19.01.2024 Maison & Objet Art Fair #design

Mathieu Lehanneur

Mathieu Lehanneur – Designer of the Year at interiors fair Maison & Objet

2024 will be memorable for Mathieu Lehanneur. He’s Designer of the Year at the interiors fair Maison & Objet and has designed the torch and cauldron for the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is also the year that Lehanneur turns 50 in August – a milestone age when many people reflect upon what they have achieved in life.

Mathieu Lehanneur since 1974. This is the signage greeting visitors at the entrance to the Factory, Lehanneur’s vast studio in Ivry-sur-Seine to which he relocated last year. The 800-metre-squared red brick building is a laboratory that enables Lehanneur to control every step of the design and production process. Lehanneur actually created his eponymous brand in 2018, six years after teaming up with Isabela Rennó Braga, a Brazilian businesswoman who handles the operational and financial side of the business. The next step of his career will be opening an agency in New York later this year.

It is at the Factory that Lehanneur conceived and produced his installation, Outonomy, for Maison & Objet. It’s a cabin in garish yellow, the kind of habitat that one might stumble across in the middle of a forest, that features a mix of Lehanneur’s old and new projects. Outside, goldfish swim in a pond – a cue to the hunting-and-gathering activity of our cavemen ancestors. Inside, the Pocket Ocean circular wall sculpture mimics the waves of the ocean while the gold Permanent Flame evokes the flames of a fire. High-tech creations jostle with organic furniture pieces and lighting in a reflection upon the paradoxical marriage of technology and nature.

«There’s a need to return to nature, so my idea was to give this a form.»

The title of the Outonomy project is a pun on outdoors and autonomy. Can you tell us about the ideas that you reflected upon?

Mathieu Lehanneur:

Today, a lot of people in many places on earth are beginning to ask themselves questions about how we’re living. Does one want to continue living in big cities, surrounded by density, housing, pollution and noise? There’s a need to return to nature, so my idea was to give this a form. The project asks: Are you ready to change your life? Once we question ourselves about living independently, we’re closer to living in a cave or grotto, which is where we all originate from. Our basic needs haven’t changed: I need to have energy, warmth, protection, activity and food. And technology is much more capable of being able to provide us with these services. So we designed a wind turbine which is placed on the roof, where we’re growing plants and vegetables and have our refrigerator. Similarly, we’ve integrated a punching bag for exercise. I actually have a punching bag at home that my wife, my children and I all use. Nearly all the installation is made in wood, like the exterior tiles that provide good insulation.

The idea is to mix different elements – some technological, like the Andrea air purifier (2007), others not – in order, paradoxically, to return to who we are and what we need as much as possible. We’ve installed an aluminium drone to film and monitor the environment, such as capturing a doe early in the morning which I missed because I was asleep. When we were prehistoric men and women, we made cave paintings of what we’d hunted. The drone speaks about our desire to see the surrounding nature and the need to be in contact with and accepted by it.


Do you have a house in the countryside yourself?

Mathieu Lehanneur:

I’ve got an old house in the countryside, north of Paris near Compiègne, in which there isn’t much technology. So I’m thinking of taking a few elements from here and installing them there.

I live in Paris but don’t need to be there all the time. I can work anywhere; I just need a pencil, a sheet of paper and an internet connection. Today, we’re lucky in that we can invent another life without abandoning everything, still be in contact with the rest of the world whilst being close to nature. If I had to live in the middle of the countryside, I think I’d make myself a home a bit like Outonomy. I could have called the project Outarcy [a pun on “out” and “autocracy”], being totally isolated without any contact, but I still need others although I have more freedom.


Tell us about the new pieces of furniture and lighting on view and the overall aesthetic.

Mathieu Lehanneur:

For outdoors, we’ve developed these two new cubic armchairs, Square Sun. For indoors, we’ve just made this new Hug Chair with a simple, sculpted wooden base and yellow velvet back that seems to float like something vegetal. There’s also our recent lamp, Guernica; we started by making a 3D scan of the iris flower which we modified on the computer and then we made the lamp in ceramic.



I wanted the whole exterior to be monochromatic, like a very intense colour block, as if this yellow were capable of sending us energy. Meanwhile, I wanted the interior space to be more neutral, a lot softer and less energetic, with organic, enveloping forms that are closer to who we are as human beings and biology, and that reinterpret natural elements.


