They are quirky, innovative and don’t shy away from using futuristic designs. Meet Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, the young French designers who are changing the way we look at ordinary, everyday things.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
The Bouroullec brothers – Ronan and Erwan – are the darlings of the design world. They haven’t been around that long, though. Ronan (born 1971) and Erwan (born 1976) have been working together for about a decade now. And despite being relative newcomers to the industry, their impressive portfolio already commands international respect. Their designs are manufactured by such major names as Vitra, Magis, Hansgrohe, Alessi, Issey Miyake and Cappellini.
Ronan began independent design work immediately after completing his studies at the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, while his brother, who was still in school, assisted him. Since 1999, both brothers have worked together as joint partners in their own design firm. They have worked on industrial and domestic design, right up to architectural projects. They have even crafted porcelain dishware and jewellery.
The brothers first hit the limelight when their ‘Disintegrated Kitchen’ presented at the Salon du Meuble in Paris caught the eye of architect and designer Giulio Cappellini. He immediately commissioned them with the Lit clos (“Closed Bed”) and the Spring Chair. That was the beginning and there was no looking back from then onwards. In 2000, Issey Miyake asked them to design a store to house his A-Poc collection in Paris, which turned out to be a colourful space, futuristic and utilitarian in the unique-Bouroullec style that the brothers are now famous for.
A collaboration with Vitra’s CEO Rolf Fehlbaum in 2002 resulted in several innovative products. The Joyn office system is described as “a philosophy, a way of thinking about work.” The colourful modular tables, chairs and screens allow for flexible workspaces that can expand or contract as needed. A central cable channel in the tables allows both sides of the platform to be used simultaneously. The range of colours makes it easily customisable for offices anywhere. The Joyn system has been used by several institutions like the BBC, Novartis and the Seattle Public Library.
Other designs for Vitra include Algues (2004), the Slow Chair (2007), L’Oiseau (2011) and Vegetal. Inspired by plants, the plastic ‘branches’ of the Algues can be linked together to form myriad shapes. From screens to thick, opaque curtains, the applications are endless. The popular Slow Chair is an armchair that combines ergonomic comfort and the softness of knit. In Erwan’s words, “It has the bounce of a tennis racquet.” L’Oiseau, on the other hand, is a beautiful series of animal figurines crafted in maple wood that blends in with any décor.
The Bouroullecs’ also have a long working relationship with Magis, for whom they have designed two complete furniture collections, Striped and Steelwood, as well as individual pieces such as the Baguette chair and the Central and Tambour tables.
Fast forward to 2010. The designers have won acclaim for their innovative wall systems – North Tiles and Clouds – both designed in collaboration with Kvadrat. The award-winning North Tiles is a fabric and foam folding system that can be used to create ‘walls’ using textile bricks. Clouds, on the other hand, is an elegant tile concept, held together by rubber-bands, that can be used as an installation or hung from the ceiling. The ingenious design of both North Tiles and Clouds allow them to be versatile and flexible to suit the customer.
2010 also saw new collections for Alessi (tableware) and Axor Bouroullec, a range of exclusive bathroom fittings in conjunction with Axor Hansgrohe. Recent products from the Bouroullec stable include their leather-clad Piani lamps and the Losanges rugs woven in Pakistan.
Awards have been aplenty in their short career. They were named Designers of the Year at the 2002 Paris Furniture Show and the 2011 Maison & Objet show, among others.
The work of Ronan and Erwan is currently on display in their first major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France. Occupying 1,500 sq m of the museum, the Bivouac exhibition (on until July 2012) is imagined as a temporary encampment and has nothing but the Bouroullecs’ work on display. Walls of North tiles interspersed with wispy ‘clouds’ in many colours form the backdrop to their chairs and sink-in sofas, tables and accessories. Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to wander around the installations, seeing how the products fit in with each other and their environment.
The Bouroullecs’ say that they create objects for a changing, flexible environment. Their almost poetic attitude to their work reflects the motto of the Axor Bouroullec campaign: “Feel free to compose.” Whether it is wood, synthetic fibres or a symphony in metal, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are making poetry happen in every sense of the word.