In Paris’ 17th arrondissement is Atelier Midavaine, a bustling workshop crafting beautiful lacquer furniture – from boiserie to wall panelling. It’s overseen by Anne Midavaine, granddaughter of lacquer artist Louis Midavaine, who founded the company in 1919. Working with customers from the US, Europe, Russia and beyond, Midavaine creates one-off pieces for decorators including Juan Pablo Molyneux, Pierre Yves Rochon, Nicholas Haslam and Peter Marino, as well as for luxury marques including Chanel, Four Seasons Hotels and Cartier. She is always discreet about the assorted “royal palaces, yachts and airplanes” she has been commissioned to adorn, but is particularly proud of the increase in demand from both Japan and China – countries noted for their own traditions of fine, inlaid lacquer furnishings.
While no two projects are the same, most buyers seek out Midavaine’s commodes, cabinets (first picture), tables and wall panelling (third picture). No request is too outlandish or too small: a lavish, 20m-long dining room in room in Moscow was swathed in baroque lacquer panelling, while a tiny, fan-shaped box (second picture) – a replica of one owned by Marie Antoinette – was an exercise in intricate 24ct gold ornamentation. Because each commission is so highly specialised, prices and completion times vary accordingly, with small tables and commodes commanding from around €10,000-€50,000, and wall panelling priced by the square foot. The shortest time for a completed project is eight weeks, with six months to one year being the norm for delicate, labour-intensive pieces and entire rooms.
Commissioning begins with an idea that is translated to drawings, and then a maquette. Pictures are taken throughout the design process to clearly illustrate the flora and fauna, Chinoiserie and assorted wildlife that adorn a particular piece of furniture or a panel. The application of high-gloss lacquer is done in layers (often 15 of them) that range from vernis Martin – the most traditional material that dates to the 18th century – to the latest cellulosic and polyurethane lacquers. Metallic leaf, mother-of-pearl inlay and an array of rich, colourful paints are used to embellish pieces.
While traditional Asian motifs and art-deco styles pervade Midavaine’s work, there are also modern flourishes seen throughout. “While we know how to manage traditional Chinese and Japanese techniques, lacquer is most importantly a material for new creations.”