Les Ateliers Courbet
New York’s dedicated master crafts incubator revs up for an auspicious season.
134 10th Avenue, New York
SET APART FROM New York’s myriad collectible design galleries is Les Ateliers Courbet, a unique platform committed to artisanal excellence and the contemporary interpretation of age-old techniques. This refined cabinet of curiosities celebrates the tradition and reinvention of European heritage manufacturers with a sumptuous inventory of objets d’art and a robust exhibition programme – featuring everything from wood-carved furnishings to meticulously-cast porcelain tablewares.
Les Ateliers Courbet’s roster includes renowned figures like Frank Gehry, Vladimir Kagan, Gijs Bakker and Aldo Bakker, amongst a slew of established talents. The gallery also acts as a strategic platform for prestigious producers such as Sèvres and Venini. With a focus on cleverly crafted yet minimal furnishings and luminaires, the 2020/2021 autumn-winter season brings the likes of Odile Decq, Martin Szekely, Raphael Navot, Bodo Sperlein, and Thierry Dreyfus to the Chelsea neighbourhood while debuting projects developed with recognised producers Nymphenburg, Lobmeyr, and Domeau & Pérès.
Several of these collections derive from collaborations the gallery’s founder and namesake Melanie Courbet has established over the years. The former consultant and art director has long-served as an impresario, introducing designers and artists to established brands and manufacturers to channel their expertise into unexpected applications.
“I established the gallery in 2013 to fill a void,” the gallerist recalls, “I’ve always been inspired by the master craftsman culture prevalent in my native France but felt that its story wasn’t being told in the U.S. context. I was particularly interested in exploring how artisans dialogue with designers and wanted to create a platform that would give these legacy manufacturers a chance to share their narratives. As the gallery evolved, I was able to initiate my own collaborations and design projects. The blessing in this approach is convincing heritage producers to push the envelope and try new things. I’ve built these relationships up to the point where they trust my opinion and are willing to take risks with me.”
By introducing renowned French artist Thierry Dreyfus to centuries-old Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg a few years back, Courbet was able to forge a fruitful alliance. Primarily known for large public light installations and fashion show scenographies, the artist was able to see one of his hitherto hidden design prototypes come to life in ceramics. Cast in porcelain, ‘B-Lamp’ evokes the movement of light and motion inherent in a Brâncuși sculpture – a far cry from the manufacturer’s well-worn figurines. Currently on view in the gallery as part of the Objets de Lumière exhibition, this limited edition design is joined by ‘Lamp H Rose’, a nod to the prickly porcupine, and ‘Book Lamp’, an imaginative play on the recognised typology.
“Dreyfus and I have been friends for over two decades, but it’s only in the past few years that I have been able to convince him to have his secret designs fabricated,” Courbet explains. “One of these concepts incorporates light in what appears to be the spine of the book. Placed on a shelf, the lamp can be pulled out to illuminate the books that surround it. What I like in each of his creations is the idea of experience. The light engages the user and invites them to slow down.”
Thierry Dreyfus, ‘Book Lamp’, 2020
COURTESY: Les Ateliers Courbet
“What I like in each of his creations is the idea of experience”
Thierry Dreyfus, ‘Book Lamp’, 2020
COURTESY: Les Ateliers Courbet
“The light engages the user and invites them to slow down”
Opening in November is a showcase of German designer Bodo Sperlein’s latest carved wood ‘Contour’ console and new ‘Script’ pendant lamp collection developed with Austrian manufacturer Lobmeyr. While the former continues an ongoing series Courbet first initiated, the latter represents the gallery’s continuing partnership with the heritage brand. The ‘Contour’ design was sculpted to resemble the sinuous lines associated with Art Nouveau architecture – produced by a British master cabinetmaker using the traditional Japanese Shou Sugi Ban technique. ‘Script’, meanwhile, incorporates bent silver and gold platted stems, in an ode to the Wiener Werkstätte movement. Both designs pay homage to Vienna’s rich design history.
“Sperlein is emblematic of the talents I like to work with,” Courbet describes. “His work is so closely informed by craftsmanship, but can also push the boundaries of traditional techniques. The new Lobmeyr collection is a mix of Adolf Loos and Koloman Moser interpreted with a contemporary twist.”
Rounding off the season in January, multifaceted upholsterer Domeau & Pérès will set up shop at Les Ateliers Courbet. Specialised in leather, the French luxury company is perhaps best known for its long-standing collaboration with leading designers Marc Newson and Andrée Putman. Courbet has worked with the atelier since 2005, prior to opening to Les Ateliers, and has often exhibited its internal projects – including a unique nonfunctional furniture series (inspired by Jacques Tati’s film, Mon Oncle), which debuted at Design Miami last December. This latest showcase will include new table, chair, and sofa designs by French heavyweights Odile Decq and Martin Szekely, and Israeli talent Raphael Navot.
“Domeau & Pérès embodies the rare combination of artisanal expertise and design literacy. It’s passionate and knowledgable about design history,” Courbet describes. “Over the past 20 years, the atelier has accumulated a substantial portfolio of its own designs with contributions by the Bouroullec Brothers, Philippe Starck, Pablo Renzo, and other big names. Their entire collection is now part of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.”
The craft-led manufacturer’s signature style is consistent elegance and simplicity, but discreet details that are detectable on closer inspection make all the difference. Szekely’s leather skin ‘Cornette’ chair is held together with one hidden tension and stitching point. Decq’s ‘U/O’ tables evoke the lines of her previous table design conceived for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 2001, while Navot’s organic ‘Moon’ sofa gets reupholstered in Loro Piana cashmere.
With these three exhibitions, Courbet is drawing increasingly on her skills as a facilitator. Having established a platform to display this unique type of design, she is now engaged in her own product development. Set to launch next year, Editions Courbet will take this approach even further. Through a biannual in-house design collection, Courbet will continue to connect designers and heritage manufacturers but entirely under the umbrella of Les Ateliers Courbet.
Les Ateliers Courbet – a New York-based design gallery noted for its distinct curatorial focus dedicated to the ongoing craftsmanship mastery and design legacies carried on by the contemporary artisans and centuries-old manufactures it represents.