Want to make real things from now on: Erwan und Ronan Bouroullec. Photo © Ola Rindal
We used to be more frivolous
Interview with

Erwan Bouroullec

Feb 11, 2016

After knitted upholstery fabrics, the textile sound-absorbing solutions “North Tiles” and “Clouds”, not to mention “Ready Made Curtain” – a flexible cable system for curtains, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec have now showcased another product for Kvadrat. Aptly named “Roller Blinds”, they spent four years refining it and have now presented it in Berlin to a select circle of journalists and architects.
Initially the blinds, which provide both privacy and protection from the sun, will be on sale in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, and only when fitted by Kvadrat. It is hardly surprising that blinds by the Bouroullec brothers should be anything but ordinary. Several aspects stand out: the finely-tuned details, the aluminum case that does without screws or hinges, the delicate chain system and the harmonious interplay of the various elements.
“Roller Blinds” will be available in three fabric versions: The polyester fabric “Stratus” is opaque, “Nimbus” has an aluminum coating on the rear that deflects the sunlight and is inflammable thanks to the use of Trevira CS yarn, and finally “Cumulus” is a non-woven made of Trevira CS that resembles paper and, being semi-transparent, creates interesting light effects in the respective room. The blinds can be customized with a maximum width of 300 cm and a height of up to 360 cm. They come either with a looped cord of metal beads or are remote-controlled. Talking to Martina Metzner, designer Erwan Bouroullec reveals what he and his brother found so fascinating about developing a new take on roller blinds, and how design and the senses interact.

Martina Metzner: Let’s talk about design and the five senses, Monsieur Bouroullec. Seeing, feeling, hearing, perhaps even smelling or tasting –which of the five senses is the most important one when it comes to design?

Erwan Bouroullec: A lot of the functionality of design objects depends on our understanding of them. What we have learned in life influences how we respond to our surroundings. Either I identify an object’s function or I don’t. When you see an object or an interface it tells you if it is right or not. And this has to do with how you read it; it could even be wrong, but you don’t get it. So “seeing” is the most important sense in relation to design.

You and your brother Ronan have designed roller blinds for Kvadrat that make spaces dark. Are you at a point in your career when you can no longer bear to see your design work?

Erwan Bouroullec: (Laughing) In a way you are not totally wrong. Everyone will be surprised that the Bouroullecs have designed roller blinds, fucking roller blinds! So I think we have reached a turning point; we want to make real things. We were a bit more frivolous before. Now we are becoming more mature. It is about more accessible design.

The automobile industry is working on creating special aromas in cars. What do you think of design that smells? Can you imagine giving your objects a special smell?

Erwan Bouroullec: To be honest, I don’t think so. They really go too far when it comes to cars. They are now doing everything, like navigation systems that guide you to the best restaurant in the city … We as designers cannot provide life itself. What we can do is provide simple objects that take part in life. Not the other way around. There is a tendency to provide people with recipes for their entire lives like you get in fashion magazines: Now you should wear this, eat that, go here. It is important to keep some things incomplete. To give something a certain aroma doesn’t seem quite right to me. It is a little bit dishonest.

And what do you think about taste? Can a product taste of something or other?

Erwan Bouroullec: Well… design can be compared to cooking, techniques and material can be compared to flavor or taste. Take the collection we have created for Magis, Officina, made of rough iron. It can be compared to an incredibly crude piece of tuna steak. In a way in both cases you don’t touch anything, just put it in the pan. So cooks and designers have to reveal the flavors and techniques that are inside materials. A lot of our work is about that. You might say it’s like making sushi – putting things together.

More recently, eating and cooking have become focal topics for people. Can you relate to that in your work at all?

Erwan Bouroullec: When I was at school I used to paint a lot. In a way cooking is just like painting. It is even better then drawing. I cook every day – it is really important to me. I see food as a material. On top of all that there is the issue with memory and taste that we don’t study enough – as Marcel Proust described in “À la recherche du temps perdu”, with the taste of the Madeleine cookie that was the starting point of a mental journey back in time. So taste and flavor are really fundamental for the real world.

I imagine you wonder what sounds your objects will make, say, when they are moved. How do you approach that aspect? Can you recall a special sound?

Erwan Bouroullec: It was actually when we started our cooperation with Kvadrat back in 2006, creating textile wall tiles for the company’s showroom in Stockholm. The showroom is located in a building with many showrooms next to one another. Every one of them had a party at the opening and I walked through the different rooms, having drinks and engaging in small talk. When I returned to the Kvadrat showroom it was like someone had turned off the amplifier, reducing the treble a little bit. Shhhhuuummm. That was the effect of the textile North Tiles. If you employ textiles the right way, they don’t make noise disappear, but they do work like an amplifier, removing the treble, and enhancing the bass.

When you were working on the blinds did you give any thought to the noise they make when opened or closed?

Erwan Bouroullec: We put the straps at the bottom of the roller blind so that it retracts smoothly into the tube without that jarring sound, drrrenggg. But... pfff, I don’t believe in studying sound like BMW does, for example. You get a lot of people overdoing stuff. Sometimes when I walk into an incredible hotel room, full of electronic control systems, I just don’t know which button I have to press. You needn’t try to change everything, there are limits. The world is the world. You have to accept that.

Do you have any idea what sensations and feelings you wish to generate or trigger when people use your objects?

Erwan Bouroullec: I like the idea of movement. Something moves. You move. It is quite important to me that the world out there is not forever. A feeling I would like to create is that people understand how things are made, see how it is done. I want a feeling of reality, of understanding. I have the impression that the world is getting more and more difficult to understand. When we see something we can’t really tell what it is made of. I remember once being in Miami at a party. I was watching a woman from the back and my friend and I had no idea how old she was. Or, take the supermarket – you will find food there that looks nice but has gone off. We can’t decode things any longer. I hope that by seeing my designs people understand reality better. This is what I so love to create. Is that a feeling of understanding?

How do you feel now?

Erwan Bouroullec: I feel a little bit cold, and would like to eat something... and finally, I suspect I have been talking too much.

MORE on Stylepark:

Zestful balance: “Belleville” by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra. The chairs are light, the tables stand there with gravitas, sturdily grounded.
(07 April 2015)

Let's twist: Kvadrat is reaching out into the fashion world: Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons has now unfurled a new fabrics collection for the Danish textile experts.
(18 February 2014)

“Roller Blinds” will be available in three fabric versions. Photo © Kvadrat
The blinds can be customized with a maximum width of 300 cm and a height of up to 360 cm. Photo © Kvadrat
By the straps at the bottom of the roller blinds retract into the tube without that jarring sound. Photo © Kvadrat
They come either with a looped cord of metal beads or are remote-controlled. Photo © Kvadrat
Four years took the work on the „Roller Blinds“ – now they are childproofed among other things. Photo © Kvadrat
The blind can be mounted under the ceiling or on the wall. Photo © Kvadrat
Last year the Bouroullecs have presented the flexible cable system „Ready Made Curtain“ for Kvadrat. Photo © Studio Bouroullec
The beginning of their cooperation: installation of „North Tiles“ at the Stockholm showroom of Kvadrat, 2006. Photo © Paul Tahon/ Erwan & Ronan Bouroullec
Want to make real things from now on: Erwan und Ronan Bouroullec. Photo © Ola Rindal0