Imparting Consciousness Through Creation And Storytelling: A Conversation With Designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance – ADC
Simplicity of line, respect for the past, and a narrative deeply rooted in nature are some hallmarks of renowned French designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance. His latest project—‘Bronze & Beeswax’—is no exception. A striking, minimalist collection of candleholders, it celebrates the coming together of heritage, industrial design, natural forms, as well as local craftsmanship. During our visit to his studio in Lisbon, Made in Situ, we caught up with the designer to have a run-down of his latest creative undertaking, unpack its narratives, and reflect on a changing world.
A studio-meets-gallery space tucked into a quiet street of Lisbon’s vibrant neighbourhood Principe Real, Made in Situ is where the French designer showcases his distinctive design ethos—one rooted in the treasures of a territory and its craftspeople. This is not our first visit here, and the place is no stranger to the pages of IGNANT—the design studio was featured not once but twice, for Noé’s ‘Barro Negro’ and his ‘Burnt Cork’ collection. Yet, we are always delighted to be back. Unpretentious and with a contemporary feel, it is a welcoming place, easy to have conversations in. “We wanted to create a space that captures who we are, a place where you could enter into our world and understand and feel what our brand is all about,” says Noé, as he welcomes us with a warm smile. Tastefully appointed with minimalist decor and a long desk, the place is one of openness and interaction, which instantly reminds you of the pleasure of physically working together.
Image © Devid Gualandris
Noé is particularly fond of this place and its context. “Portugal is a country rooted in traditions and with a deep connection to the land,” he says, as we amble through the exhibition on display. Abiding by his ethos and enchanted by the country’s geography, Noé settled in Lisbon in 2018. “I never thought that I would live here, but I always knew I wanted to live by the sea,” he confesses, adding that “the sea has always allowed me to dream and simply settle into the vastness of the horizon.” Before, the designer had lived much of his life in France, working across multiple disciplines and materials, including architecture, furniture, interiors, and objects. “It was a fantastic moment,” he adds, as he recalls departing from all the designs that overcrowded his Parisian flat and moving here. “To be suddenly surrounded by nothingness can instil a mentality where you feel totally free.”Five years later, Noé has fully immersed himself in his adopted country and learned to navigate a system that isn’t always easy. “I had to change my mindset and adapt my work approach,” he confesses. “I learnt very quickly that, here, people find it difficult to say no—there is a sense of obligation which comes at a cost: a blatant difficulty to keep up with deadlines,” he adds.
Opened in 2020, Made in Situ was conceived as a design laboratory to discover the country through its crafts and materials, and has since made its mark with limited collections of objects and furniture pieces that honor Portugal’s distinctive practices and craftspeople. “It is a platform where we invite people to be in direct contact with our work through sensory discoveries and experiences,” Noé says as his voice takes on an increasingly enthusiastic tone. Both a place and a brand, it expresses the designer’s ever-increasing familiarity with the country; however, “it is not about territory,” he is quick to point out. “It is about places and contexts, not nationality.”
Shaped by Noé’s travels across Portugal, the latest collect is deeply anchored in local craftsmanship
Despite striving to set itself free from locality, much of what is showcased here is deeply anchored in the local design and craft scene. The latest collection on display—a fascinating series of candleholders and candles in yellow and brown hues—is shaped by Noé’s many engagements with, and research travels across, Portugal. “The main inspiration behind it was an encounter I had near the city of Oporto, with a family who melted bronze in a foundry, just like they would have done a century ago,” shares the designer. “I felt transported to a different time. Watching the fire and bronze melting, I instantly thought of candleholders, with melting wax dripping down their sides,” he adds, reminiscing about the experience. Bringing the idea to life required a lot of research and unprecedented teamwork, culminating in a collaboration with a foundry outside Lisbon, in the fishing village of Peniche. The quest for the right candles extended instead further north to the international pilgrimage site of Fatima, where Noé and his team came across beeswax—a natural material for candles, which is very hard to find and produce in Europe. The designer’s intrigue for the latter eventually led to a beekeeper in Nisa, in northern Antelejo. “This was eye-opening,” he says; “we truly gained an understanding of the importance of bees in the global ecosystem, of the challenges of organic apiculture, and of how rare and precious beeswax really is.”
The result of such a strenuous yet exciting process is right before our eyes, displayed in a minimalist, almost ceremonial, setting of dimmed light and elegant, floor-to-ceiling curtains. Fifteen striking candleholders are divided into two families: Lux and Flux. The former comprises vertical bronze pieces of different heights and widths, each receiving a beeswax candle in their interior. “This is a tribute to light,” explains Noé. “I was inspired by the micro-architecture of the beehives, with the light breathing life and movement into the units. Here, as the light is mirrored in the golden walls, the pieces come alive with reflections.” The Flux series, instead, comprises both vertical and horizontal pieces and pays homage to the beeswax. A candle stands atop each piece; below it, an angled corridor welcomes the wax dripping down and which is solidifying against the bronze, becoming one with it. “I wanted the design to speak of the melting,” explains Noé, “of the opposition of fluidity and rigidity, and the process of going from solid to liquid and vice-versa.” As the wax lays on the golden bed, the piece acquires a new sculptural quality. “I wanted the melted wax to become part of the piece,” adds Noé; “it bears the memory of change, and it captures the beauty of alchemy.”
