Back for an Encore
A Haworth furniture designer, Emmanuel Dietrich, returns to outfit the company’s historic Paris building
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 5/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
On a wall at Haworth's office in Paris is a quote from Dick Haworth, son of the company founder. In French, it reads: "Never underestimate the power of space in transforming your business." Transforming space is very much Haworth's business. In France alone, office clients as major as Société Générale have benefited from the Michigan-based multinational's planning skills and furniture offerings. Some of those pieces are by Dietrich Factory's Emmanuel Dietrich, making him an ideal choice to design the Paris office.
Though the ultrachic Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré was the location of the former office, Dietrich recalls it as being "full of corridors and partitions." As marketing director Marion Toison asserts, "We needed something a lot larger to showcase the different solutions we propose." What Haworth found is a place that is not only immense but also exquisite. It was built to house the workshops and office of one of the greatest wrought-iron craftsmen of the 20th century, Edgar Brandt. Among his most prestigious projects were a monumental staircase at the Musée du Louvre and the main gate to 1925's Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. He also designed weapons and became world-renowned as the inventor of the 81-millimeter mortar, still in use.
Municipal authorities almost immediately conferred an award on the 1920 building's facade, praising its "simplicity and perfect taste." Today, numerous elements are landmarked, some created by Brandt himself. His wrought-iron banister features olive-tree, pine-cone, and grape motifs. The parchment-covered walls and Macassar ebony doors to his office are also intact.
For Dietrich, who lives in Switzerland, the building is quintessentially French. "What is beautiful is that it was built at the cusp of the art nouveau and art deco periods," he says. The florals of the former style combine with the more rigorous geometrics of the latter. He says he furthermore likes the resemblance to a mansion: "Having a ‘house' in Paris rather than just a boutique or one floor of a building gives the brand a lot more impact."
In configuring the four levels, totaling 15,000 square feet, he and Haworth designer Véronique Leveau relied on an activity based approach. Few employees have fixed workstations. Most choose between environments depending on the tasks assigned. If they require concentration, there's a "library" with an octagonal communal desk. "It's a configuration that creates great tranquillity," Dietrich says. Informal meetings can be held in various lounges. The basement, meanwhile, is largely devoted to leisure activities: a billiard table, an electronic dartboard, and television as well as the kitchen that prepares meals for the staff cafeteria and the VIP guest dining room.
Dietrich's interventions complement the building. "We tried to find something that's as strong visually-but is neither an imitation nor at odds with the architecture," he explains. Throughout are bursts of bright color. A vibrant patchwork of felt-covered acoustical panels keeps echoes at a minimum in glass-box meeting rooms, for instance. He chose subtler tones for the bands that run across the ceiling and down a wall in an office area nicknamed the "trading room." Sales assistants, not bond traders, work here. To Dietrich's mind, though, the stripes are a nodding wink to the Paul Smith shirts worn at the stock exchange.
Witty references abound. The graphic identifying a men's room is a head with a Hercule Poirot-style moustache. Signage is full of puns, too. In a parquet-floored multipurpose room known as the "ballroom," a phrase emblazoned in large white stickers on a taupe wall invites onlookers, "Join in the dance!" For the training sessions and presentations that take place in the room currently, the exhortation is merely metaphorical. It may, however, become reality. Haworth is thinking of organizing staff salsa classes.
CURIUS: GRAPHICS CONSULTANT. CÉCILE AILOUD: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
BUZZISPACE: WALL TILE.
ECOPHON: CEILING SYSTEM (MULTIPURPOSE ROOM, BOARDROOM, CAFETERIA).
KENZO: PENDANT FIXTURES (LANDING, VIDEOCONFERENCE ROOM).
FLOS: LAMP (DINING ROOM).
PARRI DESIGN: STOOLS (CAFETERIA).
STÉPHANE DUCATTEAU: TABLES (SITTING ROOM).
KVADRAT: SOFA FABRIC.
TOULEMONDE BOCHART: RUG.
KONINKLIJKE PHILIPS ELECTRONICS: CEILING FIXTURES.
SOMFY: CUSTOM WINDOWS.