say hi to_ POOL
France, a country which has historically been quite conservative in it’s organisation and evoking an urge to label and categorise and jobs and creatives into specific disciplines, is seeing a new emergence of undefinable, multidisciplinary studios and practices. POOL Studio, a multidisciplinary design studio working between furniture design, art direction and graphic design, who we originally knew for their furniture, is one of these studios redefining the way things are done in the French system.
Starting off working for famed French furniture designer, Noé Duchafour-Lawrance, Léa and Sebastien met and collaborated for 6 years before deciding to break off and start their own studio, POOL. They took a few months of experimenting before knowing exactly what their creative studio would do and specialise in. They now work closely with furniture editors such as La Chance, Petite Friture, Habitat and The Future Perfect, to create pieces for their collections as well as working on projects where they can design not only the furniture but handle the entire branding and interior architecture of a space.
Earlier in the year we had the pleasure of discussing how emerging designers could collaborate with artisan manufacturers with Atelier François Pouenat. We coincidentally found out at the same time that POOL Studio acted as the metal artisan manufacturer’s art directors. Creating everything from the graphic design to bespoke pieces and curating an exhibition of contemporary collectible furniture designers collaborating with the 3 generations run metal atelier - POOL is not only a studio to keep an eye on but a studio reviving and innovating the treasured industry of French artisan savoir-faire.
| Kristen | Can you please introduce yourselves?
| Léa | We are Léa Padovani and Sébastian Kieffer, and we make up POOL Studio. We are a furniture design and interior architecture studio. We mainly do furniture design, make lamps for publishers/ editors, but we are still expanding, especially right now, [we have] a limited collection of pieces which we sell to private clients, interior decorators, or galleries. And our other side is interior architecture that we create for restaurant projects or apartments, etc..
| Sébastian | And graphic design as well, which allows us, when we create spaces, to do a complete package. We can also create the style guidelines and do some logo work. We love that, it allows us to really control all aspects of the project.
| Léa | That’s what we do. We created Pool in 2010/2011. It took us 6 months to determine what we wanted to do, and how.
| Sébastian | At first, we both worked for Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance. We met there. I had already been gone for a year when you began to want to leave as well.
| Léa | Yes, you stayed with Noé for 6 years, and I stayed for 5. And then after we had had a quarter-life crisis at 30 years old, asking ourselves what it was that we wanted to do, and if we would work for someone again, we met our guardian angel, Cédric Morrissey, who was preparing the New Wave [Nouvelle Vague] exhibition in Milan, the first one, and he proposed that we be apart of it. That was really our springboard.
| Sébastian | It was the first time we were showing pieces.
| Léa | And we showed together as Pool.
| Kristen | And was he your mentor, or simply gave you the initial momentum?
| Léa | He is always incredibly present in our work.
| Kristen | What is a typical day of work?
| Léa | Even still, it depends. Unfortunately, we start with a lot of emails.
| Sébastian | First it’s coffee, reading emails, have another coffee, smoke a cigarette, and then respond to the emails.
| Léa | We try to respond to them once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and not all day long. It’s awful but it’s practically a huge part of our job. Some days we try not to respond at all, but it depends on the projects. Then, there are some days when we are going to spend all day designing pieces for brands, that happened to us a lot last year, it’s cool but it’s rare.
| Sébastian | Yes, and other than that, we’re managing our projects and making plans.
| Léa | Each project has its specificity. Later it’s meetings that make the days pass quickly.
| Kristen | And what is your favorite part of your job?
| Sébastian | Going abroad because that’s really the time when we can get out of the closed vase of our studio, and suddenly we’re in these exhibitions in Milan or Stockholm. We come across all these people that we will eventually meet in other shows and exhibitions.
| Sébastian | That’s really the part that I love because it’s a rather rare moment in our work that we can enjoy what we have done. When it is presented in an exhibition, all of a sudden the pressure levels off, the piece is there, within the deadline...
