Man in the Moon

DESIGNER Guillaume Sasseville
TEXT Leslie Jen

Today, the best design firms and practitioners are able to bridge complementary disciplines, arming themselves with a multifaceted approach to their design process. One example of such agility is Montreal-based Guillaume Sasseville, who has shown an impressive range of skills–first in his work for Saucier + Perrotte architectes, and now through his independent one-man venture of SSSVLL, a design studio that focuses on industrial and product design.

Though Sasseville never trained specifically as an architect, he graduated from the Environmental Design program at the Université du Québec à Montréal in 2001, and began honing his craft under the tutelage of Gilles Saucier and André Perrotte the following year. While at the firm, Sasseville worked on projects of varying scales, from urban design to architecture to interior and exhibition design. He credits both of his mentors for inspiring his design sensibility and work process, leaving a marked influence on his approach to thinking, seeing and creating.

With the multitude of opportunities available outside the realm of architecture, Sasseville began to pursue complementary design explorations in furniture and jewelry, along with collaborative excursions in the design and conception of exhibitions, installations and curatorial projects. In 2009, he even undertook independent jewelry studies through an instructor who could accommodate his busy schedule through private lessons.

In 2010, the young designer left the firm, and embarked on a one-year program at the prestigious École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ÉCAL) in Switzerland, from which he graduated with a Master’s degree in Industrial Design. His decision to attend this particular institution was based on its strong reputation as an applied program with a real-world focus. The school’s established liaisons and collaborations with recognized European luxury brands and manufacturers such as Baccarat and Christofle meant that Sasseville could obtain direct experience designing real projects during his education, some of which were ultimately commissioned for production. The school’s affiliation with such companies also provided the young designer with access to the finest and most experienced artisans to craft his visions.

One such success was the Half Moon project for Christofle, a French manufacturer of silver flatware and home accessories. Half Moon is a light sconce that was inspired by Sasseville’s childhood memories and imaginative conceptions of the moon. The sconce’s cratered silver surface is mounted atop a convex frosted glass surface, through which a concealed LED disc glows, emitting a diffuse light reminiscent of the moon’s soft, calming luminosity. 

Another of Sasseville’s designs currently in production is Jump, a rarefied but functional jump rope–also for Christofle–that was commissioned for the baby gift niche market. Sasseville describes it as a “non-design”–meaning he kept the object in its original and most basic form, made manifest in a rope knotted at each end, probably its simplest evocation. However, with its handles made of solid silver, the jump rope is very much a beautiful objet while still fulfilling its promise of a completely functional–and expensive–toy.

Sasseville’s independently produced work enables him to pursue a more conceptual and subversive–yet also artisanal–approach to design. For the Resized series of 2010, he applied an intriguing geometric exercise to a variety of everyday objects usually taken for granted, such as cheap dime-store rings and hotel room keys. By imposing the geometry of a prism onto such objects, Sasseville cuts away at the extraneous material of the object falling outside the constraints of the prism, thereby sculpting a new and unusual object in the process. 

With the rings, Sasseville created wax casts of the original objects. Once the geometry of the prism was applied to the wax casts, Sasseville “read” the object to determine the best place to make the cuts to communicate the imposed geometry while still retaining the feeling and meaning of the object. Simple slices were made to the wax casts, then the final rings were cast in gold or silver, creating valuable and enduring pieces of wearable jewelry but also highly conceptual works of art.

Adopting the same theme, Sasseville’s submission to the 2010 Carton Jaune competition and exhibition (which he also co-curated and co-designed) was a hotel room key–made precious and unusual by its composition of gold-plated silver and by a curious diagonal cut across the fob. In slicing the fob according to the dictates of the prism, the room number is partially cut off, thus reducing the key’s functionality and usefulness.

This approach ultimately derived two years earlier from his Prism Chair of 2008, which he submitted to the Babiche Nouvelle exhibition at the Commissaires Gallery in Montreal. By applying the geometry of a prism to Sasse ville’s version of the centuries-old traditional Quebec “babiche” chair, critical parts of its structure were lopped off, rendering it useless for the purpose it was intended.

Another chair appeared in Sasseville’s repertoire in 2008–this time for the Testing Ground exhibition at Atelier Punkt. The designer was asked to submit a design for a chair, to which he responded with Flat Chair, a puddle of grey plastic bearing a vague resemblance to a melted chair–that blended perfectly with the grey concrete floor of the gallery. So invisible it was that visitors walked right over it. Sasseville maintains his design was a comment on how we read our environment and how the conventional notion of a chair dictates where we sit. Here, he invites people to sit where they want–in this case, on the ground if they choose the Flat Chair.

Though he has expanded the scope of his design work, Sasseville hasn’t strayed completely away from architecture. His simple two-storey Island House in Rivière-du-Loup along the St. Lawrence River measures a modest 25’ x 32’. While this elemental structure seems very basic viewed from ground level, in typical Sasseville fashion, there is a twist. The steeply pitched roofline has an elegant deviation, with the roof ridge running diagonally from front to back. The skewed geometry is imperceptible from the front elevation, but is readily apparent from above in plan view. Construction of the house will begin later this month, and is scheduled for completion in the fall.

The designer’s talents have recently been recognized: in November 2011, Sasseville was named the winner of the Phyllis Lambert Design Montréal Grant, a $10,000 prize that will enable him to complete his current project entitled Verre Commun, a series of glasses and cups inspired by drinking vessels mass-produced in early 20th-century Montreal. Currently in the process of design and production in Graz, Austria, this latest creation will be introduced to Canada later this year. We eagerly await the unveiling. CA