World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design

Posted by: Piano World

World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/09/10 08:33 AM

World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design

By Jurgen Hecker (AFP)

PARIS — Once the favourite of Chopin and Debussy, the world's oldest piano maker, Pleyel, has been hard hit by competition from Asia -- so to adapt the firm is venturing into new territory: designer furniture.

Founded at the turn of the 19th century, Pleyel is now a niche player, producing just 25 grand pianos a year -- down from 1,700 a decade ago -- but it still holds 200 years of expertise in fine marquetry and luxury woodworking.

The smell of varnish fills the air as cutting and pressing machines hum and pump in Pleyel's factory in Saint Denis, outside the French capital, and skilled hands sand and put finishing touches to the models.

"In this factory we have 15 people doing 20 different jobs. Many cabinet makers, lacquer and varnishing experts, a lot of know-how that we use to make instruments," Arnaud Marion, artistic director at Pleyel, told AFP.

"And we realised we had reached such a high level of expertise in these fields, that it seemed a good idea to use it to make pieces of high-class furniture."

To make its mark, Pleyel has enlisted the help of top French and international designers such as Italian star Michele de Lucchi -- who worked on a metal display case that would go sit nicely next to a grand.

And of course he also designed the piano itself -- a steep learning curve for someone who doesn't play.

"It's an adventure, a surprising opportunity that life presented me with, because I'd never thought of designing a piano," De Lucchi told AFP during a trip to Saint Denis to unveil a life-sized prototype of the instrument.

"Bit by bit I discovered what you can't change when you make a piano, and what are the details that can be modified," said the long-bearded designer, inspecting the solid wood model.

Before teaming up with De Lucchi, the manufacturer first asked a US designer, Hilton McConnico, to design a piano-shaped sofa dubbed "Pleyel" for it several years back, which it started producing this year on demand.

Looking ahead, it has asked five French designers -- Patrick Jouin, Olivier Gagnere, Bruno Moinard, Patrick Noguet and Noe Duchaufour-Lawrance -- to create a high-end furniture line to be presented at the Milan fair in 2012.

"It's a logical next step," said Marion, pointing at Pleyel's long history of working with designers on its pianos -- from Art Deco pioneer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann in the 1930s to the French diva Andree Putman.

De Lucchi's case and piano will go on display at the Milan furniture fair in April next year.

His grand has a price tag of 100,000 euros (132,000 dollars), the cost of a high-end sports car, and Pleyel's other furniture items are priced well out of the reach of most pockets -- which is part of an intentional branding drive.

"Our idea was not to enter the mass market, for example with ordinary tables or couches, but to create unique objects for collectors," said Marion.

Faced with Chinese and South Korean competitors who can crank out a piano for as little as 2,000 euros, and who sell 80 percent of the world's pianos, Pleyel has turned its business model around in the past decade.

In 2007, the firm left its base in Ales in France's southern Gard region to return to Saint Denis -- where it had been based for a century from 1865 -- and started cutting back on production and diversifying.

"This is both an artistic and industrial move. We want to get out of the niche of music to move into 'art de vivre'," Marion said.

Will Steinway one day make wardrobes and Boesendorfer bookshelves? It's a bit of a leap, but Pleyel might just be rewriting the score for diversification in the piano industry.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.
Posted by: BDB

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/09/10 10:07 AM

Kimball is a furniture manufacturer now, too.
Posted by: schwammerl

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/09/10 11:59 AM

Nothing invented here.

Petrof followed the same route already a couple of years ago:

Petrof Interiors

schwammerl.
Posted by: Robert 45

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/09/10 12:07 PM

Petrof has also been manufacturing furniture for some time. Even the venerable Steinway and Sons puts its name to a range of products which include audio equipment.
I believe that the economic term for this is "diversifying". It's sad that there is no longer the demand for pianos to sustain economically these distinguished manufacturers, but if these forays into alternative enterprises can save the manufacturers, then that is good.

Robert.
Posted by: PianoWorksATL

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/09/10 12:24 PM

If you go back in history, I remember reading about Schimmel making coffins and more recently high-end humidors.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/09/10 08:28 PM


Remember those living room units that had the TV in the center and a record player on one side and the radio AM/FM on the other side.

Big long wooden console cabinets….Fleetwood, Clairtone, Phillips, Marconi, RCA, Northern Electric, every company had a model.

The cabinets were made of the Willis Piano Co. of Montréal, Quebec for a long time, all through the 50’s 60’s 70’s.

The Willis Co also had a high-end line of furniture; very popular, trade named Spencer-Wood.
Posted by: pno

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/10/10 03:49 AM

Pleyel vs Ikea.
Posted by: Steve Cohen

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/10/10 09:13 AM

Originally Posted By: Silverwood Pianos

Remember those living room units that had the TV in the center and a record player on one side and the radio AM/FM on the other side.

Big long wooden console cabinets….Fleetwood, Clairtone, Phillips, Marconi, RCA, Northern Electric, every company had a model.

The cabinets were made of the Willis Piano Co. of Montréal, Quebec for a long time, all through the 50’s 60’s 70’s.

The Willis Co also had a high-end line of furniture; very popular, trade named Spencer-Wood.


You left out Wurlitzer!

In the early 60's Wurlitzer came out with a "Home Entertainment Center" of its day that was a radio and record player in a console cabinet. They were sold through piano dealership. We carried them.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/10/10 09:51 PM


You are right Steve I did leave out Wurlitzer; forgot totally about that model. Lots of piano companies diversified into making furniture of some sort. I think it was a natural crossover of sorts.

Interesting to note that in when the Heintzman of Canada was first sold out of the Heintzman family in 1980, the assets were purchased by Sklar Peplar a furniture company, most likely for the woodworking equipment and tooling.
Posted by: BDB

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/11/10 12:34 AM

Baldwin used to make tall case clocks. Wurlitzer, of course, made juke boxes with fancy cases, not to mention their organs.
Posted by: Piano World

Re: World's oldest piano maker tunes in to furniture design - 12/11/10 12:15 PM

That's right, I forgot about Baldwin Clocks.

We sold them when I worked for a Baldwin dealer in Avon, CT many years ago (with Tom Grace).