François Champsaur: how do you create living design?
In the face of the climate emergency, many of us see no choice but to stick our heads in the sand or, at most, switch to recyclable or second-hand designs where we can. Not so French as designer François Champsaur who, in recent years, has largely turned away from the major projects that made him famous – such as the Hôtel Vernet in Paris or the Bailli de Suffren on the Côte d’Azur – to retreat into his native Marseilles and focuses on smaller-scale creations, including his own “cabins” in Marseilles and Majorca.
He has shrunk his client list, reduced his ecological footprint and avoided supermarkets in favor of local organic programs. In his new interpretation of the “less is more” mantra, “less” refers not so much to a certain minimalist aesthetic as to an entirely reduced way of life.
François Champsaur: ‘We cannot continue to make plastic chairs’
Chestnut furniture for the restaurant of the Musée Carnavalet in Paris
“I am the idea of decayor degrowth: less income and a much simpler standard of living, to have the freedom to choose my projects – projects where ecology is taken into account”, explains Champsaur.
The designer sees our current situation as a brutal comeback after decades of excess. “The world we have built for 50 years is based on consumption, on ultra-liberalism; there is permanent abundance for some and nothing at all for others,” he says. “We think we’re happy because we have access to everything, but it’s like a big shot of illicit substances – now we see the consequence of this artificial happiness.” What was hidden in plain sight is now impossible to ignore: “We hide everything we don’t like – industrial waste, radioactive waste, polluted rivers. But today, everything is coming to the surface. This is why it is necessary to evolve, to find the know-how, to experiment and to become humble again.
Humble before the power of nature and the beauty of our planet, which we have neglected for so long: “We are at a very important historical, moral and aesthetic crossroads: we must reconnect with the Earth. And that also applies to designers, of course: “Ecology and neoliberalism are totally incompatible. As environmentalists say, in a very precise formula: there is no infinite growth in a finite world. And if the creators do not realize this, they will disappear. His solution, first fully explored during his time as president of the jury at the 2019 Design Parade in Toulon, where he curated an exhibition called “Resuming Natural Discussions”, is to focus on “natural design” by using 100% natural materials, which must be ‘compostable and reusable’.
The Champsaur house in Marseille
For Champsaur, this means using everything except plastic: “We made people believe that we could reuse plastic. It’s wrong; 80 to 90% of plastic ends up in garbage cans, in the oceans. The only thing to do is to use materials that are as raw and natural as possible. His favorite materials are terracotta (a passion he inherited from his ceramist mother), with which he created the “Frugal Utopia” table; or chestnut, which he used to fashion the furniture for the restaurant at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. “If you use earth, wood, plaster, lime, you can return them to nature, compost them.” Although many designers of his generation do not seem interested in these organic materials, Champsaur is enthusiastic about the idea of new talents, among them young creators like Samuel Tomatis, who uses seaweed, or a close collaborator of Champsaur , Samy Rio, who does research on invasive plants, and has collaborated with the Luma Foundation, an Arles association created to support the activities of independent and pioneering artists.
“With all these things that have yet to be invented, we cannot continue to manufacture plastic chairs,” continues Champsaur. “Design is both content and form; if the substance is empty, the form is empty. The designer goes even further by adding: “I think we also have to abandon 3D and digital techniques a bit to return to the intelligence of the hand. I make terracotta models to visualize my projects. It’s more pleasant to work with organic, living materials, and not dead materials. This is, moreover, the fundamental question for the next few years: do we make a living design?
Looking forward to new collaborations
Champsaur’s Furniture Designs for Madrid Edition Include Plaster Table Lamps
This question came to the fore in his latest major collaboration, the furniture for Ian Schrager’s new Edition hotel in Madrid, designed by John Pawson. It was a command he felt he couldn’t refuse, but it tested his passion for all things natural. “To change things, you have to be convinced yourself. If you’re only half convinced, it’s hard to convince the others,” he says. But it seems that its commitment to a new “natural design” is quite convincing: all the new furniture in the hotel’s rooms has been made with the emblematic materials of Champsaur, including wood, wool and plaster.
Plaster, hemp, lime and compacted earth feature in the designer’s two homes on the Mediterranean, which he uses as laboratories to explore new ideas, working with local artisans to create unique pieces and finishes. , a process in stark contrast to the way most homes are built today. “People bring in tiles from Italy, windows from Poland – it’s just a matter of assembly. There are two problems with this: visually, it’s ugly; in addition, it destroys local know-how,” he says. “We can’t do assemblage like that anymore – it’s aesthetically, ecologically, politically and socially irresponsible.” Champsaur also believes that the current architectural aesthetic, with large bay windows cooled by air conditioning, is no longer viable, that we must return to traditional solutions to deal with bad weather: “The houses in the south of France all had a plane tree in front to create shade in the summer – this helped lower the temperature by five or six degrees.
Surrounded by greenery and traditional reeds, or reed projections, his own home in Marseille is also his studio, from where he is working on his latest project: new interiors for the Villa Noailles boutique, which will include pieces in stone, chestnut, plaster and local reed. A collection in collaboration with other designers, including Samy Rio, also focuses on happy living in a small space. It is no coincidence that a very particular type of design is coming back to the fore today: “When you look at auctions and very collectible furniture, it is pre-industrial furniture like Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé or Jean Touret.All these designers worked in tandem with craftsmen, they were very close to the material and very attentive to the work of the hand of man, and not of the machine.
Those who have the courage to confront our environmental and societal problems will find renewed energy and inspiration in a different, gentler way of life, more in tune with our local community and geography. “You have to be really optimistic, clever and pugnacious to change the model. It’s a moral question because we can’t leave our children a field of ruin, we can’t say that we tried and that we didn’t succeed,” says Champsaur. “It’s also an aesthetic issue, because we have to invent new ways of creating and consuming, but also manufacturing less, and manufacturing locally.” §