Grégoire de Lafforest - French designer extraordinaire

While Tortona, usually an important destination during Milan Design Week, was generally very disappointing this year, if you look hard enough there are always some gems. As part of a very dull presentation of some very good examples of French design by the government run organisation VIA, I came across the intriguing 'Balka' console table by Grégoire de Lafforest – a designer whose interiors work I had seen but whose furniture designs were unknown to me. The piece was an utter delight and when I recently looked into the rest of his body of work I wasn’t disappointed.

 The 'Balka' console table combines crafted geometry and soft storage.

The 'Balka' console table combines crafted geometry and soft storage.

The ‘Balka’ console is a new design by de Lafforest that adds a textile component to a leggy contrasting ebonised timber structure with a walnut top. Unusually for a console table, the top has rounded ends with a deep geometric chute carved into it that directs objects into the textile basket. The combination of angular woodwork with the curved ends and storage compartment sets up a lovely dynamic tension.

De Laforrest’s special ability to combine materials is something that comes through in his work time and time again. One of his most celebrated objects, 'Archibird Cage' is a hybrid desk and birdcage he designed in 2013 that combines glass domes and stainless steel wire with an oak table. In the middle of all of this is a delicate white lacquered branch that bridges the cage below desk level and the domes that sit on top.

 De Lafforest's desk and birdcage makes use of space above and below the table's surface.

De Lafforest's desk and birdcage makes use of space above and below the table's surface.

 A close-up of the borosilicate glass domes that appear like bell jars sitting on de Lafforest's desk.

A close-up of the borosilicate glass domes that appear like bell jars sitting on de Lafforest's desk.

The end result called looks beautiful even without birds but becomes totally magical once real birds are added. Check out the video here.

 De Lafforest's 'Olab' table lamp uses fine plywood and moulded glass but adds a quirky dimming mechanism.

De Lafforest's 'Olab' table lamp uses fine plywood and moulded glass but adds a quirky dimming mechanism.

The 'Olab' table lamp is an exquisitely delicate skeletal structure that supports a milky white glass balloon. What really sets it apart however is the dimming mechanism - a brightly coloured rubber ball that functions like an old fashioned perfume spray bottle. As the rubbery ball is pressed it switches the lamp on and increases or decreases the lights brightness. This limited edition piece is available through Galerie Gosserez, a Parisian contemporary gallery dealing in furniture and decorative pieces by designers such as Piergil Fourquié, Os & Oos (Oskar Peet et Sophie Mensen) and Elise Gabriel.

De Lafforest has several pieces with the gallery ranging from 'EXO', a large timber armoire suspended from a fine metal frame, to an armchair called 'Opper' that features a block of marble with cantilevered upholstery.

 The seating version of  'EXO' combines an intricate metal framework with a cone of  marble as an integrated side table.

The seating version of  'EXO' combines an intricate metal framework with a cone of  marble as an integrated side table.

 An overhead image of the 'EXO' seating bench emphasises the relationship between the oval and circle shapes. 

An overhead image of the 'EXO' seating bench emphasises the relationship between the oval and circle shapes. 

De  Lafforest is an interior architect and designer who graduated from ESAG Penninghen (a well known private design school) in Paris. Having worked for some of the biggest names in French design like Bruno Moinard and Noé Duchaufour Lawrance, he currently splits his time between overseeing projects for Gilles & Boissier and designing his own furniture pieces. His involvement in exclusive projects over the years such as the headquarters of Hermès in Paris, the Cartier boutiques, and a mansion for Veuve Clicquot, have given him a deep understanding of exotic materials. While working for Noé Duchaufour Lawrance on projects like  the interior of the restaurant, Ciel de Paris at the top of the Montparnasse Tower, de Lafforest has acquired a great appreciation of the role that strong shapes play in furniture. None of his pieces are really designed for mass production - they are typically limited edition works sold through galleries such as Galerie Gosserez but a few of his designs have been licensed for manufacture by companies such as Cinna (a division of Ligne Roset).

 The 'Vola' wall mounted shelving system borrows a hanging concept normally found in art galleries.

The 'Vola' wall mounted shelving system borrows a hanging concept normally found in art galleries.

The 'Vola' system includes a range of asymmetric modules including a pin-board, mirror and both open shelves and contained boxes. These are all suspended by thick leather cord from small metal clamps that move along a track so that each of the objects can be repositioned easily.

 A close up of the 'Vola' hanging shelving system with its heavy leather cord and moulded plywood shelves.

A close up of the 'Vola' hanging shelving system with its heavy leather cord and moulded plywood shelves.

Another beautiful design from de Lafforest's portfolio is the 'Mono' mirror made from solid walnut. It's oval shape is punctuated by the hanging point and a circular mirror. What is particularly appealing about the mirror is it's depth. Unlike most mirrors which are very flat, 'Mono' projects into space with sculptural flair. 

 The outer shell of the 'Mono' mirror being hand-finished.

The outer shell of the 'Mono' mirror being hand-finished.

You may have seen de Lafforest's beautiful Rue Voltaire loft that what published on Yellowtrace around this time last year. It reveals that his beautifully crafted aesthetic as an interior designer goes well beyond his luxury commercial work and into far softer domestic territory. In the loft there is an emphasis on paler natural materials and a layering of objects and patterns. Check out the apartment here - complete with indoor pine tree and glass house kitchen.