Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec

Bringing together contrasting materials and a simple form, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec have created a statement sofa that offers solidity, versatility, comfort and contemporary style, with a slim steel frame and deep upholstery. 

For fans of contemporary design, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec need little introduction. The Bouroullecs are unbound by the conventional parameters of furniture design, extending out into exhibitions, installations, pavilions and small architectural projects. Each of their designs reflects an awareness of the use of space. Over the past 20 years, the brothers have made a name for themselves with designs that express a carefully considered balance between the rational and the emotional – an approach that is perhaps reflected in their decision to maintain a studio in Paris and a workshop in Brittany, where they grew up. This relationship is echoed in the combination of industrial materials, design languages and traditional craftsmanship in their work, or as Ronan puts it, the “elementary, almost ancestral, manufacturing methods which produce diversity”. Each design is an attempt to find something new, by revising an archetypal structure or through innovations in technology and manufacturing, and – despite usually knowing where they want to get to with a project – they embrace a kind of naivety towards their objects and spaces wherever possible.

The unlikely inspiration

“There never is a precise source of inspiration in any of our designs, even if obvious references can be found in each of them,” explains Ronan. “In particular, our diverse and common passions for Native American objects, American design, but also medieval design, and of course furniture by Prouvé, Perriand, Le Corbusier, architecture, and Japanese design.”

Today, the Bouroullec brothers are among a handful of names regularly cited by other designers around the world as a reference and inspiration. With their time stretched between manufacturers and clients all over the world, pinning the designers down for a studio visit can be hard work. But the relationship between the Bouroullecs and Established & Sons is not just work – it’s a long-standing friendship that has been built over ten years and three collaborations, developed in “absolute and total harmony” explains Ronan.

“In general, we work with very few furniture companies,” says Ronan. “With Established & Sons, we see that we share the same philosophy, the same passion for creative freedom, for constructive rigour, for a certain form of freshness, away from purely industrial and marketing criteria.”

For Established & Sons’ 2018 collection, launching at Milan design week, the brothers have created Cassette, a sofa that has been four years in the making. It is an evolution of a basic principle that was explored with one of those earlier collaborations, the Quilt sofa from 2009. Now a 21st-century design classic, the honeycomb-upholstered Quilt grew out of the idea of creating a seat that was as welcoming as a duvet or a blanket. Quilt offered the best of two worlds in Erwan’s eyes: “There are two kinds of sofas: there are the Italian sofas; the design sofa which is quite often not so comfortable with a low back and flat surface. It is incredibly clean and it is for the white cube apartment. And then you see the local sofa; it is more comfortable, usually the form and the padding is bad quality but it will have a high back, a good profile. I think in the design world things can 53 become a little too formal and lost. We are more interested in bringing a particular comfort and creating something that at least will hold a lot of the body.”

At first glance, the relationship between Cassette and Quilt might not be obvious. Where Quilt has curves and is covered in plush, bouncy upholstery, Cassette has straight lines, with an entirely exposed structure and deep, rectangular cushions. But it offers a different kind of flexibility – Ronan suggests taking the generous cushions off the sofa and arranging them on the floor to create a bed – and there is no compromise on comfort.

“Between Quilt and Cassette, it is not obvious which one is the most comfortable,” says Ronan. “In French, a cassette means a small box in which to lock up something precious. A sort of case, a cocoon. This is our message with this sofa. To make it a kind of alcove, a sofa to gather on.”

“We first thought of the project four years ago, and it stuck in a corner of our minds, as is often the case,” he explains. “The idea with Erwan was to create a sofa, but most of all something new, very uncomplicated, very different, and that would look nothing like what we had done so far. Cassette is a complete and transversal object, a condensed precision.”