Mathieu Lehanneur has been playing with fire.

Lehanneur is behind the torch for Paris’ upcoming Olympic Games, revealed to the world on July 25, and the cauldron, which will be unveiled at the Opening Ceremony next year.

It all came together in his new studio, a converted brick building once owned by France’s national electric company past the périphérique of Paris proper. As much an office as a playroom where the French designer can toy with ideas, Lehanneur is now installed across the 8,700-square-foot former industrial space, which officially opened Sept. 9.

It’s an unassuming location far from his previous office in the tony central second arrondissement, tucked back from the main street and trading Haussmanian buildings for a view of a soccer field. “The first thing I loved is that it’s not part of another building, standing as itself is kind of an image of independence and makes sense in the way I wanted to work,” he says.

Lehanneur’s creations have been as varied as public projects, including solar-powered street lamps; industrial design of speakers, and projects for fashion brands including Audemars Piguet, Cartier, Christofle, Issey Miyake, Kenzo and Nike.

But a few years ago the 49-year-old decided to change tack.

Working for brands, Lehanneur would conceive of an idea, but once the designs were completed, he’d have to hand over creative control. It was wrenching for him as an artist.

“I want to be sure that we keep control from the very initial sketch to the final piece,” he says. “As soon as you work for other companies, you can’t control…changes to tell the story in a different way. But my concern was to keep the initial inspiration and ensure it stays intact.”

“In this way, it means changing from a design studio to a brand,” he continues, of developing the Mathieu Lehanneur lines. The new approach and space have been a creative boon for the designer; now he can focus all his time and energy on the creative process. “It makes sense for me to develop my own thoughts.”

Stepping into the studio, Lehanneur’s works are on display under cathedral ceilings set against bright white walls. The Ocean Memories coffee table, Familyscape sofas and the Permanent Flame sculpture are center stage, while the serpentine Deep Time chandelier snakes down from the ceiling.

The long central showroom is bookended by the desks of Lehanneur and that of partner Isabela Rennó Braga. Downstairs are disembodied orbs of a future Pearls chandelier, sitting across from the long tubes of a Les Cordes light installation.

Mathieu Lehanneur in his office.

Felipe Ribon / Courtesy Mathieu Lehanneur

The building is part office, workshop, showroom and storage, and partly a space to play. One central room is filled with different metals, marble slabs and rainbow stacks of colored glass — a design playroom of sorts.

“Designing things — and even in the fashion industry — it’s not only the question of ideas, but it’s a question about combining the ideas throughout the process. Here we can test every single idea and improve on the initial idea. It’s a permanent loop between the idea and the way to turn it into reality.”

With each piece, Lehanneur seeks that evasive balance between art and functionality. His Happy to be Here table series of colorful glass tables blown up to balloon proportions has an air of easy fun, while his Ocean Memories series of tables and benches are waves breaking on the shiny marble surface.

Lehanneur compares the life of his objects to a tree. “When you see it, it seems to be static, but it’s not. It is always growing slowly. And I like to work in that way. I want the object never to feel like an object that is ‘done’. An object should feel as if it will keep moving, keep growing,” he says.

He looks to the natural world for much of his inspiration, tied in with technology. The wave table, for example, was created by using 3D to replicate waves, not just on a surface level but interpret how they would move by calculating the strength of a current and the speed of the wind. Then it was carved from a single block of marble by robots, polished by human hands. The idea of using tech and machines to replicate nature is counterintuitive.

“It seems to be rational and irrational at the same time. If you want to capture the real energy of it, you need to work with very complex and specific tools,” he says. “This is a paradox sometimes, that you have to work far away from nature to be close with the final result.”

Take the 50 Seas project of wall hangings. Lehanneur commissioned satellite shots of specific ocean coordinates on the globe, then replicated the color of the water there as photographed from space.

He blends the intellectual with industrial design on the Age of the World ceramic jars, which appear like toy tops but take the demographic data of every country in the world and spins it into a silhouette representative of population patterns. They make for surprising shapes — some are bottom-heavy and full of youth, others are undulating, showing aging patterns.

The designer says he pulls inspiration from nature, landscapes and working with raw materials, more than looking to fashion, architecture or other forms of design. “Then you are going to be inspired by someone who was inspired by someone,” he cautions of what can become derivative design echo chambers. “I try to get my creative food far away as much as I can from my field, so it’s richer.”

The Olympic torch on display.

Felipe Ribon / Courtesy Mathieu Lehanneur

The Paris studio is the first location of his plan to open a series of private showrooms available by appointment only.

A New York penthouse furnished entirely with Lehanneur pieces will be housed in the landmark Selene building on East 53rd Street. That is slated for an October opening, with an eye toward Los Angeles and London next as he builds out what he calls an “ecosystem of creation” of spaces that compliment his process and show his works interacting.

“About 95 percent” of the pieces are produced in France, Lehanneur says, with a few made in nearby countries of Italy and Switzerland to enable the designer to keep complete control over the process. Aside from the private showrooms, he does not intend to pursue a mass market retail strategy or licensing.

He compares such a strategy to the frenzied pace of the fashion industry. “I don’t want to create a new collection and sell it and then immediately design another new collection,” he says. “I want to be more free and be continuously designing, seeing ideas through, and managing everything.”

He adds items to the collection as they are conceived and created, but keeps legacy pieces that are years old in the permanent lineup. “I love the fact that they all create a dialogue,” he says of the mix.

The majority of pieces are sold outside of France, with the U.S. being the main market, but clients come from as far afield as Brazil, Taiwan and the Middle East, with a smattering of celebrities, including Tony Parker and Alicia Keys.

Such a global appeal was “a very good surprise for me,” he says, because it demonstrated that his design ideas could travel and needed no translation.

“We didn’t push for it in terms of communications, or exhibitions,” he says of the organic process.

He wants to build a relationship with every buyer, so they understand their piece. To that end, he sends pictures of the piece at each milestone in the crafting process. “It’s a way also for me to share that with them. It’s a way for them to be involved in the, in the creation of a piece. And so at the end, it’s more than pieces, it’s a story that we make together.”

Mathieu Lehanneur in his design studio.

Felipe Ribon / Courtesy Mathieu Lehanneur

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