Art gallery, jardin du Palais Royal, Paris
Hampshire House, Central Park, New York
Waddesdon Manor: 208 m2 of parquet de Versailles
Stormont Castle Parliament building: 230 m2 of parquet de Versailles
1951: born in Troyes
Extracts from newspaper and magazine articles:
Article from L'Aube Nouvelle, winter 1999, No 31
The art of traditional parquetry
Jean-Charles Vautrin, winner of the 1999 "Prix des métiers d'art du Conseil général", has revived the ancient tradition of fine parquetry in putting his skills and experience to work so widely abroad.
The workshop, at the back of an off-street courtyard in Bréviandes, is of the most traditional sort. This morning, Jean-Charles Vautrin is working. The radio is tuned to France Musique, a classical music station, because music, and the piano in particular, is his second love. Jean-Charles Vautrin is in his element here. He is perfectly at home in the surroundings of the humble craftsman.
"I like to get my inspiration for working the wood or redesigning some panelling from an old treatise on joinery, such as this one by Louis XV's cabinet maker," confides Vautrin, gesturing towards a bookcase full of reference works.
Jean-Charles Vautrin was 27 years old when he took over the running of the family workshop from his father and his grandfather. "Right away, to get ahead of the competition, I wanted to take on new challenges, do something more than just doors and windows," he remembers.
Self-taught but accomplished, Jean Charles Vautrin is not the type of person to take refuge in routine. And this is why, in 1986, he launched himself into the business of restoring country buildings.
Parquetry "in the French style" which makes an impression abroad
It was not until 1989, however, that the career of the joiner from Bréviandes took a crucial turn. "I had heard that the owner of a manor house near Oxford, in England, who was restoring the building, was looking for some parquet de Versailles in the French style. I offered my services." He worked there until 1993, in the meantime also restoring the antique parquet in a hotel in Courchevel.
This work gave him an enviable reputation abroad. And thus, in 1993, he was asked to do up an apartment in New York. Three years later he could be found . in Turkmenistan, designing and laying marquetry flooring in the chamber of the Council of Ministers and creating a magnificent rosette in semi-precious woods in the Presidential palace at Ashgabat. However, it is above all in England, where eighteenth century parquet is highly prized, that architects and interior decorators seek the services of Jean-Charles Vautrin. The materials he uses include oak, walnut, hardwoods, semi-precious woods (ebony, pear, sycamore, cherry, rosewood) and, for his marquetry work, Finnish birch with an oak subfloor.
Article from the journal "Magazine charpente menuiserie parquets", No 94, March 2001
The age of enlightenment rediscovered
It is at Bréviandes, in the Aube, that Jean-Charles Vautrin's workshop is to be found. He is a master craftsman with wood who has established himself at the top of the market and in so doing has gained a world-wide reputation.
The work we have before us is far from everyday. It is true that at first glance it is the quality of work in the traditional manner, the elegance of the forms, the richness of the woods which catch the eye. But behind this workmanship one discovers a person of consequence, whose path shows that the sector can produce exceptional individuals who, although at home in the depths of provincial France are nonetheless more than capable of exporting their skills with success.
A general impression of what work in progress looks like can be found in a small country house in the French département of the Somme. "I have been working on the restoration of this building for six years" explains Jean-Charles Vautrin. "In this room, which is used as an office, all the panels are in oak. I have just finished the room next door, which is in polished deal. And in a third room there will be nothing but imitation marble. I have also redone the doors and windows, following the existing style. I recover the old fittings and old panes of glass."
Let us go back: Jean-Charles Vautrin's business is a family one, with its roots in the 19th century. "With my father, I did a lot of work on fitting out shops and kitchens. My personal tastes then turned to panelling, doors and top of the range parquet floors." This policy of concentrating on the very best has proved remunerative: today, Jean-Charles Vautrin receives commissions from all over the world, having contributed to the Parliament building in Belfast, the Presidential Palace in Turkmenistan, luxury apartments in New York and in England, to name but a few. "I work a great deal in London, for affluent clients. Once you start looking around, there is an enormous market for high quality work in wood."
Technical details: The oak panels in this room have not been rough planed rather put straight through the planing machine, "and we planed everything, including the flat-moulded panels and the mouldings, in such a way as to leave the marks of the traditional tools." What this means is that all the parts which can be seen have been worked using the tools used in the 18th century, in particular a wide range of different planing implements*. All the carving was done by hand. To complete all this work, almost three cubic metres of wood were needed. Three thicknesses of oak were used:
60 mm for all the carved horizontal pieces
Jean-Charles Vautrin's turnover for this room was round 450 000 French francs (68 700 euro).
A philosophical choice: Running a business like that of Jean-Charles Vautrin obviously requires considerable rigour as regards manufacture and the ability to adopt an attentive approach to the wishes of a clientele both refined and well-to-do. But there is no question here of changing course:
"I believe it is important to keep a business on a human scale." More than one reader might be tempted to ask how one ends up following such an unusual path, which really does restore the ancient craft of joinery to all its former glory. "All I did was to follow the CAP/BEP course in joinery at technical school, but it has to be said I also studied for five years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, under the wing of the historic buildings architect." And a good helping of talent obviously does not come amiss!