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Our Favorite French Design

For the past decade we at Dwell have been ferreting out the best modern design wherever we can find it. And it should come as little surprise that we keep returning to a nation with a centuries-deep lineage of astounding material culture: la France. In honor of photographer Celine Clanet's amazing photo essay in our November 2011 issue depicting the astounding dams of the Savoy region, I've collected a handful of our best stories on French design over the last several years. From the furniture design of Inga Sempé to a masterpiece of rural prefab design by architect Jean-Baptiste Barache, we continue to tip our chapeaux to our amis across l'Atlantique.

sempe bougeoirs for baccarat

Plain and Sempé

A maker of unfussy, elegant design objects, Inga Sempé delights in things both great and small—even if she doesn’t own any.

indoor gardens paris france

Garden Apartment

Botanist Patrick Blanc has been bringing the wilds of the rainforests to Parisian walls for over 30 years, most recently at the Jean Nouvel–designed Quai Branly museum. One lucky family, however, doesn’t have to go any farther than their living room to take in the wonders of Blanc’s vertical gardens. Oh how jealous Henri Rousseau would be!

water mirror bordeaux france detour

Bordeaux, France

Classical yet current, Bordeaux is a city that celebrates the details that comprise the whole. Architect Oliver Brochet guides our tour around the accessible tram system, the historic women, and of course, the wine.

front and back apartment interior portrait Mathieu reading

Shelf Life

Though he appears to live alone, this graphically inclined Parisian commissioned an apartment that deftly houses his many roommates—scores of beloved comics—as well.

barache residence house portrait kitchen

Modern Wooden A-Frame Retreat in France

Like a little chapel on the prairie, architect Jean-Baptiste Barache’s simply elegant retreat in the tiny Normandy town of Auvillier is a modern play on centuries-old forms and technology.

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From Torrent to Current

In her book Du Torrent au Courant, des Barrages et des Hommes en Savoie (From Torrent to Current: Dam and Man in Savoy), photographer Céline Clanet documents the infrastructure of hydropower in the Beaufortain region of southeastern France: four dams and ten power plants. Set in the midst of bucolic hillsides and snowcapped peaks, these structural behemoths have had profound impacts on the surrounding terrain. With a documentarian eye, Clanet captures all facets of these dams and power plants—from their monumental exterior scales, to labyrinthine interior spaces, to caretakers—focusing on how infrastructure has merged with the natural and social landscape.