“It is my vocation to capture the core identity and real essence of my customers, expressing what I have gleaned through the surrounds I create. This almost invariably leads to deep introspection on my part as I seek for ways to rework or even transform the materials, objects and light - this contemplative process revolves around a theme dictated by the building’s architecture as well as by the unique style and personality of the customer.”
Architect, planner and interior designer based in Cannes (France), Raphael Grangeon, has faithfully pursued a mission which has led to the creation of a unique object - his "Rond-Sansui" table.
The idea underpinning the project was sparked by a private mansion which must be described for the reader to gain insight into the overall creative process of the architect.
This inspiring luxury home is surrounded by woodlands made up of slender pines and majestic birches.
It bears the stamp of a leading and eminent architect of our times who has juxtaposed cubic elements of varying volumes, arranging them either in an aligned pattern or a slightly staggered one.
The overall impact is one of a perfect prospective illuminated by dazzling shafts of lights.
Bathed in natural light of ever-changing gradations, the house seems to possess a seductive sheerness, a transparency where interior spaces fuse harmoniously with the outdoor surrounds in all their extraordinary unspoilt beauty.
The inside includes a series of gardens which needed organising. The entire structure is surmounted by striking skylights, particularly in the common areas, linking the edifice to the external grounds, giving a sense of natural continuity.
“The rare essence that this place emanates,” says Grangeon, “provided me with a natural key of inspiration whereby the interior design melded with the ethos of the landscaped gardens. Following this line of thought, I developed my concept of how to cover the flooring, the walls and ceiling, how to light the atmosphere and which lampshades to choose, as well as reaching decisions on the furniture, upholstery and carpets. For instance, the reception area and the hearth have been built around huge Scots pines which endow their surrounds with a magical Mediterranean feel.”
The splendid table was to be located in an area which is the hub of daily life: the dining room.
Here, the setting is artfully scattered with curated details that evoke the beauty of Oriental gardens. The furnishings in red Chinese lacquer rival the sumptuousness of the Tai-Ping carpet which depicts a sweep of blooming Japanese apple trees framed by silk curtains - one of the many striking details which belong to the illustrious graphic heritage of Japan.
The table takes pride of place in the middle of the room.
“The intimate essence of this table is a response to my customer's requirements: minimum seating room for 12 guests, with an option of hosting up to 24 diners. Obviously, this implies an exceptionally outsize table,” comments Grangeon."
His idea was that the table sizing should be on a par with all those that had been created up to that time. This is why its minimum overall dimensions are 4.37 m by 1.58 m which extend to 5.04 m by 2.30 m when it is fully open; this means that its final length and final breadth are respectively 16% and 46% greater than the original size. Once the measurements were established, a breakdown of the ergonomic and aesthetic side was carried out, taking into account all the technical requirements and making sure everything was in step with the spirit of the desired décor.
As far as ergonomics went, the architect was especially concerned with:
- a fluid design so that guests would find it easy to move around the table,
- a piece of furniture that was easy and straightforward to handle when it needed to be extended or closed,
- a table that was as lightweight as possible, and especially one that did not need any extra bits adding by hand,
- a table that could be handled as quickly and silently as possible,
- all the joints and fittings being painstakingly studied to make sure they were entirely invisible,
- the table rest which must leave plenty of leg room,
- the chair height and the height of the finished table surface which must be function-driven and curated down to the last millimetre, so as to ensure peerless proportions and complete comfort.
From a technical point of view, there were two big obstacles. The first one related to the structure of the table rest which had to be able to bear the weight of the table top (when folded), support the overhanging leaves (when opened out) and serve as a counterweight when the table is being extended.
The second conundrum regarded the opening and closure system of the leaves using runners and collapsible raisable panels which also needed to be stored within the table top when it was closed; the final thickness had to comply with functional standards as well as being pleasing to look at and well proportioned.
The concept behind the aesthetics
The surrounding décor conjures up the oriental elegance of Zen gardens.
“After a period of research which focused on the theme of Japanese gardens, I executed a series of sketches, keeping the original idea at the forefront of my mind at all times. Eventually, I came up with something that seemed perfect to me.
The shape of the table top was an aspect that preoccupied me - I wanted a softness there - a piece with rounded ends that conveyed a sense of energy. Taking an oval figure as a base, I then elongated the lines until I obtained the right degree of rotundness along the entire length of the table top. This gave me a real sense of dynamism and helped me to achieve what I was after - to whittle down the surface area, giving it a lighter and less static appearance.
