Jules Wabbes : Very good, GENERAL

Jules Wabbes
Very good, GENERAL

Category: Interviews
Publication date:

Now in the hands of a couple of enthusiasts who protect its wonderful legacy, the company GENERAL DECORATION, founded by the Belgian architect and designer Jules Wabbes, has undergone a superlatively good renaissance in just the past 10 years. Meeting with Vincent and Caroline Colet in their showroom in the Brugmann neighbourhood in Brussels.

Caroline et Vincent Colet ©Jules Wabbes

Your project is not a true renaissance because Jules Wabbes’s wife perpetuated his work by protecting a legacy and signature that are unique in the world. We should talk of continuity instead.

What made you decide to take up this challenge?

Caroline Colet: My husband is a childhood friend of Marie Ferran-Wabbes (Jules Wabbes’s daughter, an art historian and archaeologist, Ed.). Jules Wabbes’s family approached us, thinking that Vincent was the ideal person to continue this adventure.

Vincent Colet : Jules Wabbes is the greatest post-war Belgian designer. Our challenge consisted of finding Belgian artisans who were able to create identical reproductions of these pieces. It took us two years to recreate a network of partner workshops.

Caroline Colet: For certain pieces, such as the Honeycomb sconce, no fewer than seven different people were involved. We went to look for them throughout the whole country by offering them the ultimate luxury: time to do things properly. Many are relatively elderly and carry knowledge that could one day be lost if, as it seems to be the case, the baton is not passed on.

Lamp M57 - Jules Wabbes by General Decoration © Nicolas Shimp
A singular product requires a singular business approach. Can you explain?

V.C: For each new piece, we calculate the final price when we know the cost of the materials and manufacture. We don’t set a price taking into account any expectations from the market or competition.

Is this why, for some objects, you tend towards collection design?

V.C: for lamp 57 (in the last phase of prototyping at the time of this interview, Ed.), we started from a simple photo of Jules Wabbes next to the lamp; the photo was taken in 1957 when the object won the Silver Medal at the Milan Triennale. This was a special exercise because this polished brass lamp was never produced for technical reasons. In this specific case, we collaborated with Gaston Goldstein (Duplex Studio) who helped us remodel it. We then made no fewer than 4 prototypes, including two from wood before obtaining this lamp-sculpture to be displayed in a gallery in a ‘collection design’ approach, which suits some of the collection’s pieces quite well.

Osaka Ceiling Lamp - Wabbes by General Decoration © Nicolas Schimp
Jules Wabbes’s signature is synonymous with exclusivity, as well as durability.

V.C: Jules Wabbes’s pieces aren’t durable. They’re eternal (laughs). What facilitates this idea of responsible design is that we didn’t have any stock. We create each piece to order, in very limited editions. For this reason, we only work with architects, both in Belgium and abroad. Our showroom is our main showcase, just like our website and Instagram page. We have the opportunity to be able to capitalise on Jules Wabbes’s huge reputation here, as well as in the United States. When we relaunched GENERAL DECORATION, with Mare Wabbes’s support, we tried to make each object extremely desirable. Having access to all the firm’s archives makes our work even more valuable and relevant.

Small Bronze Wall Lamp - Wabbes by General Decoration
Caroline, you were a decorator in film, an industry where light plays a key role. Just like in the world of Jules Wabbes, after all…

C.C: We did in fact relaunch the project with bronze wall lights, which shed beautiful light in an interior. Contemporary architecture tends to incorporate most lighting solutions, while indirect light creates calm and very modern atmospheres.

Honeycom Ceiling Lamp - Wabbes by General Decoration © Nicolas Schimp
Today, your catalogue is very broad. Over time, you have launched other lights, as well as furniture.

C.C: Yes, this year, we are going to offer a series of wooden sofas. What’s striking is their resolutely contemporary proportions, and of course, the perfection of the design and finishes.

As for each re-issue, you don’t change anything about the initial design.

V.C: even if we have original drawings and models, we sometimes make certain adjustments. But never without asking: what would Jules Wabbes have done in this specific case? For the coat stand (a 1969 reissue), we chose oak, instead of an exotic wood like at the time. Especially as at the start of his career, before exotic varieties were in fashion, Jules Wabbes used indigenous wood.

Trestles - Jules Wabbes © General Decoration
You make objects from bronze, brass and high-grade wood. It’s the essence of Wabbes’s style, as well as the expression of a level of quality that is now celebrated once again.

V.C: in our discussions with artisans, we emphasise our desire to perfect certain finishing details, in particular using the new techniques we have, without ever falling into the trap of perfection. The object must retain its sensitivity, no matter what.

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