Domaine de Boisbuchet: Not Your Average Design Residency

Courtesy Domaine de Boisbuchet

With a focus on slow learning and outdoor classrooms, Domaine de Boisbuchet goes above and beyond.

Alexander von Vegesack, a descendant of Westphalian nobility and a collector of furniture, long dreamed of creating a space where people from around the world could come to study with preeminent designers, artists, and architects in the industry. Vegesack sold a part of his private collection to the Austrian government and in 1986 established the holy grail of nonprofit design residencies, Domaine de Boisbuchet.

He chose the setting, on a 15th-century former agricultural estate in the middle of the bucolic Charente countryside in southwestern France, because it was a place where nature would be the main source of inspiration for the works produced there. “Our idea of education is to put people in a different situation than they’re used to,” Vegesack says. “Sitting on the grass in the countryside allows you to think differently. You’re not in a classroom trying to defend your space.”

Every summer, Domaine de Boisbuchet holds some 30 weeklong workshops, with themes decided by a rotating cast of experts and materials provided by partners such as Hermès, Bernardaud, and Vitra. The classes offer a hands-on experience where participants tackle design problems alongside a group of professionals. “The idea is to become an expert in the inventive process,” says Detroit-based designer Chris Schanck, whose work has been used by architect Peter Marino. Schanck led a workshop this past summer in which students had to design an object out of organic materials partially sourced from Boisbuchet’s grounds.

Collaboration is essential to Vegesack, who plans a variety of workshops for the same week to encourage cross-disciplinary dialogue. He doesn’t insist that students be experts. The only thing he requires, along with the ability to speak English, is an open mind.