Q&A with EU design coordinator Jean-Philippe Bonnefoi

January 2016
With over 110 signature stores worldwide displaying their fine-quality hair, body and skin care wrapped in their characteristic graphic DNA, Australian Aesop is a brand impossible to overlook. While their retail scene has welcomed customers since 2003, the company’s European headquarters has been for ‘employees’ eyes only’. Until now, that is, when Aesop invites Vipp to install a kitchen in their new Paris office from where the company cares for the entire European continent.
Matching the standard of their signature stores, each individually conceived in collaboration with local studios, the 150-m2 office in Paris exudes the same attention to detail, interior design quality and smell of subtle aromas. Add to that the sound of opera filling the high-ceilinged rooms; this is a workplace that attends to all senses - like working in an Aesop retail store. Responsible for the development of new retail concepts, EU Design Coordinator, Jean-Phillippe Bonnefoi used his background as an architect to transform a classic Haussmann apartment to a modern office space employing 15 people.
Q: Describe your office?
A: We first visited the 17th century building at the beginning of last winter and were immediately seduced by the spatial configuration, similar to a well-proportioned Parisian apartment. Three large rooms welcome our Europe, French and Design teams and waiting area, kitchen and meeting rooms are complimenting the circulation throughout spaces. From the early beginnings, our approach has been to inhabit the space with respect and dignity towards layers of history stacked over the decades. The exceptional yet common Parisian parquet flooring is the consistent element throughout the rooms that guarantee visual coherence. There is a certain modesty in the desks that we designed to allow minimum design complexity for maximum functionality. We pay attention to the way our computer cables are laid as much as the aroma of the Oil Burner Blend we diffuse because this visual and aromatic order improves productivity. Color wise, and as so, with our products, we refuse the trends and only select timeless colours from high quality suppliers. To name one, the Castle Gray reference from Farrow & Ball reacts differently in natural light and offers visual diversity yet rigorous consistency. The original iron heaters from the 19th century were meticulously disassembled and sanded down by skilled artisans. The original ornaments that we discovered under many millimeters of painting only enhance their original beauty. We are absolute devotee to vintage furniture, as we are with our retail stores, and try to recreate a story through materials, colours and textures. We now have a solid network of friends who supply us with rare yet affordable pieces that put together, work with integrity and understated restraint. In the entrance a pair of leather chairs from Stockholm sitting on an old Kilim carpet reflecting the colour of the walls. There are a series of plants that humanize the overall space and serve as therapy to the daily complications.
Q: How long did the renovation take?
A: 3 months
Q: How does your office reflect Aesop as a brand?
A: As for each store, the hidden part of Aesop is designed in the same spirit as the rooms shown to the public. The facilities impart a sense of community, especially the kitchen where the whole office meet for lunch.
Q: Why did you choose a Vipp kitchen?
A: The kitchen space is always important to us; we do not eat at our desk to encourage human exchanges and impose a proper break. Most of us cook at lunchtime and we often welcome guests from all around the world whom we greet with special recipes. We are long admirers of the Vipp kitchens and finally found a proper space to install a four-meter long module that brings contemporary design within the existing elements of the kitchen. We have already been using Vipp bins in all our stores worldwide and the integration of a Vipp kitchen into our new office was simply animated by the desire to explore more of the exceptional experience they offer. The robust and functional Vipp kitchen served as a starting point to source a vintage German black table and industrial fluorescent neon simply displayed over the dining table. As we progressed with the works on site, we discovered that the wooden separation between the entrance and the kitchen used to be glass to bring light and discreetly connect the kitchen with the rest of the office. In order to reveal the existing, we worked with a glass artisan that dismantled the entire upper structure and cut individually each pieces of glass by hand.
Q: What is your next project?
A: We have a number of new projects currently in development, each are individually conceived and we always put a lot of energy, time and investment in the design of a store and the relationship with our architects. There is a very special one at the moment and that will open in Milan, Brera. As a first Italian store, we are more than focused and emotionally engaged on the collaboration with a Milan based architecture studio Vincenzo de Cotiis and anticipate a crowded opening in September or October.
Aesop EU Design Coordinator, Jean-Phillippe Bonnefoi