A warm sun was the bonus for 70,000 visitors to the Maison & Objet Fair at Paris-Nord Villepinte, bringing trade, retail and interior professionals from France and an increasing number from all over the world to a multi-sector exhibition focusing on a combination of home fashion and furniture collections. It is an overarching exhibition bringing together each decorative world in a single location. Trends are unveiled, deciphered and analysed from a professional viewpoint by those who work in the art of living sector, evaluating what is being done today and what will be in full swing tomorrow.
Excellent exhibition halls and comfort facilities for visitors cannot be faulted. An abundance of casual seating zones to scribble notes and drink café au lait make it easier on the feet, which need to withstand the march around 118,000 square metres of exhibition space occupied by 3000 exhibitors.
Half the exhibition space is dedicated to collections such as coté deco, classic French furniture, accessories maison, indoor/outdoor furniture, textiles and ethnic design.
Elegance was flaunted in a featured exhibition titled ‘Scènes d’Intérieur’ which provides the venue for France’s leading home-style designers to stimulate and inspire with luxurious extravagance in a world between dream and reality, a world on the move where consumer trends and distribution channels are constantly changing.
A surprising number of visitors come to Maison & Objet to view the latest tableware, porcelain, crockery, glassware, all manner of giftware, table accessories, bathroom, bedroom and kitchenware, and a profusion of home fashion objects ranging from tote bags to herbal lotions. These pavilions satisfy the desires of an eager retail sector wanting to immediately offer the latest French crockery and cutlery, the hottest vases and cleverest accessories to be in shops around the world before Christmas.
Those looking for emerging trends in French interiors condense their visit to four exhibition halls as well as Scenes d’Intèrieur, the pavilion where talented creators of design conjure magical illusions. I visited the fair with two colleagues. Interior designer Ann Campbell practices in Ascot, London. Parisian-born Caterina visits the Paris fair every year to keep abreast of movement in style, interpreting trends “ahead of the pack” for property developments in Paris, Provence and Côté West. With Ann at one shoulder and Parisian Caterina at the other, I am deftly guided towards the best on offer from French manufacturers and designers, nosing out the micro-signs that herald changing influences or emerging consumer behaviour.
Here is my report to tell you what is happening in the home design scene in France right now.
Perennial French favourite Blanc d’Ivoire presented gorgeously furnished rooms in which to display bureau, consoles, commodes, tables, armoire and fauteuil accessorised from an extensive range. It is difficult to identify a trend movement in Blanc d’Ivoire — it is the same French chic we’ve been seeing for some years. There does appear to be titivating, with the introduction of zinc dining table tops with ecru wood surrounds, which look edgy and sophisticated. Grey-washed timber prevails, with taupe, ecru, warm grey and ivory providing the background for emerging accessory colours proposed by Blanc d’Ivoire: duck neck teal and blue night.
One notable addition to the furniture collection is a Marie Antoinette influence, a theme which begins to make an impression. Judging by the beaming faces of visitors who glance towards a country-style armoire crammed with French linen and rows of crystal glasses, Les Comptoirs de Sud continues to impress with Provence Sud ironwork, wooden furniture inspired by 18th century design and decorative patinated accessory items. Caterina is not so confident, believing the Provence Sud style could be on the wane.
“Not only foreigners, but Parisians,” she explains, “became addicted to Provence Sud and bought up hundreds of houses and farms in the south of France, renovating and decorating in the Côté Sud style. But I believe there is disenchantment in the air. There is a definite move towards nature, to water and the beach. Not in the same way that Provence Sud faces the Mediterranean — the emphasis for a fresh look is moving towards the spirit of nature and the Atlantic, to Côté West, especially popular places such as Brittany. It is similar to a Nantucket or Rhode Island look; both face the Atlantic Ocean, be it on the other side of the world and the other side of the ocean.”
Côté decoration, whether Sud, Est or Ouest, expands the decorating theme in all aspects, furnishing an environment with a distinctive style and atmosphere. Whether a family home, city apartment, beach house or French countryside, the French taste of today is in the charm of a home which is like a snapshot of life softened with nostalgia for the atmosphere of place.
Caterina’s Côté West forecast is confirmed by co-ordinations and graphic patterns in textile designs. Boussac and Pierre Frey lead the way with exciting fabrics ideally suited to any coastal, bay or waterside home.
“Nature is disappearing,” Caterina says, “and on both sides of the ocean textile designers are paying special attention to it. These prints and patterns help us stay optimistic about saving the planet.”
Natural atmospheric fabrics by Boussac and Frey feature coral, fish and seashell designs adaptable for contemporary settings as well as classical homes or beachside hideaways. Coastal themes introduce billowing sails in Les Voiles in oatmeal, blue and sand, looking cool and understated. Trouville fabric design in soft blue and oatmeal features folded beach umbrellas and is the kind of design that will look magnificent on a deep, comfortable sofa in a waterside home.
From neighbouring Netherlands, White Dragon Décor made great use of theatrical lighting to exhibit a dramatic collection characterised by recasting historical elements from east and west into modern settings. The collection aims at a notion of timelessness, expressed with great sophistication and attention to detail in upholstery, glass, steel and aluminium pieces. The name hints at the Orient, and many accessories and statement pieces bring eastern influences into the room, but at the same time expressions from Africa sit side-by-side with classical Roman urns and crystal lamps. An eclectic look that works well in the modern world.
