Design Stories

Elegant Utility

12 May 2022
Elegant Utility

What is the idea behind the new Oell collection?



Oell proposes a more natural way to work with a laptop or tablet while sitting in an armchair like, for example, the Aston Club. Instead of using a support specially designed for devices, the design offers something that looks more gentle and refined. The collection consists of an asymmetrical low table in two heights, one quite low like a coffee table, and the other at just the right level to position a laptop in front of the sitter by reaching over the side of the armchair.
Oell is a very practical product developed around different kinds of situations. The first intent of the table is to comfortably allow someone to work from a lounge chair, but it can also bring a teacup or a cocktail within reach, or it could be a coffee table arching over the sofa. The aspiration was to develop a design that’s very simple but at the same time suitable for many different settings; some- thing that’s a very quiet object, yet not invisible. Oell is a humble design, but it’s quite flexible and smart. It’s meant to be a complement that assists in all different postures, moments, and situations. While the table doesn’t announce that it’s designed for work because it’s not specialized looking, it's always there and ready to serve when the need arises.

© Courtesy of Studio Altherr Désile Park

What inspired the sculptural form?



Balancing the table top required putting a weighted base on the floor. This foot is a smooth, gentle shape, like a big piece of stone. In order to pull the tabletop over the sitter’s legs or the arm of a chair, the column can’t be in the center of the base. It has to be asymmetrically mounted to create enough room. This offset metal column looks like a typeface; it’s almost like a serif, the way it curves to just kiss the base.

In what context do you expect to find Oell?



Oell is a collection that complements every scenario, from contract to hospitality and home, and really anywhere we work now. It's very easy to combine with different kinds of situations because it's polite and elegant. It strikes this balance between something that is quite universal, but at the same time, not boring.

© Salva Lopez

How do the different finishes define the identity of the product?



The dark gray and all-white options are very clear, graphic, and elegant in a corporate or contract setting. For example, in the pure white option, Oell looks very clean, as though it’s from a design labo- ratory. But the dark finish can also work in a very refined home living room or hotel lobby. The slightly reflective dark grey metal base becomes very classical when paired with the top in the dark stoneware with mélange effect. There are also versions in warmer rust-colored and ivory finishes that were developed to suit a softer residential environment. There is no limit to how to use the design, it's flexible and very easy to mix and match.

© Courtesy of Jean-Marie Massaud

How does the Oell collection reflect and respond to new ways of living?



The collection needs to be flexible and adapt to every kind of situation because there are no longer boundaries between living and working—everything is blurred. Even the office is becoming more home- like, people want to express their own sensibility in the place where they're spending so much time. This table is simply the expression of this understanding. Design is a consequence of social practices. It responds to our lifestyle and tries to help us have a more convenient, more elegant way of living. Designers have to be progressivist. We can’t just tell the same story over and over, but instead do better each time. As much as we can, we as designers have to propose some alternatives: whether that’s a new attitude toward materials, or a new way to understand the function of a product.

© Salva Lopez

What are some of the sustainability considerations designed into the collection?



The base, the column and the top are all very easily manufactured and produced separately. They’re assembled with just a screw. Reclaiming the aluminum column or the MDF top is not complicated by other non-recyclable materials like glue. But sustainability is more than just using reclaimed or recyclable materials. It's about designing everlasting solutions, things that we can use, enjoy, and love for a long time. Good designs are often simple because quality and competence are at the essence of simplicity. We need to embrace reduction as an attitude by creating fewer, better products designed to be more relevant for all the ways we live.


Since the beginning of his career — a 1990 graduate of Paris’ ENSCI-Les Ateliers, Paris Design Institute — Jean-Marie Massaud has been working on an extensive range of works, stretching from architecture to objects, from one-off project to serial ones, from macro environment down to micro contexts. His creations, whether speculative or pragmatic, explore this imperative paradigm: reconciling pleasure with responsibility, the individual with the collective.