Art is the highest form of hope
Brussels mag N°18
Behind the scenes
TEXT MARIE HONNAY
Taking advantage of the summer break, we slipped into the HQ of the Belgian enterprise Marie’s Corner. We enjoyed a guided tour with Serge Silber and Philippe Vanhemelen, the company’s two CEOs.
Since its creation almost 30 years ago, Marie’s Corner chose to base itself on strong values and clear founding principles: craftsmanship, superior quality, a guaranteed savoir-faire, flexibility, proximity and furniture produced in Europe (in Zaragoza, Spain). In the era of globalisation and the race to reduce production costs, these choices may have seemed surprising at the time… Yet, today, more than ever, they make a lot of sense. They have enabled the company to come through the crisis while significantly limiting disruptions. Today, this consistency and certitude are reinforced in order to face a very particular and hitherto unknown future.
Serge Silber and Philippe Vanhemelen, the two CEOs of the Brussels enterprise Marie’s Corner, welcomed us to their HQ, a modern building with an interior composed of steel, glass and wood which hosts the brand’s offices, showroom and warehouse. Built in 2014, it serves as a showcase for all the collections. “The showroom has two distinct functions”, Serge Silber stated. “Every Monday, we meet with our distributors, as well as with the architects and decorators with whom we collaborate. In this space, they are able to discover the entirety of our range, i.e. approximately 200 models (including some thirty or so chairs and sofas, in addition to pouffes, chaise longue, high stools, coffee tables…” he added. At the far end of the showroom, there is a separate area: the MC hotel boutique. “Within this space, we have set up a reception area, a breakfast room, a bar and a hotel room. The decorators can discover here this aspect of our universe, as well as our range of fabrics especially designed for public areas. Over the past five years, with the goal of rejuvenating our range, we have expanded our offer in this particular sector”, the CEO added.
The ideas laboratory
Philippe Vanhemelen then presented the Sonoma chair to us, this is one of the brand’s future classic items, available in three versions. “The first is fully upholstered in fabric, the second has the external back in wood and the third one has been custom made for Frederik Deceuninck, chef and owner of the Caillou restaurant in Knokke. In collaboration with his architect, we proposed a more comfortable version of this chair to him. The upholstered armrests allow you to sit in the chair very comfortably for several hours and in no way does this design detract from the style”, according to Philippe Vanhemelen. Colour is very present in the Marie’s Corner showroom. “The broad diversity of our range of fabrics and our colour palette is an integral part of our DNA”, he added. Among the team of 18 colleagues (administrative personnel, commercial staff and logistics experts…) all of whom are active at the Wavre offices, one person is responsible for developing new fabrics. “We present our new items once a year, in January. All the new items must therefore be finalised before September, but looking for new fabrics keeps this person busy for about 8 months of the year.” As for the development of the models themselves, that is done by the Spanish production plant of Marie’s Corner. “The contact between our offices in Wavre and the production plant takes place on a daily basis, given that we only produce our furniture to order. This lean manufacturing system means that we do not overproduce and it significantly limits the number of items that transit through our storage area.”
On the first floor of the building, the open offices offer an impressive view over the countryside of Brabant Wallon. On the lower floor, there is an open showroom where clients can test the comfort of the different models. “Here, we can present all our proposals and, until now, we were not seeking, as is the case in the rue de Namur store, to create a pleasant atmosphere. The idea was rather to allow our teams to easily change the configuration of a lounge suite, at the request of a client or an architect, but also to have sufficient space and luminosity available in order to take photographs when necessary; we have just done this for the new series of low tables in marble and steel that we are presenting in Paris this month. However, this year, we are thinking of changing this area totally in order to create an ambiance close to the one in our store”, Serge Silber added as a teaser. But before this, the duo is completing preparations for two future exhibitions: two events that are monopolising the time of 12 colleagues, as well as 14 commercial agents and some 20 or so freelancers. This will almost empty the entire contents of the Wavre HQ for 5 whole days.
“In the showroom, our classic pieces, such as the Jackson armchair, can be seen alongside other items, some of which have become icons, for example, the Sonoma chair, which is the new best seller in the range.”