The top had to be thick enough to be able to contain all the various bits and workings, so I thought about the wings of an airplane and their streamlined elegance. Then I added a bevelled edge around the table top which enhanced its slenderness, accomplishing a perfect perspective and enough thickness for it to do its job.
The materials used: walnut wood was already present in the room and so it seemed to be the ideal choice for the table; the veneered surface with purposeful streaking has been assembled in an X shape and merges harmoniously with the spirit of Zen gardens. It strikes an ideal balance between the sharp contrast of the random striations on the top and the crisp geometric lines of the assembled structure.
Then I elevated the walnut surface with a sleek trim detail in shiny stainless steel. Set in the main structure of the table, this slinky metal element glints silver and ripples in the light, raising the design to new heights and, as I see it, standing for the essence of water - the core concept behind Oriental Zen gardens.
The table rest: when the table assumes its rightful place and is encircled by armchairs, its rest will be very unobtrusive. A statement piece of furniture like this must be approached by the designer in the same way a couturier lines a suit. Behind the effortless elegance and seeming understatedness of a well-cut garment there often lurks the vivid imagination of an artist who leaves his own subtle mark. Somehow, the intrinsic identity, the pleasure of creation and the rarefied image in the mind's eye of the author are part and parcel of the finished product which the wearer exhibits with such pride. Without ever neglecting the technical and functional aspects of my task and taking the “Karesansui” as my polestar, I kept this concept firmly in my mind as I worked on this project.
The spherical shapes instantly captured my imagination and glistening stainless steel came to mind (tapping into the circles and random curves that are to be contemplated in water-inspired Japanese rock gardens). Thus, I intensified the circular elements going in different directions (vertical and oblique) so that they were all attached to each other and interdependent. I also increased the rests on the floor and beneath the table for a question of improved weight distribution.
The end result was a carefully balanced succession of intertwined rings. It may initially seem that these rings are arranged in a haphazard manner according to some abstract design, but, when viewed from above, a perfectly drawn cluster of symmetrical spirals is more than apparent.
Each one of these unique features (some quite tangible, whilst other more ethereal) went to make up this original piece of furniture.
Now all that was left for me to do was to find a name for this standout creation: “Rond-Sansui” seemed to fit it perfectly as it summed up its soul and its silhouette.”
Choosing the right artisan
The next stage involved choosing a firm which would be able and willing to take on the responsibility for creating such an unusual object.
This kind of project does not just entail all those skills required of ordinary furniture builders. It wasn’t only a matter of good woodwork or joinery - however good he might be, a normal cabinetmaker would simply not fit the bill; what was needed was someone who also had expertise in wrought-iron work otherwise it wasn't going to work.
Clearly, we needed to get in touch with a professional firm, but it had to be one that would pay great attention to detail and all those finishing touches that are paramount for a luxury item.
So in his determination to ensure that the project was a success, these were the main considerations that led the architect to choose Cantori to implement his design.
“We first met at the “Maison et Objet” fair; I took a look at their product range - their fine skill set and the upscale nature of their merchandise were apparent from the way they used several materials to manufacture one single object, their impeccable finishing standards, painstaking technical approach and unquestionable know-how.
It seemed quite natural to ask them if I could task them with creating this unique object for me.”
Turning the dream into reality
It took 22 months’ work to turn this project into something real and concrete.
Over this period of time, there were a host of different steps to get through and things needed moving around or swapping: for designing the implementation plans, for the 3D model, for choosing the materials and the right finishes and for completing and validating the 1:1 scale tests until the product was finally approved.
“This fantastic adventure would never have seen the light of day without everyone's contribution. I am immensely grateful to each and everyone who helped to make it come about - so thank you to:
- the customer who was the driving force behind the whole thing;
- the famous architect who designed this fantastic home with all its ingenious daylighting and provided me with a source of inspiration for my “Zen garden” theme;
- the architectural firm AAC of Cannes for whom I devised and created the interior design and décor of this marvellous mansion to which the furniture and this exceptional object belong;
- the company Universal Décoration without whom the logistics of the furnishings would not have been possible;
- the Cantori company with its entire staff - for its professionalism, know-how and immense cordiality.” concludes Mr Grangeon.
THE ARCHITECT - RAPHAEL GRANGEON: Raphael Grangeon
Raphael Grangeon is an architect, planner and interior designer based in Cannes in the South of France. His main focus is on luxury homes which he elevates with a markedly modern twist and a timeless yet innovative slant.