Interview – Dariel & Arfeuillere

Having designed and furnished some of Shanghai’s trendiest restaurants, bars and destinations, Thomas Dariel & Benoit Arfeuillere of Lime 388 have been leading the design pack here in Shanghai over the past 5 years.

Their signature designs are striking and uniquely theirs—a perfect marriage of French design expertise and an Eastern Perspective. We spoke to the duo recently about their latest projects, the changing attitudes of Chinese consumers and what’s in store for the future.

Can you tell us about your background. How did you come to work together and what lead you to set up your office in Shanghai?
Thomas: After we finished our studies, we moved directly here and opened our company. 2005 was the year of China in France and 2006 was the year of France in China, so it was a perfect context for us to move forward.

Benoit: It took us a good year and a half to come here and start the foundations. For the first 6 months, we visited Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hong Kong, in order to get to know how big is China and what are the possibilities.

Then we came back a year later, get to know how to open a company, which kind of partners, manufacturers, etc. Once we started our studio, because we took a good year to research and prepare, everything came one after the other and business is going well.

You have designed and furnished some of Shanghai’s most trendy bars, restaurants, stores and destinations. We particularly liked your work on The David Laris Concepts at Sinan Mansions where you created 4 very distinct looks and experiences housed in the one building. Can you tell us about the processes involved, the challenges you faced in working on a large project such as this. Did you have any particular design constraints or were you given free reign?
T: We started the collaboration (with Laris) 3 years ago. Since then we have opened 15 or 16 restaurants together. We have a very good relationship, which is all about trust.

B: It’s very interesting because with the different restaurant concepts, from the Rotisserie to the Mexican Lounge to a Mediterranean Restaurant, we really take the time to have food tastings with David. He explains to us where the ingredients are from, the specialities, the whole atmosphere and this helps to shape our design and develop our concepts.

We work very closely with David on each project, from creating spaces which are functional and appropriate for each concept and purpose, to selecting the music playlist, the soft furnishings and creating a whole atmosphere and unique experience for the customers. It’s very interesting to work with him. We are very honest with each other, which is very nice.

Do you design and create custom furniture for your interior design projects or do you collaborate with other designers or artists in the process?
T: Yes, we design special pieces whenever we can. However it is often dependent on time constraints or budgets. When we have the time we design the furnitures and have them made by our suppliers.

Coming from a product design background, our designs and processes are from a product designers perspective and that gives us a point of difference.

B: For us, we are a company of 15-20 people, yet we can handle every part of the project, the design and this is what we love. In terms of detailing and being from every step of the project, we are doing everything. So, it’s quite a lot of work!

Your designs are bold, extravagant and narrative. Can you tell us about the people or things that inspire and influence you and your work?
T: Philippe Starck. When I was young, about 7 or 8 yrs old, there was a toothbrush which he designed. I remember the brushes being so beautiful and realised the power in designing and creating an object. I think he integrated design into the industry.

Since the time you arrived in Shanghai, what are some of the changes you have encountered in the business during this time?
B: The big change we’ve noticed is that 6 years ago, when we first arrived, we used to meet many people with titles such as Artistic Director, anyone who knew how to use Photoshop can be an Artistic Director.

Since the recession 2 years ago, there are mush less of these people. In these times, it’s the real designers that stand out from the pretend ones. This is because now the client knows what they want. They are more aware, they want to invest in good design and expect something from the designer.

The market now has much better quality. So with quality, responsibility and the fact that people are more aware of what they want, these are the key for a good future in design.

What’s up next for Lime 388? What projects are you currently working on?
T: We are currently working on a boutique hotel project in ZhouZhuang. It’s a Water Town between Suzhou and Shanghai. It’s a city of famous philosophers and writers. In the nineties, it became a big tourist attraction and the town has been taken over by souvenirs shops and tourists. The government now wants to change this, to make the town more Chinese and back to its heritage. They want to attract more Shanghainese to visit the town.

B: We want to make the hotel very charming, it’s luxury but more importantly, a lifestyle experience. We want to invite guests to a place where they can enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.

I think the Chinese are starting to get over the Bling Bling stuff. They have been losing a lot of their heritage, over the last years. Now, they are trying to get back to something more original, more individual and more exclusive.

Your favourite place in Shanghai?
T: The PuLi Hotel and Spa. I love all the details, it is relaxing and harmonious. Everything is just perfect.

DARIEL & ARFEUILLERE – A Lime 388 Company
Building 1, 3/F, 1384 WanHangDu Lu, Lane No 12
200042 Shanghai – CHINA