The sofa as a ripe fruit
Jan 31, 2011
Ronan Bouroullec, "Ploum" for Ligne Roset, Foto: Nina Reetzke, Stylepark

This year looks set to be a cozy one as well, at least if we are to believe the new designs by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, who presented their "Ploum" sofa at imm cologne and their "Losanges" carpet at Maison & Objet. Nina Reetzke talked to Ronan Bouroullec about the brothers' low furniture, the inspiring power of sketches, and the pleasure of rediscovering the medium of film.

Nina Reetzke: What specifications had you received from Ligne Roset when you started work on "Ploum"?

Ronan Bouroullec: There was no briefing for "Ploum". Erwan and I were aiming to design a sofa that would be particularly comfortable but different from anything else already on the market. "Ploum" has a very sensual feel to it. It is reminiscent of a ripe fruit, one that is almost too juicy to eat. Or one that has to be consumed quickly because it will have gone off by the next day. It is very sugary and tastes sweet.

We have been interested in sponge for around 15 years now. In our opinion it is a material that is particularly associated with comfort. It has inspired a series of sofa designs, all of which were very informal in character. Despite repeated attempts, for a long time we were unable to get a manufacturer interested in them. So we put them to one side and started from scratch again sometime later - and so on. Then suddenly everything went very quickly. It only took one year to design "Ploum", which is not that long for a sofa.

How would you describe the shape of "Ploum"?

Bouroullec: "Ploum" has no edges, its backrest is high and its seat low. Everything about "Ploum" is designed in such a way that users can sit or lie comfortably in as many positions as possible on it - reading, sleeping or sitting opposite each other as a couple. Some people may find "Ploum's" seat slightly too low. Both my parents are around 70. They spend a great deal of time on their sofa. Once they have parked themselves on it they stay there for a while, up to two or three hours, comparable to having a lie-down in bed. And if it then takes them a moment or two to get out of the sofa, as it were, then it is exercise of a kind for them and good for their bodies.

Is "Ploum" also suitable for furnishing public rooms?

Bouroullec: "Ploum" looks as if it had been designed for private living rooms. But if you look at the way that some public rooms are furnished, for example, in the Middle East, there you will find sofas that are even lower than "Ploum". In some cases, people simply lie down on the carpet. We need to rethink furnishings for public rooms. All those regulations about seats having to be 40 cm in height are just exhausting. There are norms everywhere, but a sense of diversity and eclecticism is much rarer. I don't think that public rooms need to be furnished in line with formal criteria. Not everybody cares to make such a correct impression as the Germans or the Swiss. One of the good things about this world is having a certain amount of choices, not letting yourself be restricted by too many rules and being able to stand up for what you believe in.

What do you have to say about "Ploum's" perforated pattern?

Bouroullec: The covering fabric already existed, we didn't design it specially for the sofa. Since the cover is made in one piece and can be pulled over a large number of round shapes, the fabric has to stretch and be attached to the upholstery in several places. Moreover, at eight millimeters, the fabric is particularly thick, which in turn makes the sofa appear unusually soft.

How important to the overall impression is the carpet under the sofa?

Bouroullec: With "Ploum's" very low seat it is essential to have a good carpet underneath it. That is why, when we shot the "Losanges" rug that we designed for Nanimarquina, we would have loved to take photographs of "Ploum" and "Losanges" together. But unfortunately there wasn't enough time in January, in between the Cologne and the Paris design shows.

How did "Losanges" come about?

Bouroullec: Nanimarquina asked us for a carpet design. "Losanges" is produced using traditional kelim techniques. It is manufactured in a region of political unrest in Pakistan; before we went into production we had to wait for more peaceful conditions.

What can you tell us about its shape?

Bouroullec: Looking at "Losanges" you don't get the feeling that the carpet was produced in Central Asia. We wanted to use a geometry that wasn't based on the usual square, rectangular, and round shapes. We therefore decided on sequences of diamonds with their oblique-angled lines.

Where do the patterns come from?

Bouroullec: As you may know, we draw a great deal - and not only for concrete projects. There is currently an exhibition of our sketches on in Bordeaux called "Album". The pattern for "Losanges" came from one of these abstract sketches. "Losanges" for Nanimarquina and the pattern for our "Church" laminate for Parador unmistakably date from a similar time.

Nanimarquina actively supports projects against child labor, for sustainability and for fair trade. What is your position on ethical consumerism?

Bouroullec: Ethical consumerism is exceedingly important. I don't know Nanimarquina that well. However, the people there seem to take the question seriously and not to misuse it for marketing purposes - which would be cynical.

You produce a large percentage of the marketing information in your studio. How important to you is the presentation of your products?

Bouroullec: We are passionate about this discipline. A large percentage of our work is looked at in the form of photographs or on the Internet. We realized this at an early stage. And today I still think that is important to provide people with good communications documentation on the products. What I like about it is being able to create an atmosphere and through it communicating to other people what we ourselves think about our products.

At what point in the design process do you start thinking about the product pictures?

Bouroullec: We start imagining relatively early on how the product should ultimately be presented. This can be a problem. Designing is a complicated process - similar to cooking. You can have the best vegetables but the dish still won't taste good without salt. It is no different in design. You can have a good idea and a beautiful design. If the price isn't right, the whole thing becomes a horror scenario. All the parameters need to be given equal consideration.

And what do the manufacturers say when you take charge of marketing functions which are really more their responsibility?

Bouroullec: For the manufacturers, this is usually a nightmare. Vitra is an exception in this respect. We were able to influence the way Vitra communicated after the first time they collaborated with us. Can you remember the pictures of "Joyn"? Just take a look at how this pictorial language and this communications strategy influenced the following campaigns.

When it comes to marketing questions, we do not engage in lengthy discussions with the manufacturers, either. They have to accept our approach. This often results in double communications, both from the manufacturers and from us.

Now that we have been operating over a number of years I am slowly beginning to believe that marketing is perhaps less important than I once thought. For all those who do not see design as their purpose and their passion, the sofa is all that matters. They go into a store, see a sofa, try it out and think about whether it would fit in with their apartment. That's all.

You even produce films on some of your products. Why do you go to such lengths?

Bouroullec: It is a fact that designing products can take a long time and be frustrating. We have more scope as designers if we take photographs and make films - and it gives us pleasure. In strategic terms, producing films doesn't make sense. Good photographs take a week to produce - and, at the end of the day, a week is a week. Producing a film takes considerably longer. Erwan and I do everything together, the only exceptions being photographs and films. Erwan looks after the films and I look after the photographs. And this division of labor is set in stone. Interestingly enough, we're not professional film-makers. We discover things that have in fact been around for a long time. For example, it took us weeks to find out the best way to draw water - for the film, that presents the bathroom collection for Axor. If we got professionals to do it, the process would doubtless be quicker. But we like to do it ourselves. It costs us a great deal of money and is pretty unreasonable. There isn't a manufacturer who would pay for this. But we are happy.

Ronan Bouroullec, "Ploum" for Ligne Roset, Foto: Nina Reetzke, Stylepark
Ploum by Bouroullecs for Ligne Roset, photo: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
Detail of Ploum
Losanges by Bouroullecs for Nanimarquina
Losanges by Bouroullecs
Special exhibition with products by Bouroullecs at Maison+Objet in Paris 2011
Special exhibition at Maison+Objet in Paris 2011
Special exhibition at Maison+Objet in Paris 2011
There is currently an exhibition of sketches by Bouroullecs in Bordeaux called “Album”.
Exhibition in Bordeaux
Exhibition in Bordeaux