Saturday Sep 23, 2023

The Pandemic Brought a Renewed Interest in True Craftsmanship, Says French Furniture Maker

A significant amount of heritage-style Parisian furniture—including that made for 2006 period film “Marie Antoinette”—comes from a handful of companies, four firms in particular, which specialize in chair-making, cabinets, gold leaf surfacing and ceramics. 

They’re all represented under the umbrella brand Emblem Paris, which is preserving French craftsmanship from the 18th century and beyond. At the helm of Emblem is its founder Martin Pietri, who started the company in 2015.

He started out by acquiring the chair-making firm Maison Taillardat, and ceramics and enamel company Manufacture des Émaux de Longwy. A few years later, he added two more companies to his portfolio, the Art Deco cabinet makers Maison Craman-Lagarde and the gold leaf-surfacing company Vernaz & Filles. 

Emblem Paris recently opened its first showroom in Manhattan’s SoHo neighhorbood Mr. Pietri spoke to Mansion Global about Versailles elegance, his favorite Parisian district and preserving the art of French craftsmanship.

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Mansion Global: Why did you decide on New York City as the first place outside of France to bring Emblem Paris?

Martin Pietri: We need very specific ingredients for this market. It’s a luxury market for high-end buyers. We also need cultured buyers who understand the history of these items, they’re truly for people who love history and French culture, and how the artisan is passed down through generations.

MG: You’ve always had this passion for traditional French design, what draws you to it?

MP: My family, on my mother’s side, was a famous cabinet-making dynasty. I learned this while researching my family tree a number of years ago; I learned that I’m a direct descendant of the Jacob-Desmalter family of master cabinet makers from the 18th century. They worked with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI in the 18th century. So it’s in my blood, and it’s a way for me to reconnect and continue on with my family’s legacy and history. 

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MG: It’s all authentic, how important is it to keep the tradition going?

MP: We manufacture all of our own furniture. We try to keep it as close to the original way it was made back in the 18th century. It’s traditional. We use the same kind of wood, gold leaf, varnish and detailing, as much as we can. It’s as authentic as we can make it. It’s not fake furniture.

MG: Where are the studios where these pieces are being made?

MP: They’re not in Paris, we have four workshops across France: One is in the Loire Valley in the heart of France, another is in a town just south of Toulouse. The gilding is done in Fontainebleau and the ceramics are made right by the Luxembourg border.

MG: Is French craftsmanship alive and well, or disappearing?

MP: French craftsmanship is alive and well, you just have to know where to get the most authentic items. In fact, in my opinion, it keeps getting better and better. Since the pandemic hit, people have been focusing on buying home furnishings, but they want more than just another piece in their living room. They want to know where these pieces are coming from and how they were made, the history of the design, and more. It’s not only French craftsmanship, but every country. Customers are waiting for this kind of depth that makes it more than your average armchair.

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MG: What pieces have you brought to New York City for your new boutique?

MP: It’s a best-of our workshops. We have small furniture pieces, ceramics, lamps and gold-leaf mirrors that are both elegant and chic. In New York, it’s an intimate showroom, but we are bringing key pieces. It feels like walking into a jewelry box. 

MG: What era influences these designs the most?

MP: The best time was perhaps the 18th century or even the 19th century. The time of Versailles when Marie Antoinette was alive but is met with a contemporary touch. Our finishes are quite contemporary, so it’s truly a mix and match of the old, the 18th century and the new, our lives in 2021. In other words: It isn’t a museum. There’s a difference between that. These are pieces to live with, for actual everyday living, not just to look at.

MG: How can Americans incorporate pieces of high French design within their own homes?

MP: This era is quite unique, but it can be too much if there is too much of it. For anyone, I would say mix this classical French style with modern pieces. An upscale French chair can sit in a living room beside a minimal, modern couch, for example. To light up a room, I also recommend a brightly-colored Murat chaise from Maison Taillardat, which are upholstered in vibrant Pierre Frey, Métaphore, and Dedar fabrics.

MG: What is your definition of luxury?

MP: Time, to have the time [laughs]. 

MG: In Paris, what is your favorite neighborhood?

MP: The 7th arrondissement in the Left Bank of Paris. I’m definitely a Left Bank guy. I started to work when I was a small boy and remember first seeing this neighborhood. I fell in love with both the 6th arrondissement, known today as Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the 7th arrondissement, which is home to the Eiffel Tower. It has a special energy to it. The pieces in the Emblem Group reflect the balance between history and modern life, which is also reflected in Left Bank living in Paris.

MG: What films have your furniture been featured in?

MP: We made furniture for “Marie Antoinette” directed by Sofia Coppola; we also made furniture for the Jackie Kennedy biopic “Jackie.” We made the large oval dining table in the White House for the film.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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