French furniture designer Fabien Ferreri (also known as Villard) was born in Paris in 1967. He first completed a Bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Paris Il-Assas, before switching to the Ecole du Louvre, where he graduated in 1990. Villard’s first passion was cinema and he explored the different facets of the field in the early part of his career, working as an editor, director, and, finally, producer in the French film industry. He had, however, always harbored a love for architecture and design—a passion that led him, from 2008, to produce a series of documentary films on architecture, design, and the “savoir-faire of art craftsmen,” as Villard puts it. He and his team traveled the world filming the series, which ultimately led Villard to Japan, where he was first introduced to the Japanese craft of Shou Sugi Ban.
The technique is thought to have been developed in the 18th century as a practical method for water- and weather-proofing wood used for fences or rural homes, as well as on wooden containers for storing valuables and perishables. Shou Sugi Ban is actually the Westernized term for the traditional craft, which in Japan is referred to as yakisugi. The technique involves burning the outer layer of wood—usually, Cedar—to render it fire-resistant, water-repellant, less susceptible to weathering from the sun, and even makes the wood less vulnerable to pests, fungi, and other rot. In Japan, the technique tends to have a quaint or country connotation and is not often used in high-end design, but in the West, it is seeing a surge in popularity not only for the practical and functional aspects but also for the rich and beautiful finishes that can be created. In taking up this time-honored craft when he established his studio L’Atelier Villard in Paris in 2017, Villard joined renowned designers like Maarten Baas, who used a similar technique on his Smoke (2014) series.
Villard, however, draws inspiration for more than just the artisanal finish of his pieces from Japanese traditions. In pieces like the Sabi No. 1 Console Table (2017), the square ‘end-wood’ insert is an aesthetic reference to traditional Japanese architecture, which was heavily reliant on a central wooden pillar; the Daikoku Bashira. Villard has disengaged the feature from its structural purpose and claimed it as an aesthetic trademark of his work. The motif recurs, for example, in the base of L’Atelier Villard’s collection of lamps—like Bashira Couleurs de Soleil (2017), which also incorporates artisanal, handmade washi Japanese patterned paper in the lampshade. Villard’s aesthetic is certainly a fusion of Japanese and French traditions and, with his focus on one-off, handmade designs clearly fits into the contemporary craft renaissance.