Brothers and chartered architects Daniel and Michel Bismut have been working together since 1987, injecting passion into residential and commercial projects including high-end apartments, embassies and luxury stores worldwide. Bismut & Bismut’s projects include a house in Normandy, a house by Lake Geneva, and the Singaporean Embassy in Paris, and the brothers’ architectural work is complemented by a furniture line, La Collection. They describe their philosophy as having four major themes: functionality, simplicity, elegance and timelessness. Here, Michel expands on what that means.
What sets Bismut & Bismut apart from other practices?
Firstly, because we are brothers and have always worked together. Secondly, most practices specialise, and we surely don’t: we go straight from the detail of a piece of furniture to the design of a building. We like switching from one subject to another and to always have a fresh eye to explore new issues.
What themes or ‘big ideas’ do you explore in your work? Has this changed over the years?
As architects, we seek to remain faithful to our values, stripping the architectural vocabulary down to the essential. The goal is to achieve an astute austerity with a perfect balance of proportions, material, light and movement. We always keep in mind when we work on a new project the concept and idea of ‘elegance’, which is essential in the design of a building or a piece of furniture.
Our approach has not changed – except that we keep on exploring new materials, textures and new technologies.
What’s your style?
We work with lines, space and materials, and like to simplify architectural vocabulary, keeping only the bare essentials. We put light before anything else: light that lengthens perspectives, and enhances plain but ever-changing surfaces; it modulates spaces, from the most open to the most private.
A question of perfect proportions, absolute harmony between emptiness and fullness, lines and volumes, inspired contrasts between marble and copper weave, raw linen and solid oak.
To change the scale of a room and how it is perceived, but also to devise surprises using materials without ostentation, which are subtlety itself.
How do you develop your ideas?
We conceive each new project as a series of experiences – a kind of three-dimensional storyboard. Each vignette spawns an ambiance, a quality of light, an almost olfactory effect, always based around one single strong idea.
How did your furniture collections come about? Are they designed to complement your architecture?
We’d had the idea for it for quite a long time, but it wasn’t until 2009 that we started designing a small collection. It can of course complement our architecture but when we design a space we don’t want a total look, so if there are some of our pieces used, it is essential to mix them with many others.
This year, we focused on stainless steel, with a wall-mounted shelf that gleams like a knife blade, a meticulously crafted coloured mirror-surface bench and a console with an overstitched leather top. In parallel we are also exploring matte finishes with, for example, a desk in sanded, tinted and blackened wengé wood.
For private residential clients, is contemporary art (and ‘design art’) becoming more important? How do you integrate art and architecture successfully?
Yes, it is very important of course. It is so important to finish a project and give a complete identity that will reflect the personality of the place and the client.
It has always been a concern for us as we were born in an artist family. A lot of our sourcing comes from artist’s works of various periods.
Most of our clients are art lovers, sometimes with very simple things gathered since their early years.We like to raise interest but not try to educate them. It is important to help them give an orientation in their choices.When we have the time and budget, we like to select pieces by modern classical designers such as Eileen Gray, Poul Kjaerholm and Charles and Ray Eames – and then mix that with pieces from design art galleries as Kreo that promote contemporary designers.
In 2014 you contributed a room design to AD Intérieurs’ annual show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs – can you explain more about it?
This exhibition’s aim is to valorise high French craftsmanship. The museum asked us to choose a piece in the collection that had not been seen a lot before, and to create a space that included the piece.We chose a brass and leather Jacques Adnet campaign bureau from 1950s, which induced a concept of movement and articulation.
We wanted movement and poetry in this salon de lecture (‘reading lounge’) and treated the room like a cocoon.The desk was placed in front of a spectacular chiselled marble fireplace (as an origami) and to the right of layered kinetic-effect glass panels.
We wanted the room to be user-friendly, reassuring and soft with warm colors and lighting; but we also wanted it to be dynamic, like the design of the Jacques Adnet desk. A quiet place where you enjoy spending time on your own with your book and drink.
We designed curved plaster walls, on which reflecting shelves float, and a curved sofa (made from oak, velvet, leather and polished steel) with an integrated bar. We asked artist Anne Severine Liotard to dip books in red wax, and we also installed several major art pieces from artists such as Anthony Caro, Joel Shapiro, concept artist Baldwin and of one the first street-artists, Taki 183.
Are there any suppliers that you would recommend?
What does ‘luxury’ mean to you?
Each one of us has his own definition of luxury. For for it comes through the details (even when you can’t see them), the quality of materials, space, proportions, light…
Sometimes, things have to be very simple and you just have to focus on the essential: a vase with a flower, and an art piece – even a minor one – are sufficient for the balance and harmony of a place.
Do you have a favorite architect or designer?
Architects: Tadao Ando, Luis Barragán, Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Designers: Architects’ furniture of 20th century, from Paul Dupré-Lafon to Ron Arad, including Jean Prouvé and Eileen Gray.
Artists: Richard Serra, Edouardo Chillida, Francis Bacon, Pierre Soulages, Irving Penn, Hiroshi Sugimoto…