The glass table with gold-leaf spots that’s balanced on large glass vessels is related to the Inverted Gravity furniture collection that was presented at Design Miami/ Basel a few years ago. Can you elaborate on how these new pieces evolved?


Mathieu Lehanneur:

In Basel, the pieces combined blown glass with marble. Here, the series is entirely in glass and we’ve added the gold-leaf spots. The idea was that the structure of the table would almost disappear and the spots would seem to be floating. The feet are very large blown-glass pieces that, with the right thickness, are very resistant. We work with glassblowers and receive all the elements at the Factory where we make the gold-leaf finishing and collage the piece together.

When did you move your studio to the Factory and how has this changed your way of working?


Mathieu Lehanneur:

We gradually settled in about a year ago. It’s an old building dating from 1900 that belonged to EDF, France’s national electricity company, and that has been completely renovated. Having the Factory allows us to control every stage of the process, from the initial idea and drawing to boxing and shipping a piece to the customer. You no longer make any compromises. When you work for a brand, some choices and decisions are made by other people. Today, we operate more like a brand than a designer working for other people. Sometimes we need to subcontract certain components but everything is verified, assembled, boxed and shipped from the Factory. It’s more responsibility and risk but it also gives us much more freedom and certainty because what we’re going to deliver corresponds exactly to what we want to do.

It’s much more empowering for the designer than collaborating with a brand.

Mathieu Lehanneur:

Yes, what happens very often [when you’re collaborating with a brand], even if the designer does a very good job, is that the pieces will go through marketing, technology and distribution and the smallest things will change. Sometimes it’s a millimetre that changes or a small screw is added or a colour is modified or the story-telling is altered. It’s as if I were a musician, created a song and then the record company decided to cut ten seconds off the end. Ten seconds isn’t much but for the musician, the artist, those ten seconds were very important. The best way to be sure that the ten seconds will be there and that the song will be recorded the way we want is to do it ourselves.


How have your clients reacted?

Mathieu Lehanneur:

Pretty well. If clients would prefer us to design things for them, we’ll say, “But no. We won’t do it any more because we can do it ourselves.” Just as we’re in an installation called Outonomy, I’m also building my autonomy in my way of working. What I’m able to do today with the brand at the Factory, I wouldn’t have been able to do 10 years ago. It’s a heavy structure with big investment and significant risks. Managing everything yourself is a very long process: we make two prototypes and two tests then we start again because we aren’t happy and remake other prototypes. But I’d prefer to do fewer things and master them completely rather than try to design for everyone without controlling the entire chain.


You’ve also been commissioned to design the torch and cauldron for the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. What inspired your winning design for the torch?

Mathieu Lehanneur:

Very little was outlined in the brief, leaving great freedom for designers to make their own interpretation. I was inspired by several things in particular, the first being equality because the Olympic and Paralympic Games are put on the same level and there’s perfect equality between male and female athletes. So I really wanted to express this sense of equality through a play on symmetry between the torch’s lower and upper parts. The second element is that I wanted to encapsulate a bit of the Parisian spirit. I could have been inspired by the Eiffel Tower but I found that a bit too obvious. So I drew inspiration from the Seine which will be the scene of the opening ceremony. On the torch’s lower part are the ebb and flow of the Seine, as if the torch were reflected in the water. The 3D image that I presented during the competition phase and the final torch are absolutely identical. But we had many challenges to resolve. The torch is a very technical and technological object with an embedded system to prevent the flame from going out if there’s wind, rain or a storm.


What does it mean for you to design something so symbolic? 

Mathieu Lehanneur:

The Olympic torch is almost a dream object for a designer because it’s very historical and symbolic and must convey a message and values. Before the competition was launched, I even said to myself that I thought I’d make a proposal. Even if I hadn’t been asked or preselected, I’d have done it on Instagram because it’s an object that focuses on a lot of things that interest me.




Interviewed By Anna Sanson

Photos Maison & Objet OUTONOMY Installation – courtesy of Mathieu Lehanneur

Photos at Factory – Ayka LUX

Photos Olympic Torch – Felipe Ribon

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