| Léa | That isn’t my favorite part, even if we end up meeting with our friends. What I love is going to see the craftsmen and the factories. Plus, the more I age, the less I like the walkabout. I find it quite gratifying to go and meet with the craftsmen who make our pieces, it’s an intimate part of our work that I love. Milan, blablabla... for me it’s too much.
| Sébastian | Well I love it.
| Léa | That is where we are very different.
| Kristen | I imagine that once the work is completed, it’s exciting to see the result.
| Sébastian | Yes, every so often there are pieces that we only get to see a little bit of, so there is some apprehension at the moment of reveal. And suddenly when we see it and it works, it’s brilliant.
| Léa | It’s true that the more we progress, the more brilliant these moments are.
| Sébastian | Now that we have more contacts, we have built ourselves up a bit more, we are starting to make interesting pieces that are larger. We design sofas, large lighting fixtures, we don’t do small vases anymore - it’s not that we don’t like doing that - we have changed scale recently and now you can really see the materials.
| Kristen | And how do you find the people that you work and collaborate with?
| Léa | For example, the collection of pieces that we are currently working on, the singular objects, in marble or otherwise, it starts by a collaboration with an ironworker. A friend of ours who is an architect introduced us to this ironworker who only works with metal and we worked with him for 6 years. A year ago he asked to be our artistic director and help us expand the company. It was a brilliant encounter because we have developed together, we have always trusted him with our pieces, and we’ve grown. I really love this work, and sometimes it’s hard, but there are incredible craftsmen. Sometimes he spends a whole day just making the base of a lamp, or something else. We met him through a friend, but each new project brings new people or projects to us.
| Sébastian | It is often necessary to have a relationship where there is mutual trust between the publisher, the craftsman, and us. In the beginning, we didn’t make sofas or pieces like that, but once we started to see what was possible when we work together, it was then that we successfully developed this kind of relationship that allowed us to create larger and more ambitious pieces.
| Léa | Each time it’s a bit like that. We’re always looking for craftsmen. We have designer friends but they are true friends of ours and we try to work with the same people. We are lucky that we have publishers ask us to design, at first we would approach them, but now they come to us because we’ve made more pieces.
| Sébastian | It’s easier to trust someone who has been published a lot, and someone who has a lot of pieces on the market.
| Léa | That’s really what is happening now, they are asking us to design. We created a lot of things last year that will come out in January 2017.
| Kristen | So you met each other at Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance where you worked for 6 and 5 years, respectively?
| Sébastian | Yes, that was my first job, I was 20 years old, I was an intern then an employee, and then I left.
| Léa | For me, it was my second job.
| Kristen | Had you studied Industrial Product Design before?
| Sébastian | Yes.
| Léa | Yes, and Interior Design as well.
| Kristen | Do you find it necessary for your work? Because sometimes it’s not. For example, I studied photography but it didn’t end up being my job necessarily. But I imagine that it is different for you?
| Sébastian | For Interior Architecture it would be but for design, it’s not a problem. But even still, it’s important because it’s a process to integrate into it, to learn more than just the job, you must learn design, allow yourself the time to discover what it is exactly. There are plenty of little things such as the height of a chair [seat] for example. After that while in the process of working, there with be some familiarity with other creative jobs.
| Kristen | When you started working together, did you allocate individual roles? For example, one of you worked with the business or marketing aspect and the other with the creative side, or did you do everything together?
| Léa | We’re rather complementary we each have different strengths. There isn't only one of us who does the business side, it's both of us even if one of us is stronger than the other in an area. Sébastian always did a lot of graphic design and I did a lot of interior architecture and at Noé I worked in the business part but it is a subject which we both work a lot on, that's the aim. That is it's truly 100% from both of us.
| Sébastian | Even still, when we design a piece, I think that we always work a little staggered. There are things that one of us will be draw to, and the other less so. One will grow one way, and the other in another direction and in the end, that is what makes the project [successful].
| Léa | It’s true that we don’t work the same way, and it’s what works well for us.
| Sébastian | That sometimes gives us quite funny things, the basis for some of our pieces was simply a misunderstanding of the other’s design. I remember a stool which became a lamp.
