Clément Barbier

by Nina del Marmol

After a career in architecture in Paris and Berlin, Clément decided to radically change his fate and move to a peaceful rural village to become a craftsman. We visited Clément in his atelier and learned about how he decided to follow his heart. 

What is marquetry?

Marquetry is the art of creating designs out of carefully fitted pieces of thin wood in different colors and wood species. Marquetry is a carpenters expression of art. Carpentry is the essential base for wood design, it is the traditional know-how of working and assembling wood. 

What did you study and do before working with wood?

I studied architecture and design in Paris, then I worked for studios in Berlin and Paris. Next to my job as an architect I was in an art collective where I organised and made the scenography for exhibitions and parties. It even became my full-time job for a few years.

When did you decide to switch your career to marquetry?

Paradoxically I found that in architecture I lacked some technical fundamentals. I then decided to take a turn and study the arts of wood to better understand it and gain the abilities to work with this material. By chance, all in subtlety and finesse, I got to discover marquetry. It instantly spoke to me.

What made you decide to open your own workshop?

The workshop in which I trained in carpentry had to close. I was offered to take over a veneer press an essential tool for marquetry because they knew I was interested in this technique. I felt that it was the moment to achieve what I had in mind for a while and to try to make a living from my creations. So I moved to Normandy to my grandparents' house.

What was your first sale?

It was a custom piece of furniture designed for a photographer friend. It was dark and radiant. The facade was made of burnt wood and above it an Art Deco pattern tray cut out of brass. In order for the metal to adhere to its wooden support, I used organic fish glue, according to the old plating processes.

Do you make more custom orders or personal design projects that you sell?

I am currently producing more tailor-made projects. I take the time to make personal creations between two orders. Most of them are still stored in the workshop and people discover them when they come visit. Carpentry is an applied art but we can see that you not only create utilitarian pieces but also decorative ones.

Do you consider yourself an artist?

The boundaries between art, craftsmanship and design seems blurry to me sometimes. This is what is interesting. Sometimes I feel like an artist, I aspire to be a simple craftsman, too often I am an architect. As for marquetry it is a decorative art also formerly called painting on wood. We understand the desire of its former talented craftsmen to equal the great masters in painting.

Are there certain messages behind your artwork?

I think that in the 21st century, making the choice to be a craftsman, to work with your hands, is in itself a concrete message. Certainly, each creation has its own narration, it's uniqueness. I try to translate the poetry of each leaf and piece of wood that passes through my hands. Perhaps this is what distinguishes the craftsman; to put oneself at the service of the existing beauty, to be attentive. The making of a piece is done in a lot of steps. 

You have an atelier in Paris and in Val Doré, why both and where do you prefer to work?

I now live and work in Normandy in my grandfathers workshop that I took over. I left Paris and officially settled in the region a year ago. I was born in this house, I have a strong bond to it.

Where you always interested in wood?

Most certainly! The forest is a place in which I feel fully alive. It’s my drug, I have to go there almost everyday. To touch wood stimulates my presence and concentration. In addition to chopping wood, I have another passion which is planting trees. To celebrate spring we welcomed a Tulip tree from Virginia in the back of the garden. It will give its first flowers within 10 years and will be able to live for halve a millennium.

What is your first memory with wood?

In the workshop I now occupy my father and grandfather spent their weekends tinkering, making wood toys for my brothers, my sister and myself. The smell, the sawdust, the sound of the saw, the light on the tools, they are part of my oldest memories. I wink at them each time I open the workshop’s door.

Discover Cléments work here