31.10.2017 #design

Rodolphe Parente

Emotionally-charged architecture

The question of style doesn’t interest me, I prefer to talk about philosophy

Last September at the Monnaie de Paris, his “metal-pop laundry” was undoubtedly the stand-out of the 2017 AD Intérieurs exhibition. Interior designer and architect Rodolphe Parente invited a “service” space in the prestigious context of luxury interior design. This tension between functionality and sophistication surely characterizes the work of this French interior designer who earned his stripes with the great Andrée Putman before launching his own agency in 2010. Deeply attached to an “emotionally-charged” architecture, which he seeks to achieve with his works, Rodolphe Parente takes the current “glamourization” of design against the current all the while managing to keep close with an aesthetic inherited from French and Italian decorative art. As an entrepreneur at heart who is very close to the craft industry, Parente confides here on his vision and his desire to shake up the system.

Your work creates bridges between an industrial aesthetic and luxury interior design. A perfect example is your “metal-pop laundry” presented at AD Intérieurs last September. The idea of combining functionality and decorative arts in this way is relatively new.

For me, this relationship has always existed. We make applied art. If we don’t apply it, we simply make art. It has no function or frame. Everyone applies it in their own way, it’s a question of treatment, of philosophy, of relationship to things. This tension is my language after all. At the same time, I am against the notion of style. Using a laundry to question the use of one metal remains a pretext. The focus is on the material, the developments, and the desire to embrace the work of the craftsmen I work with. This project crystallizes certain things: the relationship between industrial materials, arts and crafts, and the permutation of things. In a “philosophical” way, this coule be quite carnivalesque. Creating a laundry in the framework of AD Intérieurs is interesting and shows an irreverent side. But it is always controlled. I’m questioning the notion of luxury interior design, as well as the question of beauty in everyday life.

Your work features the heritage of Italian and French decorative art, which is defined by its excellence, refinement, and ornamentation. By bringing this heritage into an industrial environment, do you feel as if you were operating a form of “glamourization” of design?

I always try to bring sophistication, either by the choice of a subject or by the treatment. Coming from this Putman-style universe where one easily diverts materials that appropriate glamour and sophistication, it is certain that this is part of my heritage. But the treatment is always depends on the project I’m working on. Sophistication is not the goal for me.

Your references go from Gio Ponti to Jean-Michel Frank to Chareau… It seem you manage to bring them towards a Prouvé aesthetic, and the result is very attractive.

These could even be accidents. The projects that are most dear to me are those made of encounters and accidents. The final result seems less important to me. That’s why the question of style doesn’t interest me, I prefer to talk about philosophy and context.

How did your origins helped create your style?

I come from Besançon. I always have in mind Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, as well as Vauban and the architecture of thickness, of fortification. Those are the things that permeate you, even unintentionally. As children, we are confronted with images that we do not understand. Walls and fortifications always stuck with me. And then, someday you are at the Beaux-Arts and you start those same walls… I think there are links, not necessarily palpable, that build you. It’s part of personal heritage.

You created your agency in 2010, following your collaboration with Andrée Putman. Did you have a very precise vision of your project?

I had a precise vision of my entrepreneurial project. But I had no idea what it was going to become. It grew up step by step, with much energy and sacrifice. I was alone at the beginning, today we are seven working on the project. We do everything very transversally. I support the structure, but my employees are very involved in the process. I give them a lot of freedom so that the result is a real dialogue between them and me. We have this desire to try to shake up the system a little, but without trying to disturb.

You worked with André Putman for five years. Did she have that mentoring role for you?

She’s always been a reference. Within her agency, she gave us real freedom to practice. She gave us a purely conceptual input, and she expressed many concepts with words, intentions, sensations. Then we would draw a project or a piece of furniture simply with her words. The field was very wide. This is what interested me.

Would you say she defined your aesthetic today?

It inspired me, of course. But I don’t think it can be said that my work is close to Putman. It is this unconventional way of working that I feel close to. The elegance she always had in marrying things that weren’t meant to live together in the first place.

There is the relationship with your partners, but there is also the relationship with your clients. Did you have a particular client who helped you move forward in your process?

All projects feed my work, but there was one that stuck with me. This is the project related to David Lynch’s work with this client who collects his art. He said, “What I want to feel in this apartment is the same as when I look at the dwarf dancing in ‘Twin Peaks’.” It’s a way of seeing a project that for me is quite close to what Andrée Putman would give us as specifications. It was very strong for me.

This approach is quite close to a film director creating an atmosphere.

It’s true. There are protagonists and actors around us. I am the director of a film, in fact I am many things: the director of photography, the casting director as well… The client is just as a protagonist as the craftsman or the assistant. Everybody’s at the same level.

When you finish a project, do you consider it in the past?

The project no longer belongs to you the day you deliver it. Its destiny escapes you completely, that’s why you shouldn’t project too much of yourself into what you draw. It would be terrible to tell your clients how to live, how to use their spaces. That would be totalitarian. And luckily we have to move away, it would be too hard to live with that in you!

What is going to happen to your laundry after AD Intérieurs?

To me, this project is a question about these places that are often neglected of any interest. How does luxury interior design can offer a new interpretation of these spaces? It’s something ephemeral, a magnifying glass.

Interview by David Herman and Maxime Der Nahabédian

Photography : Valentin Le Cron

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