The Residency:

Béton Brut At Paul Smith

Furniture dealer and founder of Béton Brut, Sophie Pearce, has curated a dedicated space in our Albemarle Street shop in Mayfair and filled it with rare vintage pieces – plus, everything is available to buy.

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For anyone with even a fleeting interest in design, Béton Brut – a design gallery and studio ­– could be considered a paradise of sorts. Walking around the East London outpost, with its carefully curated assortment of vintage furniture and curios, you’re hardly surprised that its co-founder Sophie Pearce got into the field by way of a university module on the politics of space. This is not, after all, your typical furniture dealer or antiques warehouse: there’s a rhyme and a reason to every piece that’s been picked and a definite art to its arrangement. And then there’s the name.

Translated as “raw concrete” in English, it was originally a French term. First coined by renowned modernist architect Le Corbusier, it described the use of unfinished concrete that still retains the imprints of the formwork ­– the frame that gives concrete structure while it’s setting. If you’ve ever strolled along the Southbank past the National Theatre building, marvelled at the Unité d'habitation in France or visited the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, you’ll have likely spotted it in the flesh. In short, it played a starring role in the emergence of Brutalism and modernism in the latter half of the 20th century.

Not just a specific technique per se, béton brut also embodies a philosophy – the modernist embrace of pure materials and honesty of their construction. Principles Sophie weaves through her furniture business, then. “Though we wanted a nod to the modernist movement, it had to be a strong name in and of itself because we’re not just a vintage design shop, we’re also a prop house and contemporary design gallery,” she tells us. “It had to have a little bit of poetry.”

There’s an abundance of poetry, too, in the pieces that she selects for Béton Brut, which was first installed as a residency in our Albemarle Street store to mark London Design Festival in 2022. Curated with the Paul Smith shop in mind and recently refreshed, Sophie has chosen to fill the space with pieces that date from the 18th to 20th century, including lighting from the likes of Isamu Noguchi and Gio Ponti, furniture from Paolo Piva, Ettore Sottsass, Alvar Aalto, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Jim Partridge & Liz Walmsley, sofas and armchairs from Raphael Raffel and Ivan Matušík, and chairs by Lanfranco Benvenuti, Vittorio Nobili, and Marcel Breuer. Alongside this diverse assortment, there’s also sculptures from Florentine Ruault and Urano Palma as well as original art and pottery by Maria Vlandi and Chinoko Sakamoto.

It’s truly a treasure trove. But how does one go about selecting pieces, especially when, like Sophie, you don’t restrict yourself to a specific period or style? For the most part, she relies on instinct. “I am definitely drawn by shapes,” Sophie says. “I like to see the pieces serving as functional sculpture, adding an element of the sublime to your living space, as well as their functional purpose.”

When it comes to provenance, Sophie explains that she often finds herself putting her art history hat on. After she’s found a piece, she tends to go down a rabbit hole, needing to know everything about an item’s story and its designer. “But I’m definitely a see it first, research second type,” she says. “Ultimately, I’ve got to fall in love with a piece. The starting point is always coming face to face with a beautiful thing.”

A quick glance at Béton Brut’s website and Instagram will tell you that Sophie’s own personal aesthetic veers towards a more neutral, organic palette, something that contrasts – seemingly, at least – with Paul’s vibrant output as a designer. But she tends to see more similarities than differences between them. “On the face of it you might look at Béton Brut and see something monochrome and monastic, and then look at Paul Smith and see eclecticism and colour, but I think there is a common thread: a magpie-like search for interest and beauty,” she says. “I admire the way Paul has brought the things he loves into his company and shops – cycling, art, design. He’s scrapped the rules, and that’s what we aim to do, too.”

More specifically, she wants juxtaposition to be at the centre of her Albemarle Street residency. “I want to bring in more surprises and leave my usual restraint behind. More dynamic vignettes – an art deco Buxus desk next to a gloss red postmodern chair, for example,” she says. “I really want to bring out our shared eclecticism and highlight harmony in contrasts.”

And more surprises are certainly in store: when London Design Festival kicks off in September, the current collection and edit will be completely refreshed. Keep your eyes peeled for further updates.  

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