written by:
January 3, 2012

When I was in France earlier this year to report our latest Process story, which appears in our February 2011 issue and online here, I had the opportunity to not only tour Ligne Roset's factory near Lyon, but also to meet with the designer of the Ruché sofa, Inga Sempé. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to peek inside designers' studios and gain some insight into their creative process, and my conversation with the engaging, straight-talking, dry-humored Sempé was a highlight of my trip. I loved her atelier, a riot of papers, books, models, drawings, and prototypes in a corner room of her sprawling Paris apartment. And it was fascinating to hear more about the backstory of how the Ruché came to be; it made my visit to the factory the next morning that much more interesting.

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Here's Sempé in her pleasantly cluttered home studio in Paris, where she works with a handful of assistants.
Here's Sempé in her pleasantly cluttered home studio in Paris, where she works with a handful of assistants.
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Another view of her studio.
Another view of her studio.
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Nestled amidst the creative chaos are the marks of a classic Paris apartment, so prevalent in the city that Sempé dismissed the place as "totally typical." But as an outsider, I drooled over the weathered herringbone parquet floors, the ceiling ornamentat
Nestled amidst the creative chaos are the marks of a classic Paris apartment, so prevalent in the city that Sempé dismissed the place as "totally typical." But as an outsider, I drooled over the weathered herringbone parquet floors, the ceiling ornamentation, and the original gilt mirror and marble fireplace.
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She showed me these very early handmade models, "made by me without any care, just to figure out better what I had drawn in my sketches."
She showed me these very early handmade models, "made by me without any care, just to figure out better what I had drawn in my sketches."
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This was her first more polished model, clad in a quilted cover she stitched up in her studio.
This was her first more polished model, clad in a quilted cover she stitched up in her studio.
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Here the original model rests on a pile of other covers, stitched in her studio by her employees. "It took many trials on the sewing machine to find a more interesting quilting stitching than simple squares," she says.
Here the original model rests on a pile of other covers, stitched in her studio by her employees. "It took many trials on the sewing machine to find a more interesting quilting stitching than simple squares," she says.
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"Here it began to be better," she says, pointing out the new "interrupted" stitch line. "We tried many kinds of interruption, but here was the a-ha moment. I thought 'ok, let's try'." This blue cover was created to-scale, to be affixed to a 1.5-scale mock
"Here it began to be better," she says, pointing out the new "interrupted" stitch line. "We tried many kinds of interruption, but here was the a-ha moment. I thought 'ok, let's try'." This blue cover was created to-scale, to be affixed to a 1.5-scale mockup.
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Here are more "scale-one stitching trials," experiments with fabric and batting made at Ligne Roset's factory. This and the rest of the images that follow are snapshots Sempé took herself, documenting the prototyping process from start to finish.
Here are more "scale-one stitching trials," experiments with fabric and batting made at Ligne Roset's factory. This and the rest of the images that follow are snapshots Sempé took herself, documenting the prototyping process from start to finish.
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Here's the first full-scale prototype with a wooden frame, testing out a new way to do the quilt on a larger scale. Pictured here is Irene, one of Ligne Roset's prototypists, "who is always used to test the comfort of a piece for a tiny person," says Semp
Here's the first full-scale prototype with a wooden frame, testing out a new way to do the quilt on a larger scale. Pictured here is Irene, one of Ligne Roset's prototypists, "who is always used to test the comfort of a piece for a tiny person," says Sempé. "For tall persons, one tests with [CEO] Michel Roset himself."
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Of the first prototype, in red, Sempé recalls: "I was really sad when I saw it—I thought it was boring, and I was not sure how I could improve it. The quilt seemed extremely sad, like a sleeping bag. I wasn't convinced." So they tried reducing the new sti
Of the first prototype, in red, Sempé recalls: "I was really sad when I saw it—I thought it was boring, and I was not sure how I could improve it. The quilt seemed extremely sad, like a sleeping bag. I wasn't convinced." So they tried reducing the new stitching "to be more rich and less flat than the red, which is too big and remains boring."
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As shown here, the prototypists then went back to the sewing machine to continue their experiments, reducing the stitching size further to make the material "curl" more. "On the left, it is too big, on the right is the reduced trial," Sempé points out.
As shown here, the prototypists then went back to the sewing machine to continue their experiments, reducing the stitching size further to make the material "curl" more. "On the left, it is too big, on the right is the reduced trial," Sempé points out.
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After each visit, Sempé sent back instructions for how each prototype might be improved. Here, she suggests adding more foam and addresses the question of how the cover should drape over the armrest (top); asks that the next prototype be one square longer
After each visit, Sempé sent back instructions for how each prototype might be improved. Here, she suggests adding more foam and addresses the question of how the cover should drape over the armrest (top); asks that the next prototype be one square longer and suggests a way to reduce gaps between the cover and the frame (middle image); and proposes how to join the cover seams, by subtly altering the dimensions of the quilted pattern (bottom).
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Here's Michel Roset, CEO of Ligne Roset, sitting on "one of the first prototypes built with the right wooden frame, draped in a cover made with the right stitch."
Here's Michel Roset, CEO of Ligne Roset, sitting on "one of the first prototypes built with the right wooden frame, draped in a cover made with the right stitch."
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Three incarnations of the Ruché to be. From left to right: the first prototype made with a metal structure and a quilt with basic squares; one with a stained wooden frame and a new quilt with squares that were still a little too big; and lastly the final
Three incarnations of the Ruché to be. From left to right: the first prototype made with a metal structure and a quilt with basic squares; one with a stained wooden frame and a new quilt with squares that were still a little too big; and lastly the final prototype, very close to the finished product. To see the final version of the Ruché, and watch the piece come together in the factory, check out our Process story here!

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Here's Sempé in her pleasantly cluttered home studio in Paris, where she works with a handful of assistants.
Here's Sempé in her pleasantly cluttered home studio in Paris, where she works with a handful of assistants.

As it turned out, after designing her first sofa for Ligne Roset, the Moël, Sempé wasn't interested in creating another one. "[CEO] Michel Roset asked me to do a second sofa, and I wasn't that enthusiastic," she said. "It's hard to do sofas." But she became intrigued by the concept of "bringing air to a structure; to make it look as though someone had just thrown a cover on a frame." She wanted to create a sofa with space underneath it—a quality she says is especially important in small apartments, for maintaining a sense of airiness. "If I don't see space I feel suffocated," she added. The result, after many models and prototypes and sewing trials, is the Ruché. Here's a glimpse into the year-and-a-half journey from concept to final product.

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