PARIS – Industrial-style metallic chests, steel chairs, and workshop lamps – as soon as they were featured on the pages of mail-to-order furniture catalogs, French hipsters shunned them. Industrial-style is done, dead.
It has been replaced by colorful Formica, linoleum and oilcloth fabrics. “Plastic is fantastic!” sang French pop band Elmer Food Beat in 1991 (Side note: at the time, it was used by the Health Ministry for a campaign advocating condom use).
Celine Tahar and Doriane Sablon, the two creators of the Les Gambettes label, are singing the same song now. These thirty-year-olds are about to launch their new furniture collection – made in the famous post-war plastic laminate. Their tables are chair are adorned with floral prints and bright colors.
“We know Formica furniture from our grandmother’s houses, it is like a ‘madeleine de Proust,’ a fond childhood memory,” explains Celine Tahar. “We get our inspiration from the colors and prints that we see in fashion shows.”
With the return of the sixties and the boom of repurposed furniture and “found” style, many objects from the past that people used to find cheesy and ugly have become fashionable again in France. “Furniture from the sixties combines functionality, radical aesthetics and primary colors, which gives them lots of charm!” says Carole Novara-Verdeil, whose Baos.fr website is riding the trend. This collector from Marseille, in the south of France, is not only content to hunt for vintage furniture, she created a line with a collective of designers called “Les enfants de dada” who repurpose vintage objects into modern day objects.
Quirky kitsch vs. boring decor
What’s most interesting with this trend is the idea of renewal. From Jan. 24 to Mar. 9, Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry will be exhibiting in the Parisian Gagosian gallery his glowing Fish Lamps in Formica ColorCore ®. “Interior decorating today is all about this,” says architect and designer Laura Gonzalez, an adept of repurposing and reinterpreting objects. “People today don’t just want a vintage-style living room; so we re-design yesterday’s furniture and accessories and reinvent a style mixing prints and cement tiles,” explains the young woman, who designed the Bus Palladium concert venue in Paris. Her motto: “You are better off with quirky kitsch than mainstream good taste.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that contemporary designers are turning to laminated floors. Linoleum flooring – made with linseed oil and wood flour – is making a come back, hailed for its natural origin and biodegradable qualities. Picasso himself worked with linoleum, which he carved with a chisel or wine knife. Vinyl, the other kind of flooring – also known in France as the “cement tiles of the poor” – are made to imitate marble flooring, concrete, or even hardwood floors complete with grain and ridge detail. Last autumn, Italian luxury brand Missoni created a line of flooring with Swedish brand Bolon.
And in France, the old oilcloth tablecloths – usually reserved for the tables of the poor – are suddenly becoming cool. Marimekko, the Finnish label that has a store in New York’s Fifth Avenue, has oilcloths in black or with floral designs and shimmering prints.
One of the reasons for this fifties-sixties flashback, according to Vincent Gregoire, a French trendsetter, is that we yearn for happiness, joyfulness: “We are trying the channel the optimism of those years. A new generation of practical designers who are keeping away from bling, who advocate a simpler, more modest style. They aim for functionality, simplicity – mixing wood with laminate, with fresh prints and flashy colors.”
In Paris, trendy furniture stores like Sentou, Fleux, or concept-store Merci, have made of this retro-style into a huge success.