Innovation in furniture doesn’t always work, as even such a genius as Thomas Alva Edison found out, when he tried promoting furniture made of a special light cement. But the consumer wants modern. One company head has managed by aligning the customer demands, designer talent and sustainable materials.
An architect for 20 years, one who headed a team of 20 people, Nicolas Roche achieved success on his own away from the family business. When the founders of Roche Bobois decided to retire five years ago, Nicolas was finally persuaded to step into the shoes of his father and uncle. In fact, he had not been totally removed from the enormous success of the family empire. His architectural firm designed the spaces for several Roche Bobois stores, allowing him insight into the furniture business from a less common but no less creative perspective. As he incisively indicates, “creating objects is always the story of shapes, colours, materials, and style.”
This basic tenet serves Nicolas Roche well in his capacity as head of Roche Bobois’ contemporary line of furniture. As a business born in the 1960s, “the essence of Roche Bobois is contemporary furniture,” says Nicolas. “Many customers indicated an interest in mixing old furniture and new creations, so we thought it would be interesting to provide the answers.” This is how the Provinciales line came about.
A balance between materials and techniques, such as the specialised lacquer process, is crucial. In some cases, more than one designer will be invited to work on a collection. When choosing one, relationships and familiarity are important. Roche knows he can trust such designers as Christophe Delcourt, with whom he has been collaborating for as long as he himself has been working at the company. Not every outstanding designer is in the employ of Roche Bobois, though. “There are other people. We see their work for other companies and we ask them if they would like to collaborate with us if we feel their style is compatible with our DNA and that person understands our market.”
To find good designers, the company is willing to look far and wide. “We take talent from everywhere, we have a design competition every two years,” says Roche emphatically. “The first one – 2009 – took place in China intentionally, because the Chinese are very creative people.” It was a good choice. This competition resulted in many collections from Chinese designers of all ages. One of the designers discovered in China is Beijing Academy Of Arts graduate Song Wen Zhong, creator of Roche Bobois’ first-ever plastic injection chair, Ava, which has been in stores since this summer.
While Roche Bobois has looked toward Asia for creative input, it refrains from doing so for natural resources. The company keeps to European suppliers and manufacturers; all wood, for example comes from France, Portugal, and other places on the continent. Roche started to raise the issue of ecological awareness as soon as he entered the company. Up to that point, it had not been addressed by the previous management. “It started with the very famous Legend Collection by Christophe Delcourt, which was a huge success,” he remembers. “Now, we have new processes and new ways of thinking. Each time we have the opportunity to make a choice between one way to do it or another way that is more respectful of the environment, we choose the right one even if it is a little more expensive.”
Article by by Robert La Bua