“POOL stays POOL and not Sébastain and Léa. If i like one color, and she likes another, ultimately, our finest works are with POOL in mind. “
| Kristen | And is it ever difficult? If for example one of you is happy with the end result but the other completely rejects a piece and says it has to be redone?
| Sébastian | I think we argue sometimes.
| Léa | Sometimes that happens but the goal is to not take it personally, POOL stays POOL and not Sébastain and Léa. If i like one color, and she likes another, ultimately, our finest works are with POOL in mind.
| Kristen | I imagine it’s similar to say hi to_, sometimes I’m going to use something that I wouldn’t necessarily want in my apartment, but it’s the spirit and aesthetic of say hi to_, which is it’s own entity.
| Léa | We love POOL’s style and POOL is my home but we’re trying to hold the line where it’s POOL, but not fashion. We don’t make pink lamps because that’s the zeitgeist, it’s fashion.
| Sébastian | Of course, it’s complicated [when you] break away from the zeitgeist, our wish is to participate in it, but not to follow it. It’s true that POOL became it’s own thing, more Léa and Sébastian and that helps us make a decision sometimes when we’re at a standstill. But what is it that makes POOL? It’s as if we have a third person. There are often decisions that must be made in a certain order “What is our range? Where will it take our design?” because must evolve, we expand every year, we reach new markets, new clients, therefore it’s necessary at any given moment to adjust Pool’s image in a sense.
Fortunately, we had done a lot in cosmetics, designing perfume bottles, working for people or a brand within a very particular frame where it was necessary to know how to respect codes which we didn’t necessarily like. It’s the same with POOL today when we happen to do certain projects, even if it’s furniture, which is much more personal than the cosmetic industry.
| Kristen | How did you source the materials for your pieces? How did you find where and how to realize your first prototypes?
| Léa | We didn’t have any.
| Kristen | And how did that work? How did you find where and how to realize your first prototypes?
| Léa | It is easier these days because we know more specialists and ultimately our technical work with metal is fairly well-known. That is why it’s so interesting to go to the factories to understand the techniques. We don’t learn how to work with marble, or what not to do with marble, from behind our computers. When we started out, we made a lot of mistakes with our choice of materials but now we have the ability to work with people who know better.
| Kristen | But they were working for free at the beginning?
| Sébastian | No, we financed them.
| Kristen | How did you finance your first pieces?
| Sébastian | With our savings.
| Léa | For Nouvelle Vague [ New Wave] , it was with our money.
| Sébastian | Except for the pieces which had the support of a publisher behind them and were done for free. It’s funny because now we’ve managed to pay less for our prototypes, people trust us more now and know that we aren’t just making these for attention but rather to make objects and sell them. The craftsmen can trust us and it’s easier to find these arrangements now that we’re a little bit more recognized.
| Léa | From our perspective, if we create a piece with a craftsman, it must be able to sell. Otherwise we’re just making prototypes all of our life and that wouldn’t be interesting anymore, it would be a joke. A designer’s work is to create an object in quantities [which are able to sell] for Habitat, La Chance, or a limited edition object meant for consumerism. Or else we’re just making beautiful things for our own homes.
| Kristen | Was it difficult at the start to find furniture publications and producers for your work and how did you first find those partnerships?
| Sébastian | It’s a whole other process, you really need to know them, and know that they have seen things, and eventually the door opens.
| Léa | Occasionally there is an [ripple] effect. Once you have one like that, it brings another one. And each time we’ve met people, it’s through our friends that we’ve met others, but in the beginning it was difficult.
| Sébastian | It’s a small community, a community of niches, there aren’t a lot of people who are capable of opening the door.
| Léa | There are too many designers and few stand out.
| Kristen | It’s the same for a photographer who wants to find an agent, it’s quite difficult at the beginning. I don’t know with furniture, but I’ve found that it’s different in France than in the U.S.A. Here, it’s really a question of networking, the more people you meet, the more things work out for you, but in the U.S.A., people [aren’t as willing] to help.
| Léa | It can be a bit like that in France as well, it’s not so open. We work a lot with Future Perfect in the U.S.A. and it’s a very different way of working but we think it’s pretty cool because there, they get straight to the point.
