The ideal home at the Cologne Fair (January 19-22 2004) says a great deal about the Bouroullec brothers – two retiring young Breton designers, 33 year old Ronan and Erwan, 28 – of so few words as to seem slightly put out by their rapid rise to stardom. Their home concept is a lifestyle manifesto based on respect for space – which, say the Bouroullecs, should be left uncluttered by infrastructure, leaving room for creative DIY.
The Bouroullec home invites us to think of our living space as a personal creation, its many different compositions, pieced together like a puzzle, accommodating our changing moods – provided you have the patience to make the changes.
Curtains or diaphragms made of some 100,000 tiny precision-moulded plastic scales and rods made by German domestic gadget manufacturer, Koziol, form moveable partitions dividing up space. The effect is one of airiness and space, like a garden full of climbing plants. The Bouroullecs’ somewhat romantic reference to nature is always present in the peaceful and meditative atmosphere they create. The lightness and serenity their objects communicate hark back to the pace of rural lifestyles rather than the turmoil of city living. Never whimsical, however, their best creations are the product of painstaking observation of things and the way we use them. Theirs is an explicit invitation to change ingrained habits and find new, more considerate, society-friendly forms of collective living. The Bouroullec brothers’ design style appeals to sharing, as in the “Joyn Desk” office system for Vitra or the table “La Grande Bouffe”, a project developed in 2003 with students from ECAL, the Lausanne State Arts School.
Or to mediation, with the “Lit Clos”, a sleeping cabin on stilts, a secluded refuge while still part of its surrounds thanks to open metallic grids. The “Lit Clos” has been produced by Cappellini as a prototype. Similarly, the woven structure of the “Cabane” or hut affords shelter without exclusion. Inside, two chaises longues and a modular carpet, not unlike a covering of moss, are a call to sit back and reflect on things.
The Ideal Home of Cologne takes composition and assembly to virtuoso extremes, as if to underline an obsession that has been with the brothers from the outset. It was Ronan who, still very young, first came to public notice in 1997 with his “Vases Combinatoires”. They went on show at the Parisian art gallery, Neotu – since closed and replaced by Mouvements Modernes – , directed by art and design critic, Pierre Staudenmeyer, a sophisticated connoisseur whose rare talent-spotting gift we have to thank for many discoveries on the French design scene. Each of these moulded vases in synthetic material can either stand alone or be part of a more complex, even totemic composition.
Giulio Cappellini, never slow to recognise a good idea, included them in his 1998 “Progetto-Oggetto” collection, starting a working relationship with the Bouroullec brothers that has since produced many memorable items, now icons of contemporary design. Along with Jasper Morrison, the Bouroullec twosome are pillars of the Cappellini catalogue.
Some of the design firm’s most interesting seating systems bear their name. The recent book on their work (published by Phaidon, 2003) carries project descriptions written by the brothers themselves. The style is clear, almost banal, as if the results, after so much work, were obvious. Key to all their work, be it minimalist or a piece of design bravura, is its apparent naturalness. Every piece is strikingly significant. Never a mere stylistic exercise, each item reveals a highly original and personal attitude to being and living. With their courteous reticence, the Bouroullec brothers seem more like philosophers than designers.
Not part of the voluble mainstream, they talk very calmly about life and their work, choosing words carefully to expound original ideas about new ways of relating users to objects and spaces, of connecting people and things.
The Bouroullec brothers are young yet have the wisdom of the prophets. They are young yet show the perfectionism of consummate professionals. Young yet mature, they remain idealists, imagining better worlds to come.