Furniture as Art: Balancing Your Home With Unique, Timeless Pieces

By Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang
August 14, 2013 Updated: August 14, 2013

The relationship between form and function affects everything from the chair you sit in to the mood that awaits you upon returning home.

It’s something every homeowner realizes intrinsically, but a balance that designers carefully study.

“Form is beautiful when it has a function,” says designer Sacha Lakic.

Lakic, who recently designed the “Speed Up” collection of furniture for Roche Bobois has a background in designing in a variety of fields, including cars, bikes, and architecture.

“I think nowadays we give too much importance to objects, to the point where we sometimes elevate them to the status of icon and become their slaves,” he said. “An object should simply serve a purpose.”

Lakic says the objects he tries to create are elegant, visually and tactilely pleasing, but also lets themselves be forgotten.

“Objects should be used each time with the same enjoyment, but without overpowering the space they are in,” Lakic said.

Growing up in Paris with his father as a fashion designer, he was taught to master proportion, fluidity of shapes, and elegance in design. 

“He also taught me to pay attention to details and to play with materials, colors and textures,” Lakic said. “But design also means curiosity. Since I was a little boy I have been fascinated by the world of automobile, motorbikes, and more generally, any object in motion. It is clearly for that reason that even my ‘static’ designs look like they are in motion.”

The “Speed Up” furniture collection Lakic designed for Roche Bobois embodies this seeking of motion in static pieces. For example, the “Speed Up” sideboard was created to have an aerodynamic shape, changing fluidly under different lighting.

“My goal is to surprise, to create products that are always more innovative, relatable, with a personality of their own, even a soul of their own,” he said.

Roche Bobois, a Paris-based furniture editor, is constantly pushing the design envelope, allowing the average homeowner to incorporate statement pieces that many also view as art.

“We don’t really want to take ideas from the industry and then just go with it, sometimes we like to do something new and we like to do something unusual,” says Adam El-Hout, sales and business development manager for North America. “The really unique thing about Roche Bobois is we are not afraid to come out with designs which are unusual, which kind of rock the boat a bit.”

While the brand, locally, is best known for its leather goods and sofas, says San Francisco manager Mauricio Garcia, unique products like the Astrolab—a glass dining table embedded with moving gears—have been extremely popular among a wide range of people as well.

“We don’t create products in our minds for every product to be a bestseller, and that’s not our philosophy,” El-Hout said. “Sometimes we just create things just to create products, just to show the world that we are innovative, that we are creative, that we come up with new ideas and fresh ideas.”

“People go with it really just because they want to have something special in the home, something unique, almost like a piece of art, some people will take something high-design almost as a way of elevating themselves as well,” El-Hout said.

Roche Bobois doesn’t just strive for innovation in design, El-Hout said, but in material use as well, as it aims to be a leader in the industry toward more sustainable production.

“For example, we use fiberglass in some of our products, we use unusual composites, and I would say what we do with the leather is quite unusual as well,” he said.

Two to three new types of leather are created every year. A recent leather sofa mimics the feel of nubuck leather that is typically delicate and very easy to scratch.

“So what we’ve done is we’ve created a nubuck-like finish with the leather by hand polishing it and then pigmenting the top to just give a feeling of nubuck but with the kind of practicality for families,” El-Hout said.

“It’s about having design, but we will never compromise having comfort, durability, high quality, using good materials, for the sake of design, and we wouldn’t do it vice versa either, there has to be the two,” El-Hout said. “That really is the essence of the brand. You don’t want your Roche Bobois sofa, when you sit, you go, ‘Oh this is as hard as a rock.’ It has to be comfortable. We really feel a product needs to be functional as well as attractive.”

For instance “Nautil” is a sofa of memory foam, and “So Quiet” is an armchair with an exoskeleton adapting to the movement of your body. These products are aimed at treating the everyday tensions of the body, says designer Cedric Ragot.

“The ‘So Quiet’ armchair represents our vision of comfortable seating,” Ragot said. “I look for the balance, the harmony of a genuine shape.”

Incorporating wholesome value, as well as sustainability is of great importance to Ragot in creating harmony in design.

“Nowadays, people can buy, replace, and discard everything in one simple click,” he said. “I take the time to question a new product’s purpose, to measure the moral implications of putting it on the market. I am a true believer in the greatness of human production, and I am proud to be a part of it.”

“Design is physical proof of the evolution in human production, it serves as an instant picture of human progress, the ambition that drives us forward. Design questions our contemporary lifestyle because it is an integral part of it,” said Ragot, who has an academic background in industrial design.

Ragot’s concentration early in his career focused on the practical aspects of design, including technological innovations and manufacturing processes. “I know everything about the use of a vase, the different ways to sit on a chair, and all our everyday actions,” Ragot said.

Purchasing a Roche Bobois sofa is a highly personalized experience, Garcia says. Customers who walk in meet with a design consultant, who works with the clients on anything from advising in-store, to doing house visits to measure the space.

“You can personalize everything, from the color of the leather, the stitching,” Garcia said. Most Roche Bobois products are customizable, with 20 to 30 different types of leather, over 30 acrylics for casegoods, and various fabrics designed in collaboration with fashion designers like Missoni and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Catherine Yang
Catherine Yang