Architect-Turned Designer Alan Bertreau Launches Objekten

Alain Berteau’s Objekten line convinces customers to balance cost with quality.


“Between disposable, Chinese-made stuff and high-end, exclusive brands selling overly expensive goods, the smart, honest, middle-range design market has just disappeared,” says the designer Alain Berteau. “So we’re going to reinvent it.”

The new products that Berteau introduced under his own label, Objekten, at last January’s Maison & Objet furniture fair in Paris, are simple and user-friendly. The sustainably made, waste-free Cover stools, for instance, use their own packaging as frames. Berteau’s Kangaroo cushions contain recycled material, are upholstered in compostable Kvadrat textiles, and feature pockets that can store cell phones, magazines, or remote controls.

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Born in Germany, based in Brussels, and trained as an architect, Berteau has already proven his chops, at 41, with forthright and intelligent industrial design and creative direction at his studio, Alain Berteau Designworks. Now, with Objekten, he not only produces his own work, but also taps a rich vein of midcareer talent that includes designers like Mathieu Lehanneur, Sylvain Willenz, David Weeks, and Mathilde Bretillot. Berteau describes them as “step-by-step, incremental inventors.” Their furniture and accessories (all exclusive to the brand) are functional, versatile, and straightforward. They also sold well enough for Objekten to open a shop in New York City last February. The company is expected to double in size by the end of 2014—not bad for a designer who once used to be on the other side of the table at client meetings.

Hanging out his shingle during a global downturn offered Berteau an opportunity to serve customers who understand that when you aren’t wealthy, you can’t afford to buy poorly made things. Berteau suggests a balance between price and quality: “Stop buying disposable stuff,” he urges. “Stop buying to assemble once—and never disassemble—something that’s polluting and made without dignity, just because it’s cheap. And stop buying it over and over again every year. A chair should not cost €19.”

Instead, Berteau wants to “re-engineer and rethink” every design. His pragmatic approach challenges interfaces, ergonomics, and production costs. “The look of a product should be the result of that,” he says. “Form follows meaning, or form follows relevance.”

Running Objekten, he’s under greater pressure than ever to create relevant design. “I don’t have time to sleep anymore,” Berteau admits, “but suddenly everything is exciting, everything makes sense, everything is integrated, and I learn amazing stuff every day.”

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