Mathieu Lehanneur's Les Cordes


3 July 2013

"This house, and it's important you know this, was a house for weekends or holidays," begins the French designer Mathieu Lehanneur about the historical Château Borély in Marseille, France. "It was a house where many parties and maybe sex orgies happened."

Responding to this hedonistic context was the challenge for Lehanneur's Les Cordes, a chandelier installation commissioned to fill the entrance hall of the eighteenth century stately home. Composed of LED strips sealed within borosilicate glass tubes, the chandelier loops down from the ceiling as dripping tendrils.

"I didn’t want to design a chandelier for Versailles," says Lehanneur, who won the commission in a competition staged by the house, which houses Marseilles' Musée de la Faïence. "I wanted to give some clues about what happened in that place. I wanted something that described the mood and parties that took place in that place. It’s a place to enjoy the sun, holidays and friends."

The house was built in the 18th Century for the Borély family, a dynasty of fabric merchants who imported textiles from North Africa to France. "A very powerful family," says Lehanneur. "But I love to respond to context like that. Design projects like this aren't a carte blanche. You have to play with context."

Lehanneur's chandelier is sensual and fluid, the flexibility of the interior LED strips contrasted against the fragility and preciousness of the laboratory glass casings that house them. The glass tubing, Lehanneur says, was a late addition to the project, introduced to add a sense of luxury to the design. A lighting programme allows the constituent tendrils to be dimmed or brightened independently of one another.

While fitting the light Lehanneur's studio installed a fake ceiling, inserting a metallic anchoring structure between it and the real ceiling so as to allow the chandelier to connect seamlessly to the roof. The studio is now experimenting with commercial and editioned versions of the lamp for the Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

"A designer's main interest in a chandelier is that it’s a very traditional piece of furniture," says Lehanneur. "Very historical and very serious. A chandelier is supposed to give a visitor the feeling that the people who own it are so rich and serious. Like the owner is the King or Queen.

"I wanted to change that approach and create something very generous and fun. Château Borély is a party place."