Antoine Roset Blasts into Dallas with a Storm

Ploum sofa
 Antoine Roset flew into Dallas amid tornado threats, hail, and high winds. As vice president of the North and South American division of his family’s 157-year-old company, Antoine braved the storm to inaugurate the new Ligne Roset store on McKinney Avenue. “There was lightening everywhere,” he remembers. “But the next morning, it was so beautiful, we asked to have breakfast outside at the hotel.” Welcome to the vagaries of Texas weather, which it turns out, is not unlike the ups and downs of the world of high-end furniture design. Ligne Roset, the French furniture company founded by Antoine’s great-great grandfather Antoine Roset in 1860, started out making bentwood walking sticks and umbrellas, and has evolved into one of the world’s premiere makers of contemporary furnishings with more than 200 Ligne Roset stores and 750 retail distributors worldwide.

Antoine Roset

Oxydation tables by Kateryna Sokolova

The company’s long trajectory has spanned two world wars, weathered numerous economic downturns, and countless decades of design trends, to produce an impressive lineup of icons. Togo, a footless sofa designed in 1973 that helped launched Ligne Roset as a design forerunner,  is still in production. The Ploum sofa, produced in 2011 during the turbulent Great Recession, has become one of Ligne Roset’s best-sellers. The Roset family doesn’t play it safe when it comes to generating new ideas.
“It’s a bold design with a lot of technology behind it,” says Antoine, 39, who oversees the family’s business in North and South America. “If you don’t push forward, you don’t get icons.”

The Togo took Paris by storm in the 1970s, but not everyone got it.

Antoine Roset: It was our first collection and the distributors in Paris said, ‘Wow, that’s a great piece, but where’s the base? You are missing the feet. Come back when it’s done.’ At the time, everything was mid-century Scandinavian with wood frames and brass legs —  angular and neat — and we came with that.

In the 1970s everything was changing — women’s rights, human rights, etc. 

AR: Togo was a good example of how everything was changing in design as well. So, we started selling the Togo ourselves to dealers. Since then, we’ve sold millions of Togos, thanks to the dealers at the time who were brave and believed in contemporary design. From there, we started to be very successful.

Ploum Sofa

Ruche sofa

Part of Ligne Roset’s success is due to its collaborations, such as Pierre Paulin.

AR: In the ’80s, we were working with one of the Pritzker Prize winners, Jean Nouvelle. And we did some pieces with fashion designer Jean de Castelbajac when he was starting out. We are still working with Didier Gomez. Not every designer will become a star who works with us, but it’s important to have great human relationships with each of them.

When it comes to edgy design, Americans are still neophytes.

AR: We are a niche market, especially here in the U.S., where it’s still green in terms of contemporary furniture, and there a reluctance to jump into the future. It’s funny, because I can’t see a more contemporary market than the U.S. in general — here, the fridge talks to you, your cars are cutting-edge.
But the furniture is boring. It’s square, and flat, maybe with a piece of color on it. It wasn’t always the case — during the Eames period in the U.S., it was a great place for design. And then? Boom! Just like that, a hole opened up, and design disappeared from the U.S. You just stopped. Since then, the U.S. has never really caught up.

America is a disposable society.

AR: When I go to my grandparents’, I’m used to seeing Louis 15 and 16, very old stuff. Here [in America], we are less attached to products, because we replace things in five years. In Europe, there are Togos coming back to the factories [to be refurbished] that are so old — they say, ‘Oh, my grandmother gave me this piece,’ so it’s from 1975 to 1978.

But it’s a cultural thing from our roots. To put it in perspective, when my grandfather started to do furniture in 1860, Lincoln was president in the U.S. You are still very young here.

How do you tweak designs for the American market?

AR: Sometimes we do two options. When we do a sofa, we have a low sofa in Europe. In the U.S., you like higher sofas, so we can integrate higher feet. We do bigger beds for the U.S. and the Middle East, because in Europe the beds are on a smaller scale.

You live in New York now?

AR: I moved to New York at age 26, after living in Paris for seven years on my own. One day, my father asked me, ‘What would you say if I offered you a sales manager job in New York?’ I had to think about it for a few months, because I had my life in Paris. But you have only one chance in life to move to New York with a Visa and a job. I said, okay, don’t be stupid, try it.
I showed up in early November at night — just seeing the skyline was like a big deal. But for a long time I was lost. I had to make new friends, learn the geography. It’s a demanding city. I’ve been in New York for 10 years, now, so I’m officially a New Yorker. It’s finally gotten to where I’m getting back more from the city than I’m giving.

What was the furniture market like ten years ago when you arrived?

AR: The big green movement had arrived in the U.S. ten years ago. It’s funny because we had been doing sustainable things for years already. If my grandfather used a tree as a resource, we had to plant another tree. If you want to pass it to the next generation, don’t screw with your resources.

For me, the most important part of sustainability is your employees — how you make sure your facilities are great. Equipping earphones molded for them, so there’s no noise. We use only water-based glue and solvents. You can visit our factory without any mask or anything. You can’t close your eyes to things made super cheap in China or elsewhere, because it’s kids doing it — you are part of the chain of who is responsible.

For example, we have heavy eighty-pound covers that need to be stitched, but our seamstresses can only do one or two a day without hurting themselves. It’s what our family always did and what we still do.

Tell us about your new apartment in Battery Square.

AR: My wife Adelaide and I are putting art on the wall — we are trying to purchase one piece of art each year. It could be big or small. She is in the art leasing business in New York. We just added a big tree in the apartment. We try to keep it contemporary but comfy. Being French, we try to mix things together. We have a wall with pictures of the Virgin Mary that we found from Mexico to France to New York, so we have all these old icons on the wall.

All the furniture is modern, and we have all these old pictures, which we thought was cool. We also have a wall with some taxidermy and some skulls. I’m passionate about contemporary lamps; we have a nice collection of Ingo Maurer. We mix and match everything. We have an antique patchwork rug from Italy. We have a lot of books — we are always reading coffee-table books on design and art, so it’s very important to have a big, big bookshelf.

Ligne Roset produces a lot of new products each year.

AR: We make about 80 to 100 new products a year, which we introduce in Paris and Cologne. It’s everything from a sofa to a vase, coat rack, clock, accessory. We are one of these rare companies [where] you can find something for every room, except kitchen and bath.

New collaborations?

AR: Marie Christian Dorner did a very nice new collection with a sofa and a chair for us. It’s very feminine, very smart. One sofa has a very Gothic design; the other is more chesterfield, but both have very complex covers that involve lots of technology. We have a very big machine that does complex stitching for these pieces.

What are you most excited about?

AR: It’s a tough question, but for me now, I’m very proud of the fact that we have an equitable number of women and men designers, a balance. I’m against saying there is no gender in design, because you can definitely see it. A woman won’t think things the same way as a man, and can see it’s different, so it’s important to have both men and women creating. We are very excited that more and more women are part of our collections.

Also, we just launched our e-commerce site. Now, you can buy Ligne Roset online in the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany.
Ennéa table by Vincent Tordjman

Togo sofas