“I don’t see projects as an evolution of my practice. They are different moments, different chapters”
Luring you in with its many shifts in scale and form, the collection is utterly stimulating—and definitely something we hadn’t seen from Noé before. We learn that for the designer, every new project is a new story, unfolding with a new context, idea, and character. “I don’t see projects as an evolution of my practice. They are different moments, different chapters,” he remarks. “With each new undertaking, we encounter and work with new, different environments. I have to recreate all the systems around it,” he adds, noting how ‘Bronze & Beeswax’ took over two years to complete. “This is a collection shaped by the many challenges we found along the way, changed and remodelled along the path—the more we explored, the more difficult realities happened,” he says.
Much of Noé’s work is a test of limits and an ode to simplicity—one that belies bold ambitions and a sophisticated design process. With a reluctance to overdesign, his design language is never heavy-handed, yet it ensures that nothing is loosely orchestrated. “I always try to be as essential as possible in my products’ narratives. I like when objects speak for themselves, when they tell of their nature, purpose, and origins,” he says with fascinating confidence. “Sometimes, I use symbols or elements which are going to express that—sounds, for example.” Fundamental for Noé is also a sense of harmony, offset by disruption and tension. “For me, it’s about finding beauty in the contradictions that surround us. I design non-aggressive objects that play with oppositions,” he explains. The collection contains numerous examples of how the designer actively uses contrasts and antagonisms, expressed through starkly different aesthetics. “The exteriors are rough-textured, straight angled, and covered in a dark patina. This is counterbalanced by the look of the inside, which is luminous, polished, and rounded,” says Noé, highlighting how these oppositions can be read as metaphors of something greater—“they remind us that every intention and action has both a negative and positive impact.”
“For me, it’s about finding beauty in the contradictions that surround us. I design non-aggressive objects that play with oppositions”
Speaking with Noé, it becomes progressively clear that he is 110% committed to his creations. For him, the key to success has always been intuition. “I’ve always been quite instinctive. Enthusiasm is not always fruitful, yet it allows you to approach new ideas fearlessly,” he shares. “Coming from Brittany, anything new felt exciting. I think that’s what helped me. It never prevented me from starting something.” To call him an intrepid, adventurous soul would, however, be incorrect. “I’m ready to take risks, but I’m a perfectionist at heart,” he notes, chuckling. “Perfection is a very personal thing. I love the roughness and untamable nature of my materials. In a sense, that is imperfection. However, the beauty resulting from it must always be characterised by a certain degree of aesthetic perfection,” he further says.
The designer ensures that every new undertaking is also birthed with a cooperative mindset and an awareness of its context. Each project is a collaboration intrinsically nourished through exchange. “My starting point is always leaving the studio and meeting the people and the environments I’m going to work with,” he explains. “Observing and careful listening come second. The final step entails processing all the information and, if needed, consulting with sociologists or environmentalists.” For Noé, fully understanding the context he’s working with is routine. “We must always add another layer to the work; one that takes into consideration the impact of our project and what we are participating in,” he says. “We are living in a very strange world where we think that technology will save us from all the mass- and overproduction. Truth is, we are super fragile, and we are seeing that we are creating much more problems than we can possibly resolve,” he continues with a critical tone. “My goal is to recreate a sensible link with what we sometimes lose, which is the need to be grounded, to be rooted.”
Noé’s design language is not only rich with meaning but also with purpose. “With projects like this, we are interested in creating a sustainable ecosystem that would benefit local craftspeople, and put emphasis on local know-how and materials,” he explains. Respectfully, the studio doesn’t claim to be an eco-brand, nor strives to be one. “We are very conscious of what we are doing and our methodologies. That bees are disappearing is common knowledge. However, by approaching the beekeeper and understanding his life and the lives of bees, we impart a new consciousness—one that we try to share through storytelling,” he says. “Growing up in the country and living by the sea is what truly gave me a deep application for the environment,” shares Noé. “Socially and geographically far from bourgeoisie’s ideals and lifestyles, I grew up mostly in solitary, riding my bicycle in nature,” he continues. “This truly shapes you—it gives you time to think and create your own environment. Nature truly affects the way you see and perceive things. This still applies today. I need this sense of deceleration that nature so perfectly embodies,” he adds.
“Nature truly affects the way you see and perceive things”
Before we leave Made in Situ, Noé is eager to share his vision for the next decade—one entailing many more compelling ideas. “When Made in Situ was born, I approached it like chefs run their practice—surrounded by workers, and with the produce coming straight from the garden, just kilometers away,” he says. “I wanted to create a place where gastronomy and design hold hands. This is why we have both a kitchen and a workshop here,” he adds, pointing out an unobtrusive door, leading to a kitchenette populated by minimalist appliances and beautiful ceramics. “In the next few years, I hope to create a space that isn’t merely a gallery, but something more interactive—be it a cafe or a restaurant,” he continues. “Made in Situ is about creating experiences, first and foremost. One day, I dream of having a place where we can share our object’s stories and everything we do—the creative process, the emotions, the knowledge, the territory and the journey. Ideally, in a cozy setting, contemplating an open landscape of vast nature and reflecting on why things are made a certain way.”