Milano Design Week

Salone del Mobile and Fuorisalone 2024

Ronan Bouroullec: “Designer? A word I don’t really like”

What happens when the two most famous brothers in the design world “divorce”? We met Ronan fresh from a monographic exhibition at the Pompidou and Milan Design Week.

“I learned a lot from Italy. Is it cliché to quote Ettore Sottsass?” This is how Ronan Bouroullec introduces Domus to the rooms of Casa Mutina, a brand he has been collaborating with for 15 years and with which he recently launched the “Adagio” series. Alone or with his brother Erwan, Bouroullec has collaborated with the most important brands in Italian and international design over the last 30 years. At the beginning of 2024, the partnership between the siblings, which began in 1999, peacefully dissolved.

Now Ronan goes solo. With a major exhibition at the Pompidou and this one at Milano Design Week. An aloof, sometimes mischievous, often unsettling character. Like when he talks about the role of the designer, who, he insists, “is not a lone hero”. In fact, he doesn’t even like to call himself a designer. “I don’t really like the term, and I don’t really identify with it.”

I love variety, ideas and inspirations that are always new, and I think the diversity of my references shows this well.

Ronan Bouroullec

“As designers, we are generalists who, for each project, work with specialists in different fields,” says Bouroullec. “We talk, we compare, we learn. This constant dialogue allows us to create designs and products that spread their quality beyond their physical limits.” Bouroullec refers to these objects as “atmospheric” because they “exist in the space that surrounds them and, in turn, modify it.” He further reflects, “I find myself in a state of constant research and questioning that sometimes brings me to the verge of schizophrenia.” Even in the words of a posed designer, there is room for a touch of exaggeration.

Andrea Branzi referred to the Bouroullec brothers as “representatives of a modernity that is fragile and diffused.” It’s a reimagined modernity that still aims to make a positive impact on reality but renounces preconceptions and thrives on contexts and dialogues. Ronan says he recognizes himself in this definition, belonging to “a crazy generation that traverses and interprets a world in constant movement and transformation”. He sees a clear distinction between the designers of the 21st century and those of the last. “A departure from the modern approach of the last century – a modern that allowed itself to be dogmatic and aimed at offering clear solutions to specific problems – is necessary and inevitable. I do not believe that being a designer is a magical profession. Instead, I believe that one can try to do things in the right and proper way, case by case…”

My curiosity leads me to approach new people, from whom I then gain insights and guidance to continue my explorations.

Ronan Bouroullec

Like Sottsass – “I admire his ability to exist between the worlds of craftsmanship and industry” – Branzi was an important teacher for Bouroullec. “Then, of course, the French, such as Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé, exponents of a modern way of thinking that is still necessary and useful today. And again Japan, I am thinking in particular of the work of Shiro Kuramata, whom I appreciate for his precision and ability to evoke atmospheres. I love variety, ideas and inspirations that are always new, and I think the diversity of my references shows this well.”

When asked by Domus to name the projects that have defined his career, Ronan Bouroullec hesitates. “I’m not quite sure how to answer that,” he admits. But there’s a reason, and it’s not just snobbery: “I don’t know if it really applies to the way I see my work.” Ronan prefers to think of his work as “an organic continuum, a series of propositions in dialogue with each other.”

In his approach to work and design, he says, there is a deep element of curiosity and, above all, “the many, often unexpected, encounters I have.” The two aspects, he explains, complement each other: “My curiosity leads me to approach new people, from whom I then gain insights and guidance to continue my explorations.”

Opening image: Ronan Bouroullec. Photo © Gerhardt_Kellermann

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