Ronan Bouroullec: the test of the “marché aux puces”

A meeting with the French designer to discuss design and modernity. The occasion: the presentation of the Passage chair he designed for Kettal, a multifaceted project. And only seemingly simple

Ronan Bouroullec - Photo © Samuel Kirszenbaum

One of the strengths of an exhibition such as the Salone del Mobile.Milano is that it is a great opportunity to meet important figures in the world of design. Very often face to face, as it is very difficult to do during the rest of the year. The opportunity to speak with Ronan Bouroullec was offered to us by Kettal, who together with the French designer presented this year’s Passage seat: an indoor/outdoor project suitable for public spaces or homes, with an aluminum frame and back and a seat that can be made of aluminum, wood, fabric, woven straw, webbing or rope.

Adagio by Mutina, design Ronan Bouroullec

Good morning Ronan, how is the salon going?
I would say fine: I have been to Bar Basso (the watering hole of all designers during Milan Design Week, ed.) twice, on Sunday and Monday (smiles).

A very good strategy. On a less mundane front, what are you presenting this year?
Besides this project for Kettal, there are ceramic wall tiles (made with Mutina), rugs for Kvadrat, some modifications/extensions of projects I did for Magis. I like doing things that are different from each other: traditional or industrial ceramics, televisions, furniture. Passage is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: a versatile piece that can work both indoors and outdoors. I think we have succeeded, because all the versions look very good to me. That almost never happens; there is always one that is better than the others. But this time everything seems to have its own reason for being. There are technical differences: there is the all-aluminum one, designed to last 50 years in a garden in Brittany. But there is also the upholstered one, to be placed around a table in a living room where comfort is required. It’s a very refined chair, I think, with precise details.

Magis, Salone del mobile 2024 – Photo © Valentina Casalini

Was that the starting point?
The theme was quite simple, basic: to design something that would allow you to sit properly and with a certain elegance.

Speaking of simple things, what do you think is “good design” today?
It is complicated to define. For me, good design is the right answer in the right context. What I like about being a designer is that you are a generalist working with specialists. The question is to find the right answers, right for the company and right for the use that will be made of it. It is not hard to have an idea. It is more difficult to have the right idea for the context that requires it.

Passage chair by Kettal, design Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec
Passage chair by Kettal, design Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec

And what do you think makes an object modern?
It is the differences, which can be in the details. Design is about big questions, new problems and inventions. But, as in literature or poetry, it is often about seemingly small things. It is about the juxtaposition of ideas, the rhythm, the punctuation. For a designer, it is the associations of materials or colors, a certain delicacy.

It is a very sophisticated definition. Where do you think design is going?
It’s hard to say. We are in a totally fragmented world, and I think that applies to design as well. A few decades ago, the question of modernity was quite clear. There were different directions, but not many. Today we have access to different and new things. A total explosion. Just like with information, for better or worse: there is fake news, but there is also fake design. Today it is mainly about the sustainability of things, at all levels: if they are well built, if the workers are treated well. Good design is also about that. When I design an object, I also imagine it in 50 years, at the “marché aux puces”, the flea market. And I hope that, like an old pair of jeans, the patina, the slightly faded paint, the scratches will give it an interesting soul and poetry.

The world of design events is changing. Do you think Milan is still relevant?
I’ve been coming here for about 30 years, and each time it’s like getting a snapshot of the (historical, creative) moment we’re living in. I really like the fairs, they are like worlds. You concentrate on the things you are interested in. When the fair was in the city, the connection with everything around it – the student exhibitions, the Triennale, the installations – was even more organic. Today, it’s true that other events are emerging. I think that’s good: it’s interesting to have competitors. It forces us to do things better.

Ronan Bouroullec portrait