It’s a bit more indirect in France. Plus, it’s considered taboo to discuss money; to say that a lamp which was expensive to make will be expensive to sell. I remember an email from an American [company] that clearly asked for our list of expenses to be laid out. It’s the complete opposite in France where it’s complicated when you are creative.
| Kristen | Did you have part-time jobs when you were young that gave you experience that you can use today?
| Sébastian | No, I only did work that coincided with my studies.
| Léa | I had a few jobs just to earn some money, and I had one that wasn’t really for me, but it taught me how to sell [market]. Since then, I know how to sell and that helps for POOL.
| Kristen | Was it difficult to create and launch your own company?
| Sébastian | Yes.
| Kristen | How did you decide to do that, and what was the most difficult step?
| Sébastian | At the beginning when Léa was still working with Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, we would get together at her house to work on our résumés, before we ever had the idea to start POOL. I knew how to format [the resumes] and Léa knew how to write them. That was the start of POOL, not launching a company. I’m not sure how that idea manifested exactly, we told ourselves that we could start a studio.
| Léa | We asked ourselves if we wanted to keep working for someone else. We’re creative so should we take the plunge or not?
| Sébastian | We had already worked as partners when we were with Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, so we knew how to collaborate and support each other at work and that was important.
| Léa | Now, we have worked together for 11 years.
| Kristen | What was the most difficult thing at the beginning?
| Léa | Earning money.
| Sébastian | Knowing precisely what we wanted to do because we were facing a big blank page. It really was vast. Such as where we wanted to start? What did we want to design? How we’re going to design it?
| Léa | In the beginning, Pool was super arty. We wanted to do installations, sculptures, it was a bit weird. It was extreme.
| Sébastian | It’s not that it was nothing, but it just went in every direction. It turned into strange things that we could never have shown.
| Kristen | How did you actually start to make money?
| Sébastian | At the beginning we continued to work side by side. The first things that started to bring us money were from Craft, our interior architecture [work].
| Léa | When we did that project, people started to see us in another light, and were saying that it was rather serious to create an interior project. This project had great success in the media and that gave us a lot of help. There were several very important moments like that, Nouvelle Vague, Craft, meeting with the U.S.A. [market] because this freedom and ease of creation permitted us to do a lot more. We were less encumbered by the fact that we were small because in the States, it’s a large table, not a small one.
| Sébastian | Especially since we were selling them directly because it was necessary to discuss pricing, when we sell a marble table to The Future Perfect we make money directly from it.
When we develop furniture with a publisher, the piece must come out in order to start to earn royalties, even if we’re now paid for our designs. Besides, we don’t work in the same line for the U.S.A. [market]. It’s a luxury brand there, when we sell a table, it will be fairly expensive and we will be paid directly from it. When we work with Habitat or Petite Friture, it takes time for the product to be manufactured and to become known well enough to sell. It has only been for the last year that our royalty returns became quite significant, which then became a large part of our budget. In the beginning, it only paid for our coffee and internet.
| Kristen | That depends on the country but when you’re freelancing, that can be a nightmare. How did you launch the marketing aspect when you started? With say hi to_, for example, I used social media. I posted a lot of content to gain followers and as I went along, people started contacting me.
| Léa | We were still with Nouvelle Vague then. We had a great deal of press, and a lot of very important people came to that expo.
| Sébastian | That led to us being able to meet with talented journalists and talk with them. For instance, we didn’t have a [press] agency because the publishers and the clients which we worked for had them, and as a result, we didn’t need to have one. We are our own [press] agency, we manage it all in house. We also have a small group of journalists who we quite like, it’s a pleasure to speak with them.
| Léa | There are brilliant journalists in design.
| Sébastian | Our instagram was created just last year.
| Léa | We do social media but it’s not our strong suit.
