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Patrick Jouin on comfort, sensuality and why designing a chair is like writing a symphony

We sit down with multidisciplinary designer Patrick Jouin to talk about the appeal of blurred lines, the importance of sensuality – and why designing chairs is very much like writing music.

Patrick Jouin on comfort, sensuality and why designing a chair is like writing a symphony


August 31st, 2021

As Patrick adjusts the camera at the beginning of our video call, my eyes wander to the wall behind him. The simple horizontal shelving brims with books, photos, notebooks, artworks and knick knacks. There’s even a miniature cross-section model of a shark. The wonderful assembly of objects offers a small glimpse into the multidisciplinary practice of the designer, inventor and creator – a practice that manages to escape rigid definitions and keeps the delineations between design, architecture and art blurred.

Patrick prefers it this way. “I like being a little bit blurry,” he says with a smile. “I like everything! I like being creative, I like to invent and I like to be surprised,” he continues. Pointing to the rows of books behind him he says he also likes learning, even though his rich legacy makes it hard to believe there is anything else left for him to master – particularly when looking at some of the latest designs Patrick created for Pedrali.

Ila, Ester and Héra are all design masterpieces in their own right. Exuding striking beauty, exceptional attention to detail and comfort, they all have a certain look of effortlessness to them. But designing a new chair certainly isn’t as easy as the designer makes it look. “Designing an uncomfortable chair is,” he laughs. Likening chair design to composing music, Patrick says that there are seven notes which can be combined in billions of ways. “The challenge is to find a new song, a new chair,” he smiles and says that this part is easy for him. “It’s much more difficult to find a new form that works – that is original, comfortable and comes at a good price. The chair has to be comfortable. That’s its purpose.”

A striking island of softness

Ila, one of Patrick’s recent designs for Pedrali, is a true embodiment of comfort. The curved lines of the striking, sculpture-like silhouette cocoon around the user’s body, offering a sensation of refuge and softness. The inviting armchair was born out of the desire to expand the Pedrali seating family with a uniquely iconic piece and was named after the word “island”. Why? “I wanted to design a strong object that attracts attention, regardless of its surroundings. The chair is an island – you want to be embraced and protected by it; feel its softness and comfort,” the designer explains. The flexible construction of the chair adapts to the user’s body offering incredible comfort and further enhancing the allure of Ila’s micro architecture.

Designed as a sculptural object that can redefine a space, Ila comes with a range of bases, colours and finishes. The solid, cone-like swivel base reinforces the graphic character of the armchair, while the simpler base of four-legged steel tube frame achieves a more modernist outcome.

As of 2021, Ila is also available with a four-legged frame in solid ash wood, further advancing the versatility of the collection. “You can take out the headrest, play with different levels and combine smaller and bigger chairs, which creates an opportunity to alter the mood of a place. For an architect or a designer, Ila isn’t only a chair – it’s also another tool to change the ambience,” Patrick explains.

The chair as a vehicle for sensuality

The Ester collection has the same potential to transform space. Comprising a selection of stools, chairs, armchairs and poufs, the beautifully tailored selection was initially designed for a three Michelin star restaurant in London – Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester – which the collection also owes its name to.

In designing Ester, Patrick considered all the little moments that amount to the role of the object in a hospitality setting. “What happens when you arrive at the restaurant? What happens when a waiter or waitress moves the chair? What happens when you sit in it? And lastly, what happens at the end of the night, when everyone is gone and you have to clean the restaurant?” Patrick lists. By virtue of his ability to grasp the true context of the chair, today Ester adorns the interiors of some of the most luxurious restaurants around the globe. I ask Patrick what makes it such an obvious object of desire for those kinds of settings. He ponders for a moment. “Sensuality,” he finally answers. “Eating in a restaurant is a sensual experience. You are using your vision, your taste, your smell – and you’re eating with your hands. The chair has to be sensual,” Patrick explains.

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting setting for the soft and graceful collection than La Mamounia, an iconic hotel in the heart of Marrakesh. Particularly the Churchill Bar which – alongside other spaces, like Bar Marocain – was fitted out with Ester bar stools as part of the renovation by Jouin Manku studio. Their monolithic, satin bronze frame upholstered with cognac leather and finished with exquisite die-cast aluminium legs, complement the oriental ambience of the location, while enhancing the sensory experience. “Churchill Bar is a small, ultra intimate and extremely chic space,” describes Patrick, comparing it to an Orient Express train. “Because of that intimacy, Ester works in that context so well.” Made with the utmost attention to detail, the ergonomic, light and functional Ester is a pinnacle of Italian craft that – Patrick says – inextricably links the notion of quality to the idea of gastronomy.

The fluid form of solid wood

Héra conjures a similar idea of craftsmanship, comfort and tactility, but in a fluid and refined silhouette that celebrates the precious quality of wood. “After designing in plastic for many years I realised that’s not the material of the future. I had to move on,” says Patrick. “Wood is an incredible material that we have used for thousands of years – and will use it for thousands more. And now, with all the new CNC machines we get an opportunity to sculpt massive wood which means it’s become to design what plastic used to be.”

Patrick explains that the armchair finds itself at an intersection of the materiality of wood and new technology as it fuses etherealness, strength and comfort. The innovative 3D bent plywood backrest that’s only 6mm thick and slim legs with rounded edges demonstrate extraordinary precision, while minimising waste and decreasing the weight of the chair. “The idea behind Héra was lightness. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to carry,” he marvels.

This uncomplicated simplicity and natural appeal of the refined wooden silhouette was one of the reasons Héra was incorporated at Les Haras, a four star hotel in Strasbourg transformed by the Jouin Manku duo. A royal stables and a nun-run hospital back in the day, today Les Haras reflects some of the qualities of its past life. “We had this idea of simplicity and care, of a place where things are natural. With focus on pared-back simplicity, craftsmanship and quality, wood – and Héra – works very well,” Patrick describes. The armchair’s fitting profile can be found in the rooms, suites, and also the breakfast room.

Whether it’s Ila’s enveloping silhouette, Ester’s sensual design language or Héra’s fluid form, all three collections are a testament to Patrick Jouin’s incredible talent. They’re also an unmistakable proof that out of all the things the designer might still want to learn, inventing a unique, original, comfortable and attainable chair isn’t one of them. That skill he has mastered to perfection.

All three collections are available with Pedrali.

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