The furniture of Thomas Lemut is typified by cool precision, a visual and structural coherence. Chairs are assembled of multiple individual pieces in a range of metals, demonstrating the inherent beauty and qualities of each, and have no welds, nails or glue – they are instead highly engineered, with mechanical fixings. Lounge chairs may be repeat profiles in ash, connected by brass rods. Desks and tables are simple forms rendered in stripes of different coloured metals or woods, or both. Lights are columnar, on tiny bases, but achieve a delicate balance visually and physically; their functional parts may be folded invisibly back into the column when not in use. There is a purity of concept and austerity of execution which belies the individual who made them – a passionate, voluble Parisien, erstwhile sculptor, labourer, bon viveur, fashion designer, film producer and artistic director; a man who believes in supporting local economies and in the value of personal political activism.

Thomas Lemut harbours deep anxieties about the current state of the global economy, and has committed considerable time to developing a re-localised microcircuit economy akin to the ‘local’ food movement. He says he would love the commissioning and production of furniture to celebrate local skills and be more integrated into people’s daily lives. Recently he has formed an initiative to work with traditional craftsmen and existing craft-based industries in the Jura Mountains. ÖST OUEST is a collaborative project with Austrian cabinetmaker and interior architect Johannes Eckhart which aims to perpetuate an ideal of working with specialists in their own environs, having them use local materials and sell direct from the locale to keep regional economies alive.

Closer examination of Lemut’s works reveals an underlying sensuality – they are simple to comprehend yet luxurious in their celebration of materials. Lemut has a deep understanding of his chosen field, and derives a large part of his inspiration from a commitment to honouring the qualities of the material. He exploits the nobility of metals, the distinctive beauty of different hardwoods. “Curiosity is what drives me,” he says. “It is a form of desire”. While he also, separately, makes sculpture with a conceptual leaning, his furniture is characterized by functionality. He does not recognise a purely decorative or sculptural notion of furniture: as with modernist architecture, function is paramount.

Thomas Lemut begins with hand drawing, perhaps surprisingly, given the hard precision of the final product. He then engineers the pieces with basic 3D software, because “there is no space for spontaneity once the drawing is done. I use my brain and my heart,” he says, “but I don’t mix the two”. The linear quality of his furniture is a highly conscious device to ‘cut up’ space and aid understanding of construction. He speaks of this paring-down of construction and purpose as a feature of ‘diligent furniture’. He strives towards an ideal of epure – purity – where there is nothing further to add, and nothing to withdraw, a certain Classicism of his own devising. He may describe himself as a touche à tout, or Jack-of-all-trades, but he is Master of the sleek and sensuously functional.

© Sara Roberts