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Ateliers J&J - "There is room for something between IKEA and Vitra." Design - 18 February 2015

J&J, for Jean and Jonathan, a pair of strapping chaps, mates for 15 years, both French but ‘Brusselers’ by adoption, who started their own business three years ago. A very promising first collection, undeniable know-how and an authentic approach: these lads really do have everything going for them. 

What’s your background story?
Jean : I worked in Switzerland for a big furniture company and I used to assemble the furniture for the customers in their homes. I soon noticed that they were all buying the same things – which, for that matter, were fairly expensive given the quality. From then on, I decided to get involved in making furniture, with no claim to or particular interest in design, which was completely unfamiliar territory to me.

What made you decide to work together?
Jonathan : I’d had the opportunity to learn about joinery in previous jobs. And, one day, Jean turned up and started talking to me about his dream of making furniture out of wood and metal. He just put it to me like that, as though he might have said, “Hey, how about playing tennis then?”. But it soon became something serious.

How would you define your working philosophy?
Jonathan : We started with an observation : there’s a huge gulf between volume retail furniture and designer pieces that cost a fortune. Why not try to position ourselves between the two extremes and try to work with good materials within an affordable price range?
Jean : Products intended for the majority of people don’t necessarily have to be cheap and ugly. There’s room for something between Vitra and Ikea.

And you started just like that?
Jonathan: We really did start from scratch. We’re both self-taught, without any training apart from some basic knowledge of construction. We had to invest in tools and books, which taught us about the standards applied in the world of furniture, from the comfort of chairs to the heights of desks.

How did you finance your early stages?
Jean : It took us two years to set up the project and to pay for the workshop and machinery, among other things by working on building sites. We had to learn how to handle a bending machine. We did quite a few test runs and made thousands of mistakes …
Jonathan : Then, after two years, we succeeded in bringing out a range of eight pieces, which seemed as coherent as possible to us, both aesthetically and in terms of prices. Then we took the plunge. Thanks to a sort of sponsor, we were able to find a venue and we put on our own exhibition, self-managed and self-financed.

And how did that go? What was the response from the public?
Jonathan : From that first expo onwards, there was interest. People caught on straightaway.
Jean : Before that, we didn’t know whether or not we had something viable, and that positive feedback finally proved that we hadn’t spent two years getting into debt and slogging away for thousands of hours for nothing.

So, you can devote yourselves to it full time?
Jonathan : We’ve been making a living from it for eight to ten months and we can now devote ourselves to it 100%. We’re perfectly aware that it’s a huge stroke of luck. But it also has to be acknowledged that we work like crazy: we get the 6.30 a.m. train to get to the workshop and we work countless hours. It’s a choice and it’s worth it.

What plans do you have for 2015?
Jean : We’re planning to bring out a second range for September, which will consist of interior fittings systems, as well as a collection of furniture that can be dismantled. After the Courtrai Biennial, we’ve just got back from the IMM in Cologne and we’ll soon have the chance to take part in the Salone Satellite of Milan with Belgium is Design and WBDM. We feel ready, we want to show our work and get ourselves known. In fact, we’re looking for a certain level of visibility more than for a producer or dealer.

Text by Maxime Fischer

Copyrights pictures : Christophe Coënon


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