“Never work for free, even if you are very young. Never sell yourself or your work for free.”
| Kristen | What would you have like to have known before starting your business
| Sébastian | Oh a lot of things... I don’t know, we made inevitable mistakes...
| Léa | Never work for free, even if you are very young. Never sell yourself or your work for free. For me, that’s the only thing. For the rest, we had good professional experiences working with Noé [Duchaufour-Lawrance] and before that, we saw plenty of things. We went to a good school, The only thing that one should know is that you must never work for free.
| Sébastian | And it’s difficult at the beginning to not do that.
| Léa | It’s hard to say no and it’s good to say no.
| Sébastian | Now we do. And it’s a good thing.
| Léa | And still, it is nice.
| Sébastian | We aren’t nice, we’re polite.
| Kristen | What does your creative process look like, say if you’re working with a publisher? For example.
| Léa | CVL is a good example. All those lamps there.
| Sébastian | Those are brass lamps, manufactured by a French brand which has it’s own factories. Most of the publishers don’t have their own factories, they do. They only work with brass.
| Léa | They produce and they sell. We met them through a designer friend and they were looking for a new designer. And every designer who makes an object suggest a new designer, which is very cool. But still they choose. In their studio the pitch is simple: they only make brass lamps.
| Kristen | So there are constraints.
| Léa | Yes, which is great. They asked us to design a collection of lamps, and we had really loved visiting the factory. After that, we submitted three projects, three collections, and thy loved them. So last year, we launched a whole collection all in brass. Every year now they ask us to do a new collection.
| Sébastian | And that happens two ways. Either we already have a collection, an idea which we feel fits their modality and we propose that, or they come to us with a direction to take, and we design it for them.
| Kristen | How does it work with publishers? Are they like agents? You can only work with one at a time or with who you want?
| Léa | Well yes, but with some nuance. For example, ideally we don’t want to work with only French publications/ publishers.
| Sébastian | It doesn’t make sense.
| Léa | Essentially, the goal isn’t to work with everyone. That’s not the main objective.
| Kristen | And how to you decide which publishers you want to work with?
| Léa | If it’s a new brand, their history is what matters for us, and what they can bring us. [Sometimes] they are very new on the scene, but their story is magic.
| Sébastian | They are young in the furniture editing industry, but the company has been around for 60 years. The market evolves so they have seen plenty of phases. They make supermarket lamps, but the realized that if they wanted their company to continue to be successful in France, they’d need to go upmarket so now they try to break into the architecture market.
| Kristen | What is your favorite piece or project that you have done?
| Sébastian | The problem is that often when the projects finally make their debut, we are happy, but we don’t love them as much, we can’t look at them anymore. We’ve seen them too much.
| Léa | I will always love the project.
| Sébastian | I quite like the sofa wallpaper but it’s because I hadn’t seen it enough.
| Léa | For me, that projects story is the most beautiful.
| Sébastian | I agree with you because that was truly the purest expression of what we want to make because we made everything. It is 100 percent POOL I do not know if it is my favorite but it is most “us”.
| Léa | And it was such a joy to create it. It was brilliant. But moreover, we move on and the idea is that we want to be able to present a new collection next year.
| Kristen | You could really do what you wanted.
| Sébastian | Nearly because obviously there is a financial limit most of the time, or that kind of thing, but it’s more or less where we wanted to go.
| Léa | But if all goes well this year, we’ll do it again with new pieces.
| Kristen | What is your dream project?
| Léa | A swimming pool. For me, it will always be a pool. For you, it’s a train, right?
| Sébastian | For me it’s a train, yes. I’m from Quimper and when I was 8 or 9 the train came [to town]. First class was blue and had small black alcoves with little facets of smoked glass. I was completely fascinated by it. The train was old and dusty, but in another that, there was this sort of machine that appeared that you just wanted to touch, it was gleaming and loud. It was beautiful, like a spaceship but more chic. I just loved it so I’d really like to make one, one day. Or a Concorde, but that doesn’t exist yet.
| Léa | For me, I’d love to make a watch. And a pool.
| Kristen | Could you describe the French contemporary design scene?
