A look into one of design’s most hallowed crafts that until recently had remained untouched for centuries.
One of carpentry’s most historic and celebrated techniques has finally emerged from the archives of time. Shaking off its traditional robes and association with the 16th century baroque, marquetry has become the latest technique to undergo a 21st century facelift.
Since its heyday during the reign of Louis XIV and a brief dalliance with the Art Deco period, marquetry slipped into antiquity and with the exception of David Linley, left unchallenged by the design industry. Largely due to the high level of craftsmanship and labour required to produce each piece, only now are a selection of the finest artisans beginning to explore the possibilities with fresh eyes and a contemporary approach.
SO WHAT IS MARQUETRY?
Marquetry generally refers to the use of inlayed wood and veneers within furniture and the decorative arts. Each piece is individually handcrafted and arranged to form intricate patterns that are then glued onto a wooden base. Whilst this may not sound particularly skilled, Howard Sansom of London based Aryma Marquetry (below right) explains the painstaking and multi staged process: “It is common for there to be many thousands of unique individual, tiny pieces of veneer in a single work, and we ensure every one fits perfectly in its place with minimal gaps between adjacent pieces.”
THE TRADITIONAL TRAILBLAZERS
Traditionally marquetry used wood veneers with accepted variations including straw, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell. Advances in modern technology that has proved popular in the bespoke materials and finishes industry, have allowed today’s artisans a far broader scope than their predecessors.
Those who have continued the craft in it’s traditional sense are few and far between and headed by the spectacular efforts by David Linley and Lison De Caunes. Linley’s expertise in this area has become somewhat of a signature for his brand. Whilst his early work in furniture and objet demonstrated marquetry in its true and historic form, his recent pieces are increasingly executed with a bold daring that has elevated his luxury brand to the forefront of the industry (above right).
Lison De Caunes, on the other hand, has remained true to tradition, although her technique is focussed in the more specialist area of straw marquetry. The significance of her work is best explained by Architectural Digest who commented that “rarely is an art form single-handedly resuscitated by one person, but in the case of straw marquetry, you could make a strong argument that Lison de Caunes has done just that.”
Straw marquetry (above left) differs ever so slightly from wood inlay approach but requires an even higher level of detail and craftsmanship. This extraordinary method is achieved by cutting open blades of rye straw, which are then flattening and adhered to a designated surface. The range of applications are similar to marquetry, ranging from jewellery boxes and furniture all the way to full scale murals. Her clients including Peter Marino and Jacques Grange have all applauded her intricate work with Parisian interior designer, Jean-Louis Denoit declaring “I can’t get enough of her work, the straw reflects light in an extraordinary way.”
MARQUETRY’S CONTEMPORARY REVIVAL
Marquetry’s contemporary revival arguably started in 2008 and attributed to Studio Job. The Belgian-Dutch partnership’s Baravia collection presented at Design Miami demonstrated an (at the time) radical interpretation of marquetry pieces. Featuring lazer-cut inlays and bright colours in indian rosewood, their designs were a world away from the classical motifs traditionally associated with this craft.
Their collection inspired several other artisans who have continued Studio Job’s lead. London based Bethan Laura Wood is one who has continued to push the boundaries of this technique. Much lauded for her Moon Rock collection (above right) in which she experimented with laminates and powered coated steel to create a design inspired by moon craters and the solar system. This illustrated a direct move away from the traditional themes of geometric patterns, landscapes and elegant florals. Similarly, Christine Meyer Eaglestone has begun to develop her own technique. Using marquetry not only as furniture, her collection of works includes functional pieces presented as works of art.
But it is not only the interiors industry that has caught wind of this trend. The luxury watch market has also begun to show an appreciation for the craft. Parmigiana Fleurier’s Tonda Woodrock Tourbillion used the technique to expertly form their dial using over 50 pieces of individually hand-cut, hand-dyed and hand-pieced wood veneers. This is by no means the only example with Patek Phillipe, Cartier and Hermes also trying their hand at marquetry and producing equally detailed models that perfectly encapsulates the craft’s elegant subtlety (above).
With this trend beginning to transcend markets it is becoming clear that marquetry, in all forms, is likely to remain at the forefront of design for a while yet. However one question remains unanswered: which industry will be next to succumb to this hallowed technique’s charm?