Ones To Watch: Anthony Guerrée and Rinck
To know the work of Marcel Proust is to understand the deeply rooted social workings of Paris itself. Celebrated as one of the most important literary authors of the 20th century Marcel Proust still inspires today with his seven-volume ode to Paris and its society during the Belle Époque - when technological, scientific, and cultural innovations along with the arts: literature, music, and dance flourished. His seminal novel In Search of Time Lost has a cult-like following to this day for its ability to change one’s life. For Parisian furniture designer Anthony Guerrée, reading the book inspired not only a collection of chairs but also a new path. Similarly, the narrator at the end of the book becomes a writer, so the epic novel charts a mirror path of transformation for Proust’s path to becoming a writer.
Guerrée, a 34-year-old designer from Normandy, can safely say reading the massive Proust tome was a life-changer. As a young designer, Guerrée worked as a freelance designer for firms such as Andree Putnam and Delacourt Collection as furniture designer after graduating from Ecole Boulle. So moved by Proust’s book was the designer that he created a collection of chairs around the book's iconic cast of characters. “Les Assises du Temps Perdu” is a collection of eight styles of limited-edition chairs and represented by Atelier Jespers. Each unique chair was created and named for book characters Guerée was particularly interested in, and the personality traits of each are personified via the chairs. Each chair is presented with an excerpt from the book that specifically inspired them.
A New Approach
While a strong influence of a work of art, film, book, etc., as a jumping-off point of a collection, is expected in fashion, generally, in furniture, that is not the case. According to Atelier Jesper’s director Jean-Francois Declercq, designers tend to consider form, function, technology, and materials, not literary characters. “I’ve represented over 150 designers in my career and have never come across a collection concept this intricate. It took me about 10 minutes to say ‘yes’ to Anthony when he came to me regarding representation.,” said Declercq.
The Chairs of Les Assises de Temps Perdu
Except for the unlimited Odette chair - a riff on a classic bistro chair which sells for 750 euros, each piece ranges in price from 5,000 to 9,000 euros and has a maximum run of eight chairs per style. Additionally, per Guerrée, the Proust chairs are as following:
The volumes of In Search of Lost Time is narrated by a character presumably male, and Albertine is a young female and the narrator’s lover. The two met as Albertine was riding her bicycle by the sea. The coquettish and chatty young lady makes her lover jealous by sleeping with another. The massive round fan made from sea straw in Orkney Island, Scotland, recalls a bicycle wheel in a nod to their meeting. It is also reminiscent of a ‘fauteuil pomare’ chair made famous by France’s highly popular 1970s book and film Emmanuelle. That story’s main character Emmanuelle sits in one of these wide-back straw throne chairs on the book’s cover and film poster. Additionally, the chair draws influence from Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture.
Odette is the wife of Swann. She does not come from the aristocracy; thus, her character becomes a charming but commonplace French bistro chair. A quirky take on this chair made famous by Maison Gatti; this rattan woven chair comes in a selection of seven different color combos. It is the only style in the collection, not produced as a limited-edition run.
This Duchesse brisée chair and ottoman set are a direct nod to the character Charlus who is caught in an intimate situation by the narrator. Charlus adored Louis the 15th-style furniture. It is also where he learns that he is homosexual, and the scene is portrayed quite comically. The chair in two parts becomes one, a nod to a sexual act.
In tribute to the artist in the series via the painter’s easel back, the Elstir also pays homage to the American Shaker-style rocking chair and the rockers made by Michael Thonet in the early-mid 1800s. Styles and periods Guerrée says he loves.
The Swann may be the most visually arresting with its protruding curved-frame back. This allows the chair to flip sides so that the seat becomes the back and the back becomes the seat. It reflects the main character Charles Swann who lives part of his Bourgeois existence in Paris and the other in the countryside. He is also married to Odette de Crecy, who was kept away from Swann’s family, furthering his double life identity.
This ladder back chair represents the best friend of the narrator. Saint-Loup helped the narrator meet aristocrats. In one scene, Loup brings the narrator a coat when they are cold by climbing a tower of stacked chairs. It’s the concept of ‘social climbing’ personified in a chair.
