It’s only my fourth post but I already have a confession to make (and no, it’s not about the cutie above).
One of the reasons why I’m doing this project is to satisfy my longstanding curiosity for people who pursue unusual professional paths. I have never been blessed (or cursed, perhaps?) with a burning career calling, but I am fascinated with those who are—especially when their shtick is super obscure.
Working as a journalist has served me well in this department. Interviewing someone is like having a giant question pass printed on your forehead. From challenging and quirky to just plain personal, you can ask your subject just about anything.
For me, the ultimate “jackpot conversation” is when I walk out of the experience with a juicy slice into someone’s life and a completely new window into the world.
That’s how I felt after my visit to Avenel L, a year-old workshop and design firm dedicated to the art of woodworking.
It wasn’t because the space was ravishing (see above!) or packed floor-to-ceiling with gorgeous handcrafted furniture, but because after two hours speaking with the boys behind the studio I realized that I had unearthed something much larger and exciting than I had expected.
Without sounding overly dramatic, Avenel L reassured me that France (which has been suffering from a bad case of mild depression for at least a decade) was on some kind of self-healing path via its kids.
Picking up, dusting off and reviving some of France’s vanishing crafts, young artisan-designers are propelling the country’s weighty handmade ”heritage” into the 21st century with beauty and bravado.
What’s interesting about this new creative wave is that it’s not simply about preserving aging skills, but using them to anticipate the aesthetic tastes of tomorrow.
Avenel L is in many ways the most striking example of this movement that I’ve yet to see. It should come as no surprise, really. The founder of this fresh-faced trio is the award-winning “ebeniste'” (cabinetmaker) Ludovic Avenel. In 2007, at the ripe old age of 23, Avenel won the outrageously prestigious Liliane Bettancourt pour l’Intelligence de la Main, an award given each year to a French artisan in a specific field.
His masterpiece Empreinte (Imprint)—a duo of virtually-identical art deco commodes created using two sets of materials, one modest (cardboard & aluminum) and one luxurious (mahogany & shagreen)—showed off his sleight of hand savvy and technical dexterity. It also helped him score the 50,000E cash award to jump-start his own company.
Avenel didn’t need to look far for qualified designer-craftsmen to join his team. All he had to do was recruit two of his friends from his Alma mater, the Ecole Boulle, France’s Harvard of artistic crafts. Like Avenel (now 25-yrs-old), Christophe Bret (23) and Steven Leprizé (22) had also been afflicted by the rare-for-France entrepreneurial bug.
Had all the dust in the studio clouded their minds or was something shifting here in France?
“There’s something changing in the world of artistic crafts, especially for designers our age,” says Bret, who looks like he should be playing Game Boy rather than giving an insightful analysis into his cohort’s professional ambitions. “If you look back only ten years ago, most of the graduates from Ecole Bulle went into restoration right after school. The emphasis was on technique, not original form. A new generation is looking for ways to merge the artisan with the artistic,” adds Leprizé, who has coined the term objects functionnels artistiques (functional artistic objects) to describe their work.
Wood is at the heart of the Avenel L design philosophy. Everything—from custom-crafted commodes overlaid with fragile shagreen (160,000E), to embossed leather jewelry boxes (4,000E)—begins with the sturdy stuff. It’s what warms the designs and grounds their daring, sculptural shapes in the real.
Bound by a common commitment to innovation and quality, what sets Avenel L apart from most other design studios is their ability to handle every facet of conceptualization and fabrication.
That kind of A-to-Z expertise doesn’t come cheap, nor is it achieved overnight, so you won’t be hobbling out of the studio with a cabinet on your back. Make an appointment, speak to the kids, tell them what you like, they’ll design it, built it, and send it your way. An original work of furniture art made by baby-faced craftsmen who are helping to heal the French psyche? Try topping that!