the seasons.

Design News / Cartier shop, France

Living heritage

When Cyrille Vigneron was appointed president and CEO of Cartier International in 2016, he embarked on a mission to refresh the French luxury house’s retail spaces. “Our shops had aged,” says Vigneron. “They felt luxurious yet stiff.” His aim was to add warmth and personality to each boutique, going against the industry norm of copying and pasting a similar design to every location. “Each shop needs to be anchored in the city or even the street that it’s in and express its history,” he says.

Most recently, Cartier reopened its historic Paris flagship (pictured) on 13 Rue de la Paix next to the Place Vendôme. The building was chosen by Alfred and Louis Cartier as the brand’s first Parisian home in 1899 and today it embodies Vigneron’s vision with an ode to the company’s heritage. The original façade has been kept and private salons are named after major figures in Cartier’s history, including Jeanne Toussaint, the creative director who worked there from 1933 to 1970. The rest of the space underwent a complete transformation with three teams of architects working on the project.

Image: Alex Cretey Systermans
Image: Alex Cretey Systermans
Image: Alex Cretey Systermans

The boutique is spread across four of the building’s six floors and a private apartment is available for VIP customers to relax or host dinners. An atrium at the back of the building brings an appropriate sense of grandeur with ornate mouldings, hand-painted wallpaper and glass enamel panels created by mosaic artist Sika Viagbo. With such a scintillating offering, the renovated flagship is sure to attract a new wave of customers.

For more on Cartier’s new shop, pick up a copy of Monocle’s February issue, which is on newsstands now.

Words with... / Till Weber, Switzerland

True colours

Till Weber is creative director of scenography at Swiss furniture company Vitra. Trained as an architect, Weber worked in Frankfurt, New York and Zürich before joining Vitra 15 years ago, where he now helps to set the scene – literally – in the firm’s retail, commercial and cultural spaces. One of his most recent projects was Vitra’s new showroom and office space in Tramshed, a heritage-listed building in London that used to house an electricity transformer station for the city’s trams. Weber tells us about the task of honouring heritage architecture and the power of colour to alter our moods.

Image: Tom Ziora/Vitra

To start, tell us about your approach to repurposing an industrial, heritage-listed building as a contemporary commercial space.
A big job was to clear out as much as possible and “move in” again. We didn’t take a minimalist architectural approach but we tried to get rid of things that might distract from the old beauty. We wanted to offer the opportunity to simply hang out and retreat to spaces that are more like a home interior, where we would have the opportunity to show the Vitra collection at its best. We also wanted some edgy areas with certain colour tones or objects that are, as strange as it sounds, “positively irritating”. It’s about getting people excited and inspired by nice colour combinations, good material sources and the beautiful shapes of classic and contemporary furniture pieces.

What was the most challenging part of the transformation?
We had to figure out a way to balance its function as a nice showroom and its role as an inspiring interior and staff office. The historical building and its existing materials helped to guide material choices. For example, we decided that we would only use a certain white that was a little warm in tone and blends in nicely with cream-glazed bricks. We also specified a terrazzo for the countertop, with dark green and red shades. These colours complement the building and new pieces but still make them stand out. All of these little things come together to create an interior that’s more exciting than a regular office interior.

Do you believe in colour’s power to enhance different moods?
I do. I worked on the Vitra Colour & Material Library with Hella Jongerius for more than a decade. I would say that colour can make a space more enjoyable to experience or live in, just as furniture does.

For more from Till Weber, tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Vanessa bed, Italy

Lay lady lay

Most contemporary bedframes are a combination of clunky, monochrome and plain, no matter how fancy the mattress on top. But the Vanessa bed from 1959 shows that this needn’t be the case. Designed by Tobia Scarpa for Italian furniture brand Gavina, which was acquired by Knoll in 1968, the lightweight double bed is flanked by twisting steel ribbons and comes in an array of bright colours, including fire-engine red. The frame is as practical as it is pretty because it can easily be taken apart when you’re moving house.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The Vanessa bed’s existence is in large part thanks to Dino Gavina, the Bologna-born entrepreneur who ran his namesake furniture company and collaborated with architects and designers such as the Castiglioni brothers, Enzo Mari and both Carlo Scarpa and his son, Tobia. In just a few years, the brand put out many of the finest examples of Italian modernist design. Today, a bed manufacturer would be smart to reissue the Vanessa – or give carte blanche to a few talented architects and see what happens.

Around The House / Tung side table, Denmark

Small but mighty

Stockholm-based, UK-born designer John Astbury is behind this new side table by Danish furniture firm &Tradition. Called Tung, it’s inspired by Astbury’s appreciation for antiquarian architecture and his ambition to translate the large, monolithic elements often found in such works into something lighter and more delicate.

Image: &Tradition
Image: &Tradition

Made from lacquered MDF, it features three pillar-shaped legs supporting a round tabletop and has been scaled to fit even the smallest spaces in a home. Its unique proportions mean that it can be used as a standalone piece in an entryway or situated next to a sofa. “Tung is unusual in that its form manages to be both strong and soft,” says &Tradition’s CEO and founder, Martin Kornbek Hansen. “The beauty of it is that its sculptural stature brings a classic aesthetic to any space, while the two bold tones are perfect for adding an injection of colour.” Available in red and blue, Tung’s minimal yet distinctive appearance will add vibrancy to any domestic environment.

Places That Work / Samsen Street Hotel, Thailand

Watch this space

What makes a place – from an office to a garden, a street corner to a train station – work? That’s the question we posed to a group of 50 leading creatives for Monocle’s February issue. Our contributors include award-winning architects, top furniture designers and curators of international art fairs.

Each was also asked to share a photograph that they have taken (or one from their company archive) that shows a place that answers the question and can serve as a source of inspiration for those seeking to build better environments. Here, Thai architect Chatpong Chuenrudeemol tells us why the Samsen Street Hotel (pictured) in Bangkok’s former red-light district is his choice of a place that just, well, works.

Image: W Workspace

“Our new green scaffolding exterior opens the once-dark and introverted hotel up to the city. The façade is designed as a series of platforms, allowing service access and doubling as a vertical stage for local concerts to re-energise the once-dilapidated Samsen neighbourhood.”

For more places that work, pick up a copy of Monocle’s February issue, which is on newsstands now.


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