The character Sidonie Verdurin was inspired by Madame Lemaire, a painter who introduced Proust to important salons and held one herself. The Verdurin screen chair on hand is representative of the popular home decor screen used to disguise parts of rooms and to change behind. In the story, Verdurin requires fierce loyalty to participate in her salon of painters, musicians, and artists, where they also praised the Ballet Russe movement. It’s symbolic of displaying the social aspirations of the bourgeoisie. The small orb-shaped brass accent on the chairs symbolizes the arm of a brass chair that Verdurin describes as having a sensual relationship with.
This piano bench seat is an ode to the musician in the book inspired by real-life Proust Friend Reynaldo Hahn. Its design roots date back to ancient Rome with a curved seat. This seat style also was revived in the Art Deco period. Another essential detail to note is both the cork seat, which refers to the Proust’s apartment covered in cork to block noises, and the five slates of the base represent a musical scale.
With its 2021 Collection Hébé, the 180-year-old furniture and design company Rinck has reemerged as a design house to watch. While fiercely respecting the storied heritage of their furniture design past, the family-run enterprise is forging ahead to the present, incorporating archival elements and multiple furniture periods to create fresh styles for today’s homes. As an “Ensemblier Décorateur,” which means they are an interior design firm with workshops that specialize in interior cabinetry, woodworking, and furniture creation, the firm is poised to resume full collection launches in 2021.
A recent visit to the Avenue Daumesnil Rinck showroom situated in the Viaduc des Arts complex - a series of galleries constructed in the renovated vaults of the former railroad “Viaduc de Bastille” - provided Nest Casa the opportunity to meet with Rinck’s President Valentin Goux. The Hébé Collection is only the second full collection presented by the house since 1972.
Conceived and designed in France’s first lockdown, this collection follows up the dining room collection launched for 2020. Goux says the lockdown mood affected the collection, which is named for the Greek goddess of youth. (She was also the cupbearer for the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus and worshiped as the goddess of forgiveness).
“Of course we were super bored and wanted something full of joy, and we wanted to have drinks and to be able to go to parties, so we said ‘Let’s do a smoking room’” he said. “But at the same time, I was working with only women on the project, so we decided to strip it of its traditional gender interpretation, which is masculine and heavy.” Indeed a smoking room brings to mind tufted leather and heavy wood paneling. But Goux and his team envisioned something for today’s strong women who can party and smoke cigars as good as any other in the boys’ club. But, he is quick to point out, “Men like it too.”
Instead, this collection, which consists of a gaming table, a bar, sofa, side chair, side tables, floor lamp, rug, pillows, and other accessories, is fresh and light in a coral color palette, seafoam, and off-white. The femininity of the goddess Hébé is present throughout the collection. She depicted - along with the three graces: brightness, joyfulness, and bloom, which, according to Greek mythology, danced with the youthful goddess - as a face motif embossed on the back of a gaming chair, a pillow, or etched into a lampshade.
The color palette gives an air of mid-Century design while the visages and other accents hint of Art Deco on the furniture collection’s traditionally French origins. “We are classicists in our DNA, but we can have some fun with our history,” explains Rinck’s President. Rather than take a strictly modern approach that ignored anything that came before, Goux said his obsession is to keep evolving within the established traditions. He sees this as a part of the ‘cultivated eclecticism’ design approach that involves several design eras. “I love a house where you can spot generation after generation.”
It’s even better when he can integrate a detail from Rinck’s past. “I hired an archivist when I arrived at the company two years ago, so we are incorporating details from previous pieces that are a part of our DNA,” he said. For example, the legs’ curves, and texture on the bar, recall a design from a 1930s Rinck table, and the drink table lever that holds a glass and ashtray (or small dish) was discovered as a trademarked detail in Paris’s City Hall in 1954. Likewise, a cigar box inspired design can be today’s jewelry box.
He sees this as a part of the ‘cultivated eclecticism’ design approach that involves several design eras. “I love a house where you can spot generation after generation.”
Despite its roots in history, Goux found further similarities between the classic provenance of Rinck’s aesthetic and the new collection. While researching the collection, they discovered another connection between classic French Louis 14th and 15th furniture. “In the 18th century, Hébé was an inspiring figure for young women who prized keeping their youthful looks. Aristocrats, including Marie Antoinette, sat to have their portraits done in her likeness.” (during this period, Portrait Historiê was popular; artists painted clients as historical figures.) It symbolized the wish for their beauty and youth to stay eternal,” he explained. “In another way, it's a way to pay tribute to all the young people losing the best years of their life with the pandemic; we are expressing a spirit of having fun and partying that they are missing.”