The Minimalism in Ornamentation : Making a comeback to bolster design and conquer new markets
The Minimalism in Ornamentation
Making a comeback to bolster design and conquer new markets
Jean-Marc Barbier, June 3, 2019
Special Feature

After several decades during which minimalism has dominated design, ornamentation is finally coming out of its purgatory. This is the consequence of free, creative inspiration and has been helped by the development of new technologies that are continually pushing back the boundaries of what is possible. As a differentiating and value-adding factor, it is proving increasingly popular with consumers - and they are more and more aware of it. Last but not least, in a global market France is entirely justified in using its historic expertise in matters of ornamentation and the decorative arts.

"Heat wave" radiator, design by Joris Laarman, Droog Design
Archaeologists see the advantages of ornamentation and rightly so, because the field of exploration is so vast. Excavations in Asia Minor have brought to light painted vases, some shaped like women with inlaid obsidian for eyes, that date back to between 5,500 and 5,000 B.C. This puts the geometrically shaped pottery of the Greeks from around 1,000 B.C. in the shade in terms of its historical importance! One thing is clear: every civilisation obviously feels the need to decorate objects in ways that change over time. Sculpted, painted and marquetry furniture is also, by its ornamentation, a means of expressing regional craftsmanship and of representing power. The great silver furniture from the courts of Europe on display at the Château de Versailles last year (November 2007 - March 2008) is a wonderful example of this. “Incidentally, it was during the 18th century, before the rise of workshops (which would only be seen to produce luxury goods today), that the profession emerged that would come to be known as ornamentalist in the 19th century,” says Stéphane Laurent, a lecturer at Paris University 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. “It would be more precise to talk about designers who were part of the King’s private staff such as Berain or Meissonier; the former was famous for his grotesque creations, the latter as the inventor of the rocaille style. Yet it is as early as the 16th century and the rise of printing that we can see the emergence of a need to make compilations of models so that jewellery and other fashion accessories can be continually renewed.”

"Heat wave" radiator, design by Joris Laarman, Droog Design
In (stately) homes, one style followed on from another, much to the joy of cabinetmakers. First shells, then fluting and finally lion’s paws; ornamentation set the tone. Nevertheless, Percier and Fontaine, who laid down the annals of the First Empire, began to worry from 1812 onwards that industry might start to make the ancient canon - their spearhead - a common occurrence by producing furniture in base materials and at a lower cost. The idea that the tastes of the few might crumble when confronted with those of the many had already encouraged Kant in his Critique of Judgment (1790) to define his principle that only a few selected people had the necessary refinement!

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