written by:
April 19, 2011

A highlight of my trip to Paris earlier this year—and I can't believe it's taken me this long to share it with you—was a visit to the Bouroullec brothers' studio in Belleville. It was an exciting moment for the designers; they were in the midst of organizing the first major exhibition of their work in France, the epic "Album" show at the Arc en Rêve architecture center in Bordeaux (which is on view until April 24), and were developing a new wooden chair for Mattiazzi, the Osso, which is premiering at Milan as we speak. They were also preparing to work on a new line of ceramic tiles for Italian brand Mutina, which will launch in the fall.

After I toured the studio with their executive office manager, Fanny (I wish I could share more photos of their woodshop and workspace, but they requested privacy), Erwan sat down with me for a chat about the exhibition and their recent work. "All our projects are site-specific, created for a particular company," he said. "All have their own logic and character—none are a copy-and-paste of something else. They generate from a simple question: how do you build this, how do you use this?" As for their aesthetic? "We look for a softness of space, but with electricity inside." Click through the slideshow for a glimpse into the Bouroullec's world.

Entering off the street, you walk through a covered area and enter a large courtyard lined with three-story industrial buildings. A freestanding building in the center of the courtyard houses a printing press.
Entering off the street, you walk through a covered area and enter a large courtyard lined with three-story industrial buildings. A freestanding building in the center of the courtyard houses a printing press.
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A glimpse at the map by the front gate confirms I'm in the right place.
A glimpse at the map by the front gate confirms I'm in the right place.
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The Bouroullecs occupy a three-story unit on the left-hand side of the courtyard.
The Bouroullecs occupy a three-story unit on the left-hand side of the courtyard.
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Inside, the main floor of the studio is pleasantly cluttered with books, sketches, chair prototypes, finished products, and a blackboard where the brothers hash out their ideas. On the floor is a poster for their "Album" exhibition in Bordeaux. Downstairs
Inside, the main floor of the studio is pleasantly cluttered with books, sketches, chair prototypes, finished products, and a blackboard where the brothers hash out their ideas. On the floor is a poster for their "Album" exhibition in Bordeaux. Downstairs is a woodshop and prototyping studio; upstairs are offices and a photo studio.
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Here is the desk where the brothers work, with inspiration images and drawings pinned to the wall.<br /><br />Photo: © Ronan et Erwan Bouroullec.
Here is the desk where the brothers work, with inspiration images and drawings pinned to the wall.Photo: © Ronan et Erwan Bouroullec.
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The Bouroullecs were feeling press-shy the day I visited, so the studio provided this portrait. Erwan is on the right; Ronan on the left.<br /><br />Photo: © Ronan et Erwan Bouroullec.
The Bouroullecs were feeling press-shy the day I visited, so the studio provided this portrait. Erwan is on the right; Ronan on the left.Photo: © Ronan et Erwan Bouroullec.
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"Album" (on view at the Arc en Rêve architecture center in Bordeaux until April 24) brings together about 800 documents from the Bouroullec's archive, from rough sketches to preparatory drawings to photographs—many of them never shown before. The idea, sa
"Album" (on view at the Arc en Rêve architecture center in Bordeaux until April 24) brings together about 800 documents from the Bouroullec's archive, from rough sketches to preparatory drawings to photographs—many of them never shown before. The idea, said Fanny, was to "show the multiplicity of their work—opening drawers, seeing what's inside, and putting it out there almost raw."
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Erwan said the show offered him and Ronan the chance to view their full body of work from a distance. Seeing all the pieces assembled in a single gallery "makes us realize what we're obsessed with… it shows us the red thread that runs through all our work
Erwan said the show offered him and Ronan the chance to view their full body of work from a distance. Seeing all the pieces assembled in a single gallery "makes us realize what we're obsessed with… it shows us the red thread that runs through all our work. It's not really a style, but a philosophy. We try to use new technologies, we try to find an approach that's specific to each company, to use materials properly, and to rely on the cleverness of the hand." They'll have an even bigger opportunity to consider their own work in October, when a 10,000-square-foot retrospective opens at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, running through the summer.
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Discussing their latest project, a wooden chair designed for the Italian company Mattiazzi, Erwan said "sometimes innovation comes from misusing a machine, or putting two machines together." In this case, the brothers wanted to "think about construction,
Discussing their latest project, a wooden chair designed for the Italian company Mattiazzi, Erwan said "sometimes innovation comes from misusing a machine, or putting two machines together." In this case, the brothers wanted to "think about construction, and try to find a clever way to build with solid wood" while minimizing waste in the construction. He sketched this drawing for me, showing how cutting a curve from a solid piece of wood wastes a lot of the material (top); while creating a curve from two pieces of wood joined together (bottom) generates less waste. This idea was the basis of their design for the Osso chair.
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A view of the completed chair, sculpted out of oak, maple, or ash using solar-powered, digitally controlled equipment. "Chairs have the same properties they had hundreds of years ago, but technologies have lives and deaths," Erwan reflected. "Resetting te
A view of the completed chair, sculpted out of oak, maple, or ash using solar-powered, digitally controlled equipment. "Chairs have the same properties they had hundreds of years ago, but technologies have lives and deaths," Erwan reflected. "Resetting technology is what evolves furniture typologies." Image courtesy of Studio Bouroullec.
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Though the Bouroullecs "say no most of the time," as Erwan put it, they said yes to Mattiazzi because "they're a small brand that doesn't try to establish itself as a brand. They realize a single product each year that has the ability to stand by itself.
Though the Bouroullecs "say no most of the time," as Erwan put it, they said yes to Mattiazzi because "they're a small brand that doesn't try to establish itself as a brand. They realize a single product each year that has the ability to stand by itself. It's an interesting change in this too-much-marketed world." Image courtesy of Studio Bouroullec.
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The Osso chair's component parts, laid out in an oddly anthropomorphic arrangement. <br /><br />Image courtesy of Studio Bouroullec.
The Osso chair's component parts, laid out in an oddly anthropomorphic arrangement. Image courtesy of Studio Bouroullec.
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After a lovely and inspiring visit, Fanny, the Bouroullec's office manager, bids me adieu.<br /><br /><p><em><strong>Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our </strong></em><a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dwell/id411793747?mt=8"><em><strong> FREE a
After a lovely and inspiring visit, Fanny, the Bouroullec's office manager, bids me adieu.

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Entering off the street, you walk through a covered area and enter a large courtyard lined with three-story industrial buildings. A freestanding building in the center of the courtyard houses a printing press.
Entering off the street, you walk through a covered area and enter a large courtyard lined with three-story industrial buildings. A freestanding building in the center of the courtyard houses a printing press.

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