In Paris, another white house

Special to The Times

IT was an unseasonably fair January day outside the celebrated Maison & Objet design show, but inside the crowd was hit with a blizzard. “All this white!” said a textile designer from Connecticut, noting that the 1.8-million-square-foot exhibition that closed Tuesday had a decidedly monochromatic air, a sense of deja vu recalling a recent succession of seasons in which white, then black, then black and white, and then white again (with a side of black) have become the inevitable palette dominating European interiors.

“People are always coming in and saying, ‘I’m sick of color, give me white or black. Or gray!’ ” said a woman minding the Silvera booth, where a pearly sofa by Patrick Norguet shimmered soberly. Pointing to a nearby piece upholstered in shades of green, she added, “It looks great in the display, but people don’t necessarily want to live with it.”

If this year’s Maison & Objet offered few show-stopping surprises, at least the restrained palette gave focus to form, pattern and shadow. “There’s a lot of white now, but white that has a bit of texture,” Maison & Objet communications director Veronique Thouvenin said, reflecting manufacturers’ efforts to squeeze as much complexity out of white as they could, with varying degrees of success. The Italian company Bosa showcased faceted white or black vases as well as lamps designed by Jaime Hayon with a “soap bubble” base that, to some skeptics, looked more like a skin condition than a design innovation.

“White and black is a very simple and efficient chic base,” Thouvenin said, adding that for many people, luxury translates to space and light. Consumers are seeking “anything shiny, like patent leather or vinyl, that reflects the light. But it’s more sophisticated and less bling-bling -- unlike President [Nicolas] Sarkozy!” she said with a laugh, referring to the showy French leader nicknamed President Bling-Bling.


Metallics were indeed a trend held over from last year, seen on the matte silver handbags and gold snakeskin boots of the mostly black-clad international design set. The new bronze edition of architect Zaha Hadid’s Z-Scape furniture had a subtle but high-powered gleam. German designer Konstantin Grcic’s geometrically patterned Chair One from Magis looked fresh in shiny aluminum. The My Lazy Garden collection of sculptural objects from Alex Davis presented a range of high-gloss stainless steel cactuses, cherry blossoms, orchids and creepers -- the ultimate zero-maintenance garden for the urban dweller.

Other pieces cast beguiling shadows, thanks to cutouts and patterns. The white Avril table designed by Fred Rieffel for Kollection looked like an abstract set of floating lily pads silhouetted by the light above. The Nett chair from Crassevig cast a web on the floor with its intricate crisscrossing.

Pattern played a major role in challenging the conventional wisdom of the straight-lined bookcase. Bright white bookshelves from Ligne Roset had an off-kilter geometric grid. The Pattern bookshelf designed by Alfredo Haberli for the Dutch label Quodes sported pentagonal dividers that hinted of a human form in the way they were arranged, much like a cloud might yield the faintest resemblance to a face. A surprising bookshelf from French design duo Parsy Debons started out conventionally at the top but went wobbly at the bottom, the shelves appearing to buckle under the weight of whatever they must bear.

Color may not have been the star of the show, but the news from Paris was not all black and white. Missoni Home showed wildly patterned bedding, and Emu launched a series of Patricia Urquiola-designed outdoor iron chairs that were colorful, exaggerated riffs on 1950s style. Paris-based Ateliers Philippe Coudray showed its flair for reviving traditional French furniture with colorful photographic upholstery of urban landscapes or grazing cows while also offering a high-backed sofa in graphic black and white. The Italian company Lago presented N.O.W. (Not Only White), customized wall storage units made of modular strips in a rainbow of tasteful colors.

Though the looks of years past seemed to linger throughout Maison & Objet, hints of change were evident. A group of interior decorators, architects, artists and other design professionals that produces Maison & Objet’s forward-thinking “inspirations” installations worked off the concept of oneiric, which means “dreamy” or “dream-like.” The book created in conjunction with the installations featured a cover with a white rabbit meant to evoke the creature that lured Alice down the hole.

“Next season will be about the re- enchantment of the house, the marvelous, the strange,” Thouvenin said. At one installation, the wooden slats of the Banc Spaghetti bench from Pablo Reinoso seemed to melt at one end, then climb the wall like sprouting vines. The “Pools & Pouf” installation from Robert Stadler looked like an exploded black Chesterfield sofa, with amorphous leather pieces dotting the room, some little more than tufted floor cushions.

By Day 2, in another installation that consisted of a series of all-white rooms, the carpet had been dirtied by the soles of the 100,000 designers, buyers, journalists and other trade professionals roaming this vast stage of plush sofas and tantalizing cashmere-draped beds -- most meant to be admired, not touched.

In a largely blank room with nothing but a giant white bed, a mesmerizing video showed an animated sea creature swimming across the ceiling in a “virtual design” from Here was one place where people did sit, lie back and daydream -- a grace note amid the cacophony and the commerce.