For Bonaldo, the continuous search for new creative inspiration is of fundamental importance. It is with this spirit that in 2018 the company launched a partnership with French designer Fabrice Berrux, leading to the creation of three different pieces of furniture: the Cabinet de Curiosité bookcase, the Panorama modular sofa and the Stone chair.
After graduating from the National School of Fine Arts in Dijon, Berrux set up the firm “18 Août” in 1987, creating playful objects which are sold in major museum shops such as the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. In addition to his main activities as a designer, he is a professor at the École Bleue Design School in Paris. Here’s a short interview with Fabrice Berrux and Alberto Bonaldo, the company’s Managing Director, to discover the ideas behind this partnership and the projects created together.
This is your first partnership with Bonaldo. How did it begin?
Fabrice Berrux: I really wanted to work with an Italian company, and Alberto Bonaldo was looking for new inspirations. This is how we started to work together.
What was their approach compared to your previous partnerships?
Fabrice Berrux: Yes, it’s right, that with Bonaldo is my first collaboration with an Italian company. I had imagined it warm, constructive, efficient and rewarding. And that’s how it came out to be! What a pleasure to land very early in Venice and then discover, after entering the factory, that they were studying the prototypes of the 3 collections I designed, with a dedicated expert for each product, working in total accordance with the spirit of the project.
It was also Bonaldo’s first partnership with a French designer. Over the years, Bonaldo has worked with designers from different countries and different cultures. What does this mean for the company? What’s your strategy?
Alberto Bonaldo: The partnership with Fabrice was the first one with a French designer but is one of the many partnerships we’ve had with designers from all over the world. If we want to be an international company, we must collect impressions and ideas from all over the world, and designers are one of our main sources of inspiration.
The three projects you’re talking about, Fabrice, became the three products that Bonaldo presented at the last Salone del Mobile in Milan: Cabinet de Curiosité, Panorama, and Stone refer to three different areas – from architecture to nature. Where do you get your inspiration for your projects?
Fabrice Berrux: I call myself a ‘multisensory sponge.’ I never stop to immerse myself in the environment around me and scan everything that can feed all the studies I lead. My interest for diversity, some luck, and my determination do the rest… the fact that these three products are rooted in different worlds and tell different stories is a choice, or rather, a method of work. I don’t want to impose a specific style, and each new project is an independent chapter that I write while immersing myself in the context and mood of the moment. On Bonaldo’s booth, the successful cohabitation of these three chapters is the confirmation that Cabinet de Curiosité, Panorama and Stone have common genes including their strong geometric shapes and hopefully a certain functional elegance.
What was the main difficulty of creating three products that are so different one from another?
Fabrice Berrux: It’s up to Alberto Bonaldo and his team to ask this question. It’s up to them to solve the problem of prototyping and to industrialize very different products regarding materials, manufacturing techniques, and assembly. And Bonaldo managed to do this with great success!
Alberto Bonaldo: For us, each new product represents a challenge, and that’s how we faced the projects by Fabrice Berrux. A great incentive for us was the use of different technologies, such as the CNC milling for the Cabinet de Curiositè, cold molding of the foam and oxy-fuel welding for Stone, different densities of polyurethane to guarantee comfort and perfect modularity for hexagonal-based structures, as well as skillfully tailored upholstery for the coverings of Panorama. Another incentive was the continuous collaboration with Fabrice to tackle and solve any problem.
Now let’s focus on Cabinet de Curiosité, a bookcase that’s also a display cabinet. What was the original idea? Why did you choose this name?
Fabrice Berrux: I have always loved bookcases, books and objects put next to books. This bookcase is a tribute to my Parisian grandfather. There was one room in his apartment which fascinated me more than any other. It was the room he occupied every evening until late at night: his office, or better, his room of wonders, his ‘cabinet de curiosité.’ A place for thinking, for creating, for recalling memories, packed with books, paintings, masks, sculptures, and a thousand other ‘essential’ objects. A few decades later, “Cabinet of Curiosity” is a bookcase devised as a modular architecture. Each module consists of a facade and a variable number of windows or niches to accommodate, organize and showcase books as well as souvenirs or works. His name was obvious, and this choice was reinforced by the pleasure of hearing it uttered with charm by all the Bonaldo team!
In your opinion, where is the best place to put it?
Fabrice Berrux: Depending on the number of elements you choose, its modular appearance allows to place it in living rooms or in the more intimate setting of a bedroom.
Panorama is a modular sofa with many composition possibilities. What was the idea at the base of this project? Which solution would you choose to furnish your own living room?
Fabrice Berrux: Panorama is a line of sofas, armchairs, and poufs designed to create a domestic landscape that is shaped by individual requirements. Its geometric shape is an incentive to the juxtaposition of different elements to turn the living room into the warmest and most welcoming space. I hope that Panorama will create connections: it was designed specifically to create collective spaces, islands of comfort, protective cocoons to lie back on freely, alone or accompanied.
The Stone chair clearly refers to nature, in both its name and its shape. How did this choice come about? How does nature influence modern design? Is it right to talk of a trend?
Fabrice Berrux: I have always been inspired by those impromptu seats you find in nature when you go for a long walk: sometimes it’s a tree trunk, others simply a smooth rock. This is exactly the spirit I embraced when I came up with the design of the Stone chair. It is a promise of comfort cut in a rock, a protective and welcoming shell. This project addresses an issue that I particularly care about, and that is universal: domesticated nature. Moreover, and besides any trend, I notice that the period forces us to be in a quest for meaning, and to privilege those products that make it possible to live a relaxed but exciting daily dimension.
Do teaching activities, and relationships with students influence your way of designing? If so, how?
Fabrice Berrux: My teaching activity occupies an essential place in my professional experience. Teaching means learning first! Starting from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Dijon and then at the École Bleue in Paris, I never stopped to clarify all the intuitions and vague concepts that really captured my interest and fuelled my work. Without this educational requirement, I would have never clarified my thoughts and never learned how to use the right words to express suggestions that I hope will be useful.
Bonaldo has already worked together with the Polytechnic University of Milan. Does the partnership with Fabrice Berrux, who is a professor at the École Bleue in Paris, represent one step further along this path?
Alberto Bonaldo: All of Bonaldo’s products have a strong technical component, as well as important content regarding design. It is of fundamental importance for us to be in contact with centers dedicated to research, study, and innovation, such as universities, polytechnics, and design schools. An example of this kind of partnership is the one we have shared with Carlo Bartoli for over twenty years, a professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan and the ISIA (Higher Institute for Artistic Industries) in Florence and Rome, representing our need for technical content, different technologies, and design.
How do the products designed by Fabrice Berrux blend in with Bonaldo’s collection?
Alberto Bonaldo: Fabrice has a brilliant, dynamic and extremely original spirit. He has an innovative and original way of designing products, and that’s exactly what Bonaldo is looking for in its collections.