Even though Francesco Balzano has been in business only since 2018 and still works out of a two-room apartment near Parc Monceau, he has already become a name among local design aficionados.
He likes to think of his furniture as sculpture. “I’m interested in creating unique pieces that border on art,” says the 39-year-old. He tends to favor simple, beautifully proportioned forms and natural materials inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture. His travertine Intero I table has a sleek drum-like shape, while his green marble Olympe stool resembles an antique column.
Balzano, who is represented by Studio Twenty Seven in New York and Miami, designed a new showroom for marble specialists Les Marbreries de la Seine, which opened last fall with an exhibition of his limited-edition pieces. Christened Dolce, the line consists of a bench and a series of statuesque tables made from dappled marble with khaki and mauve accents.
Balzano is part of the next wave of designers, dealers, and entrepreneurs disrupting the Paris scene, which has long been highly insular and dominated by marquee names such as Philippe Starck, whose neon-infused and humorous takes on products and interiors set the tone for what was expected. “He had such an aura that it was difficult for a new generation to follow on from him,” says Sophie Dries, who trained with famed interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch and is now represented by Milan’s prestigious Nilufar gallery.
Now armed with 21st-century methods of production and communication—think craft-driven, small-batch wares catapulted around the world via social media rather than mass-produced products that rely on the cycles of commercial trade fairs—designers like Balzano and Dries are riding this wave.
Ten years ago there were few Parisian designers creating limited-edition furniture and objects. These days, however, there are seemingly dozens of them, many with a similar aesthetic language. They favor a lack of ornamentation, working instead with simple geometric shapes that are combined to create delicately balanced pieces. “There’s an aspiration for rigorous, pure elegance,” says 31-year-old Joris Poggioli, whose designs, like the stainless steel Apollo chair and the Thalie console, made from white Estremoz marble, are sold at Aybar Gallery in Miami.
That elegance comes from a focus on materials as well as a passion for craftsmanship. “The relation is no longer that of a designer, who draws an object by hand and has it made by a craftsman,” says René-Jacques Mayer, the director of École Camondo, the prestigious decorative-arts school whose alumni include Starck and Pierre Paulin. “There’s now a real collaboration between the two.”
Léa Padovani and Sébastien Kieffer of Pool Studio regularly develop new designs, such as their Tambour console, a collaboration with François Pouenat, a metal-smith who has done restoration work at Versailles. “When we create a piece, we like to have an exchange, rather than it being just a one-way discussion,” says Padovani.
The very nature of such exquisitely handcrafted pieces fits in with the current trend for collectible designs. “There is a real need for things that are rare and exceptional,” says Éric Sode, who offers limited-edition furniture and objects by budding stars like Forest & Giaconia and Martin Massé through his firm, Archimobilier.
At the same time, it’s becoming easier for emerging talents to produce their own work. Instead of spending weeks or months developing a prototype, designers like Balzano can present their creations to clients using realistic 3D images. And even those who prefer to make their own pieces are eschewing the traditional gallery system. In September, Poggioli rented a temporary space in the Marais to sell pieces from his second collection, Eden Paradiso.
Pierre Gonalons has been producing his own work for the past 15 years and has experienced a clear evolution. “At the beginning, people criticized me,” he says. “They said a designer shouldn’t be involved in the commercial side of the business.” Still, he believes that working independently has its limits, because galleries help talent reach a different kind of clientele.
And an increasing number of galleries are doing exactly that. Kolkhoze, founded in 2016 by Thibaut Van den bergh and Thomas Erber, connects many of these young French talents, including Balzano and Poggioli, with clients such as L.A. über-decorator Kelly Wearstler and Studio KO, the architects who created the Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakech. At Galerie JAG, located near the Eiffel Tower, Jessica Barouch has commissioned exclusive works from a handful of emerging designers, such as a series of cocktail tables by Frédéric Imbert and a sofa by Emmanuelle Simon. “My aim is to create unique pieces with designers who are closest to my aesthetic universe,” she says.
With his brand, Collection Particulière, former journalist Jérôme Aumont focuses on “fine materials and finishes, rather than on radical design.” You can see that in the works he produces, like those of Dan Yeffet, Samuel Accoceberry, and Aumont’s partner, Christophe Delcourt, all of whose pieces can also be found at galleries like the Future Perfect in New York and Oliver Gustav in Copenhagen.
While the designers Aumont showcases are still finding an audience with French buyers, Poggioli estimates that at least 90 percent of his clientele is foreign, mainly from the United States.
Many of Sode’s American clients shop his collection without even seeing the pieces in person. “I think they’re reassured by the French touch,” he says. “When something’s made in Paris, it almost automatically has a seal of quality.”