The most outstanding exhibition space was designed and furnished by Mis en Demeure. A visiting customer in the showroom can purchase the Mis en Demeure “look” and have it delivered and installed instantly. Along with Belgian company Flamant, where a minimum purchase amounts to many thousands of dollars, this trend appears to be on the increase. Instead of co-ordinating furniture, lighting and furnishings, a customer purchases every single item at a showroom, choosing from a variation of “rooms” perfectly furnished and co-ordinated to the very last detail, installing instant atmosphere into a home.
The Mis en Demeure look cultivates desire; it is seductive, stylish and always includes a touch of daring, banishing boundaries and creating endless possibilities from a huge range of often-oversized statement accessories. Caterina and Ann feel top French designers might have pushed the envelope too far, distancing themselves from the nostalgia with which the French like to surround themselves in their homes. Design specialists such as Mis en Demeure capture the trends and can be responsible for creating new trends using fabrics, timber and upholstery innovatively, foreseeing colour movement and adapting French classical forms to suit every kind of interior. They offer comfort, harmony and an up-to-the-minute look requiring only the wave of a credit card to bring dreams to reality.
Noticeably, many rooms are accentuated with nature; coral, driftwood and seashells abound. Although the wall and upholstery colour theme in vestibule, corridor, dining and living room revolves around tones of taupe, ecru and grey, furnishing and accessories are coral red, amethyst and spicy nutmeg. Brilliant fuchsia hydrangeas massed in giant black-waisted temple jars stand a metre-and-a-half tall. Amethyst seems the emerging colour in glassware and table decoration.
French furniture and furnishings are geared to achieving harmony with all architectural styles, whether you live in a grand chateau of the past, a chic city apartment or a contemporary home. Lamps and lighting frequently draw inspiration from the great cathedrals and abbeys of France, while the aged patina in many timber pieces gives the essence of time with the design edge of today. Louis XVI chairs upholstered in a monochrome contemporary floral pattern stand boldly either side of a doorway, neither competing with nor taking away from an ambience derived from the architectural details or mouldings in sharp contrast with walls painted taupe.
Une Chaise au Soleil — a chair in the sun — offers a range of furniture and decorative pieces in various finishes.
A finish called ‘cannage’, which is rather like rattan but very stable, exhibited for the first time in an 18th century Marie Antoinette range of settees, lounge chairs, table and bedroom chairs. Most of the range is handmade, although on pressing the point I discover that many pieces are made in the rough in a factory in Indonesia and brought back to France for refining and finishing in various washed, rubbed or painted styles by French artisans. Anything Marie Antoinette seems to have gained in popularity. In another five years originals will probably be unprocurable. French manufacturer Tailhardat is already reproducing 18th century furniture for a very receptive market.
Tiring of the heaviness of Rococò, the end of the 18th century brought simplicity to furniture with a neo-classical sober line. Marie Antoinette took to the style and a “look” developed around her chateau furniture, furnishings, the use of pastel colours and her famed garden. Anything 18th century is worth buying up, particularly Marie Antoinette pieces.
The outdoor world continues to blend with the indoor with a flexible cross-cutting style that works for both. Abolishing the frontiers, upscale exhibitors such as Dedon and Viteo bring the garden into the house and take the house to the garden with multipurpose furniture that takes a new look at old favourites and introduces new ideas. The old boundaries of outdoor and indoor are banished as living rooms appear on terraces every bit as sophisticated as those inside, bringing a little magic to the outdoor life.
In line with encouraging new ideas and fresh talent, this year talented designers from Morocco expressed their creativity with unexpected materials. Designer Yahya discovered the art of brassware during his first travels in Morocco. He produces extremely fine, pure-cut, sculpted and engraved objects made from copper, nickel and wood, reflecting a harmonious union of ancient Moroccan tradition and modernity.
A pavilion devoted to ethnic chic attracted a continuous stream of visitors. The always-popular Asiatides exhibition conjures dreams of far-off places and a world of alternative cultures, ushering exotic influences into traditional and contemporary homes. As well as stunning temple jars, barrel seats, calligraphy panels and a new range called Fleurs for pots, jars and garden decoration, well-priced white and grey lacquered armoire, desks and sideboards are emerging in sophisticated detailing with less of a strict oriental look. These pieces insert a hint of the Orient into a classic-style home but smart finishes and cutting-edge design allow them to stand boldly in a contemporary setting.
Predictions from Maison & Objet Paris 2007/2008 imply a resurgence of everything Marie Antoinette for traditional and classical homes. Accessories include huge statues, busts, vases, clocks and floral decoration — two or three interesting statements to a room. The hot colours are amethyst, nutmeg and fuchsia; all look stunning against warm-grey, taupe and ecru, and duck-neck-teal is appearing in bedrooms. Outdoor areas are edging closer and closer to becoming as comfortably furnished as indoor rooms, with magical moon lighting, padded living room settees and chairs, and usable all year round with outdoor fireplaces taking pride of place on deck or terrace.
Any solid French move away from a long passion for all things Provence and Côté Sud to less country and more beachy Atlantic Côté Ouest will become evident in the coming months.