| Léa | Now? It’s hard because in the past design was really an individual person, a strong one; [Philippe] Starck, [Charlotte] Perriand, some big personalities. Now that we are in that scene, we don’t know too much.
| Sébastian | I believe that it’s really this recession [crisis history]. Some companies vanished and others rose to the top. There is this whole generation of young French publishers, and they must not forget what came before them. Maybe I’m talking bullshit but I get the feeling that has disappeared from this side of French design, which was able to be quite prevalent in the 60’s, 70’s, and even in the 80’s. In the 90’s, it feels like there was nothing but Starck, I’m not sure if it’s because he took center stage in the media, but he had become so big, it felt like there was no room for young designers. And I believe there is more space these days for young designers.
| Sébastian | I think that the French scene stays fresh and eager. Eager for what, I can’t say exactly.
| Léa | No, I disagree because there are all the French who leave to go to school abroad. There’s the Royal Academy style, ECAL, ENSCI, or those who work for the Bouroullecs, they have a similar style. They make up different categories.
| Sébastian | Yes all the time.
| Léa | Sure but I think that the French scene is harder to identify than the Swedish scene for example.
| Léa | But already, it’s not the same culture, their manufacture, it’s what they do well.
| Sébastian | I disagree, I believe that the French scene is perhaps more identifiable than the Swedish scene some time ago, which in the end is more conservative, with a recurring theme. I think that there is a kind of French style that is making a comeback. There is a creative side in French design and development. Yet I can’t say exactly what the style is.
| Léa | I get the impression, even if it is a bit terrible to say, that there is a bit of a post-Memphis epoch. And the French have the capacity to mix that [style] with our own, because we have a long history in furniture.
| Léa | Our generation is from the 80’s, and I get the impression that style is defined more by the generation rather than by country. After that, it’s a mix. And our country has a good mix of design. In our generation we have Guillaume Delvigne, Victoria Wilemotte, Fabien Cappello, us... we all look to the 80’s. We love the 80’s and 90’s. That is our childhood.
| Kristen | How would you define the essence of Paris?
| Sébastian | Coffee with a cigarette.
| Léa | Yes but that’s French, not just Parisian.
| Kristen | I’m from New York, and when I describe my city, it’s about the energy. You can find it anywhere else. The feeling of never being able to stop, that you must always keep going, pushing forwards. We work until we’re dead.
| Léa | I find that in Paris, there is so much life outside.
| Sébastian | There is New york energy, but while taking an hour for lunch in a restaurant mid-afternoon.
| Léa | People take more time for themselves. It’s something that I really reflected on when I took a trip up north, to the scandinavian countries. It’s our thing, here in France, we take our time when we have lunch, and in the evening, we take time for ourselves. And I’ve seen that in Paris, when you’re in the street in the middle of the week, people are out, and not just out in the evenings for aperitifs. For me, that is Paris.
| Sébastian | I’m always on the terrace.
| Sébastian | I love this rhythm of Paris, it has both of these energies, people are not necessarily polite, but people who are too polite annoy me after a while. And we can do our projects but at the same time, take a moment to stop and have a coffee, or stroll through Tuileries garden, even going one extra Metro stop and taking a detour.
| Léa | In France, there is no question of holidays in August. This summer I spoke with our gallery in New York and I told them I am sorry but the factory is closed from mid-July to the end of August.
| Kristen | Yes, they don’t understand that. Because in New York we don’t take vacations, we have 10 days, but if we take them, our colleagues think that we’re lazy! We just take a 3-day weekend.
| Léa | In France life is important and that’s great.
| Kristen | I believe that it’s visible in the work as well, because in New York, there is that energy, but at the end, there is nothing left. Here [in Paris] if we want to work 15 hours straight, and we have the energy for it, we can. But if we want to go home at 6pm, we can do that, too. I like that.
| Léa | We do the same with our clients. Sometimes we say it’s Friday afternoon, we’re not working because we worked a lot earlier.
| Sébastian | Yes and any time when we’ve exhausted ourselves, we work badly so it is enough to just take an hour to do something else, come back and have clear ideas.