Tuesday, January 28, 2014

No. 11 Creating Objects of Desire with Jean Paul Viollet of Atelier Viollet

Who: Jean Paul Viollet
What: Atelier Viollet
When: Founded in France in 1836 and Revived 
In New York City 150 Years Later 
Where: Based In New York City
Servicing Projects Internationally

It is not just anyone who possesses the gift of creating a literal object of desire. Thumbing back through time, through an infinite catalogue of mythical objects, it remains a consistent theme that they were all coveted for their innumerable powers, all surely divinely inspired. Be it their beauty, the enchanting materials they were made from, the process of their forging or preordained purpose- these objects cast a spell over all who encountered them even in rumor. 

A stunning Night Table in Horn + accented with Staw Marquetry.
 But today, encountering such a spellbinding object of desire is far from a mythical rumor. As a matter of fact, it is likely we've found one of the last standing artisans who may be able to recreate Pandora's Box or the chest holding Jason's dear Golden Fleece - his name is Jean-Paul Viollet, of Brooklyn-based Atelier VIollet; where all the artisans employed seem to have the Midas touch.

Jean-Paul Viollet was born with craftsmanship and curiosity is in his bones. The decedent of a long line of dedicated artisans, who began Atelier Viollet in Seyssel, France in 1836 (which thrived and then subsided only to be revived by Jean-Paul in the USA in 1986), was something of a necessary calling he simply could not ignore-
"I grew up in my Father and Grandfather's wood-shop, I was naturally immersed in the field;" he recalls, noting the other interests he cultivated over time like mechanics and photography,"but when I moved to the USA at 24, something happened and I just realized that furniture making was it for me..."
A breathtaking original desk takes shape in Palmwood, Mica and Patinated Bronze.
 And thank goodness. Atelier Viollet is a distinguished gem of a studio, focusing on fine cabinetry and detailed furniture- specializing in the use of rare and exotic materials. Even if some the materials weren't unheard of, what makes them priceless is the ways they find to use them. Whether in unaltered application or a wildly inventive new use, a simple piece of wood or straw, a chunk of gypsum dug up from the earth's core or a blank canvas of sheep-skin is transformed and given a new name at the hands of Jean-Paul Viollet. Applying traditional techniques, modern technology, incredible planning precision and an abundance of imagination Jean-Paul continually oversees the creation of pieces of work that more closely border art than home furnishings. 

A wall made up of hand made Straw Marquetry panels.
 Surely creating a these treasures is not a cheap undertaking, but that also seems to be part of the outfit's philosophy, in a way stating- 'We are being trusted to create something priceless, intimate and meaningful- and we are dedicated to doing it immaculately'. These custom furnishings or cabinets, these superlative details are not meant to be temporary, they uphold the age old ideal that to own something is to have invested in something worth keeping.
"A Custom piece of furniture is by definition a unique object." He states plainly. "It is satisfying to create but its ultimate goal is to fit in a specific environment for a specific person- it will become property of that person and most likely a unique relationship between a human being and object will be created." Jean-Paul states matter-of-factly. "A good piece of furniture can bring calmness and joy."
An Atelier Viollet original J.M. Frank inspired desk in Oak and Leather.

And what if we all held the objects we bought and used to decorate in such high esteem? Or made a point of not buying the cheapest of the cheap home fixtures and boasting about them (only to have to replace them 6 months later)? Would this level of attention to detail better inform a persons relationship to the home? To the work we do to provide for that home? Perhaps the integration of traditional Craftsmanship's principles into everyday life would embolden and enrich our experience. Would we become more curious about the details all around us? The workings of Atelier Viollet seem to beg these questions further when we see the application of a thoughtful and thorough process create such bespoke products.
An Atelier Viollet Artisan works intimately with Oak to gauge it  by hand and apply it to a library's interior.
The Gauged Oak millwork and detailing comes to life when installed in this custom library for G.P. Schafer Architects.
Paired with the masterful use of tools and a craftsman's eye, is also the extensive research process, knowledge and use of materials. From parchment to gypsum, shagreen to horn, or lacquers to mica or straw marquetry, Atelier Viollet has taken pains to continue investing time and energy into the research of materials available in the world and taking the time to intimately learn and understand the ones they obtain. 

"The Hands of Jean-Paul Viollet" campaign holding Shagreen.
 "Shagreen is one of my favorite exotic materials." says Viollet, "[It's] technique has traveled through centuries and both the scale of its use and the different polishes that can be used on it are incomparable." 

"I introduced Water Buffalo Horn to our list of techniques and materials a few years ago, and it's been greatly favored for it's richness and resilience." He notes.
An Atelier Viollet Artisan reviews Parchment stock before work.
 One of the great joys for Jean-Paul which fuels so much of his work continues to be the process-creative and technical- as much as the product, which naturally comes through in the studio's work. Merely by looking at a finished piece of his work, one can almost envision him staying late to play with the materials, and taking great joy in discovering and rediscovering them all over again. 

He notes they have recently completed a project they are particularly proud- a Park Avenue study fully adorned with Parchment detailing, part of the full renovation of the apartment. Atelier Viollet has certainly done wall treatments with this material before, but nothing quite like this- 

"We covered all the walls in sheep-skin, including all of the doors and crown mouldings." He says excitedly, "Treating all curved areas and going all the way technically. It was a great challenge and an incredible result. It's a jewlery box."
Which is a wonderful way to think of a room- as a jewlery box, filled with inspiring, beautiful delights. And this is something that this Artisan has inspired us again to think about- just how important it is to stop and give attention to the details. Jean-Paul himself notes, if there was any message he could send to the architectural and design community, or the world at large, it would be:
"[To] Appreciate and respect all work done by hand...In this fast-paced world I only hope we'll be able to perpetuate craftsmanship. It's so important." 
Indeed it is. Our goal this week is to stop and look at the details all around us, to consider how things are made; and in turn, to consider how we can make them better. 
Atelier Viollet gives this dining room Parchment walls.
Another stunning Atelier Viollet original, this cabinet is made up of gypsum, ebonized Pear-wood and silvered bronze.
Atelier Viollet has been featured in numerous design publications including New York SPACES, New York Magazine, House & Garden among others. To learn more about them and what they do, please visit AtelierViollet.com. Their Brooklyn-based studio and showroom are available for visitation by appointment only.