Sauvans, a hamlet within the already small Provençal commune of Gargas (population: 3,000), is not where one would expect to find the manufacturer and restorer of the most beautiful lighting in the world. Yet it is here, in a sleek space that was once an ocher factory, that the firm Mathieu Lustrerie recently refurbished, to great acclaim, the majestic lustres of Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors and restored the Cornelius and Baker chandelier at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music to its former glory.
Régis Mathieu, the 37-year-old second-generation Lustrerie owner, didn’t set out to craft chandeliers. He studied business and started his professional life at the French bank Le Crédit Lyonnais. After taking over the Lustrerie in 1992, he enrolled in an MBA program. At the time, the company his late father had founded in 1948 was floundering, chandeliers having gone slowly but surely out of style. For a school project Mathieu decided to work on his plan for the family business and set it on a radically new course.
“Only three people were working here when I arrived,” Mathieu remembers. “We more or less started from scratch but with great machinery, terrific know-how, and help from my mother, who had kept the company memory alive.”
Bearing a catalogue of his products, Mathieu went to prospect in the Middle East, where he was encouraged to custom-tailor his chandeliers to his clients’ taste—which meant making them about four times bigger. With the help of Philippe Renaud, the Lustrerie’s creative director for nine years, he also updated the offerings to include a sleek new line that he designs himself.
As his client base grew, Mathieu approached the notoriously demanding Monuments Historiques, the national board that oversees the upkeep of France’s architectural heritage, and offered it his restoration services. It agreed, and one of the Lustrerie’s first assignments was to revamp the chandeliers at the president of Parliament’s official residence, the Hôtel de Lassay in Paris. Since then, the firm has worked on the Château de Chantilly, Rome’s Palazzo Farnese, and Paris’s hallowed Bibliothèque Mazarine, to name a few. It has also taken on projects for many private clients, doing everything from cleaning and rewiring to manufacturing replicas of missing parts.
By studying Mathieu’s extensive collection of historic fixtures, his team—now 25 strong—has developed a familiarity with chandeliers from across the ages. This knowledge comes in handy when antique models need to be re-created from, say, a one-line description reading “bucolic lantern with porcelain flower garland,” as was the case at Versailles’s Pavillon Français. Similarly, the restoration at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music was based on one engraving and a newspaper drawing of the building’s 1857 inauguration, so Mathieu embarked on a multistate tour of gaslight fixtures by the 19th-century Philadelphia lighting company Cornelius and Baker.
“Mathieu has such an understanding of how these things are made that I trust him implicitly,” says John Trosino, the designer who oversaw the project. “When he was here, he even bought a few Cornelius and Baker fixtures to bring home and take apart.”
Constructing the Versailles chandeliers led Mathieu to devise the Bougie Mathieu Lustrerie, an electric candle that gives off the same soft, warm halo as a flame. “We needed to meet the fire safety requirements and please the curators as well,” Mathieu explains. “When we ran tests there at night, we all agreed it looked no different from a real candle.” The Bougie has now become one of the company’s most popular products.
Likewise, the Lustrerie’s line of contemporary fixtures has been snapped up by Chanel, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton for their boutiques and events. The creations, which range from $3,000 to $100,000, are so popular with wealthy Russians that Mathieu recently set up a Moscow office. “Our chandeliers are like fine-jewelry watches,” he says. “They have a practical function, but mostly they are coveted for being beautiful objects made with sophisticated techniques.”
And like fine watches, Mathieu’s offerings attract private collectors as well as world-class decorators such as Alberto Pinto and Juan Pablo Molyneux, who are lured by the appeal of a unique yet traditional savoir faire applied to up-to-date designs.
Lately, though, Mathieu has been focusing on a project of his own: building a 32,000-square-foot space to display his collection of 17th- to 19th-century lighting. “It’s going to have huge windows,” he says, “and from the mountains opposite us, you’ll see nothing but chandeliers.”
To contact Mathieu Lustrerie, call the New York office at 212-683-2081 or go to mathieulustrerie.com.
Crystal Gazing: Restorations and New Creations
Lustre Orbite, a rock-crystal wheel from the Lustrerie’s contemporary collection, appears to float in air when lit. All prices upon request
Recently installed at Macau’s Ponte 16 resort, the 26-foot Golden Rain features 24 crystal “clouds” and 3,000 backlit “raindrops.”
The Lustrerie describes Petit Empereur, a four-foot-tall floor lamp, as a “vase that considers itself grown up.”
Charles Garnier designed this chandelier in 1865 for the Grand Foyer of his Paris Opéra. The Lustrerie restored it in 2004.
A 2007 creation by Mathieu, Lustre Eclipse has a silver-plated bronze frame strung vertically with rock-crystal beads.