A Fine Woodworker in France

In Semur-en-Auxois, Burgundy, France, I asked if there were any furnituremakers in town.  I was directed to the shop of Christian Boisseau.  He was just the man to see — competent, successful, and friendly.  I spent about an hour and a half with him in two visits.

(left) Christian with a door for a church restoration.  Note the molded and carved panel.Christian Boisseau(right) Christian with a set of patterns from a desk he built for his daughter.

Christian and his two employees build doors, cabinets, interior elements, and furniture, and restore such items. They integrate moldings, carvings, inlay, and marquetry in their work.  Everything is made to order.  By chance, they built the staircase in the house we had rented for the week.  The name of his business is le Meuble dans tous ses Etats (Furniture in all its Forms).  The website is http://www.lemeubledanstoussesetats.com/.  Have a look at the desk (patterns shown above), and its marquetry, on this home page.

In France, as in the US, fine woodworking is a demanding, and tough, business.  I told Christian that I couldn’t make it as a custom builder.  I don’t have the temperament; I tired of working all the time; and the margins are too slim.  I am glad to have a small catalog of items to build (and demand for them).  He said he could understand the appeal of that, but in his shop, they never build the same thing twice.  Knowing the demands of that and seeing the level of production in progress, I asked when he slept.  He often gets up at three or four.  Coincidentally, a friend and client dropped in to say, “He works all the time.”

The shop is about 3000 square feet and fully equipped with good machinery — very good, well-made machinery.  “Fully” equipped in two senses: they have what they need, and the building can hold no more.

The front of the shop.  They were enclosing the section to the left to place another machine.Front of shop

Shop interior

Shop interior

Shop machinery

They use a lot of recycled French oak.  French oak is fine.  French oak from 100 years ago is marvelous

The lumber storage was rudimentary and open to the damp Burgundy air, but they have an Italian made vacuum kiln.  Christian said the kiln would bring the moisture content of wood that had sat out or in the shed for months from 25% to 7% in four days.  My experience with vacuum kilns (Woodmizer) has not been good, but this machine was clearly well-designed, clearly well-made, and highly praised by its owner.  It made his work possible.  My photo of it turned out badly.

The lumber shed and stacks of wood.Lumber storage

Lumber storage

I asked Christian if he drew his designs to make proposals, and he brought out a big stack of drawings–beautiful, perspective drawings with line, shading, and color.  It was an impressive moment.  I remain impressed with the quality, clarity, and conception of these drawings.  I believe the drawings, and the perception and commitment illustrated by them, are key to his success.

Design drawing

Design drawing 2

Design drawing 3

Design drawing 4

I commented that there were no dimensions on the drawings and asked if he used full-size sticks or paper to develop dimensions and parts lists.  He does.  He had taped some paper to a bench and was working out the details of a piece, full scale.  Just as we do for our casegoods.

Paper design

Paper designChristian Boisseau and his wife.

Cabinetmaking and furnituremaking have historically been highly developed in France (with an apogee in the 16th and 17th centuries.  It was a pleasure to find that these skills still exist at a high level.  I could sense tradition and continuity.  It was a pleasure to find such a person.  I could sense character and judgement.

“Enfant, j’ai grandi dans les copeaux de bois que mon père faisait au cours de ses réalisations. Peu à peu, j’ai appris que le beau meuble vient en y mettant toutes ses convictions, toutes ses trippes. J’ai pris le temps de regarder les réalisations de mes pairs et j’ai finalement eu cette passion du beau meuble capable de traverser les âges.

J’aime écouter mes clients pour dessiner leur rêve et concrétiser une idée. Je dessine, puis je réalise les meubles à la mesure dans la tradition et dans le respect d’une qualité d’antan.”

Christian Boisseau

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