Paris neighbourhoods have gone through gentrification significantly in the 2000s. Along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine n the Bastille is no exception. The furniture manufactures and sales offices have given way to clothing and sports stores. There is hope, however, because La Maison Tassin Cuir (leather) continues an upholstery tradition. Their story includes drama. In 2015, a fire destroyed the company’s artisan workshops. Livelihood, unfinished orders from distant lands and their leather went up in flames. Like a phoenix, however, the Tassin company mobilised and moved into adjoining buildings. The former display room became the workshop. The business offices moved to another neighbourhood. Soon, by relative time standards, the salvaged tools and pattern makers became active again.
After my eye examination, I walked to Tassin’s former entry at the end of the Cour de l’Ours, a bounty of flora. Behind the still standing green grill and gate with the original name displayed, the empty lot was now an overgrown field of green. To the left of the green grill, an open glass door attracted my attention. The word “Gainerie” (furniture leather) marked the door into a workshop. Inside were two artisans working on leather. Posing a question about trying to find their Facebook page, led to a lively exchange of their latest projects for the French government and for a residence in Qatar. I was able to admire relief painting on Cordoba leather and the tools used to stamp leather-covered furniture with gold filet.
The original Tassins started in 1905; using techniques from the past centuries. Their purpose is to create and refurbish traditional items and furniture items such as desk accessories, false libraries and books, old screens or contemporary items such as bed headboards, chairs, floor and wall coatings using leather embossing presses.
Artisans Tucked Away in Courtyards
Having lived in the Bastille area since 1993, finding existing artisans who carry on traditions (Tassin carries the label: Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company), is always a treat. These artisans who carry on traditional methods are usually tucked into narrow passageways with dusty windows. Weekdays are the best time to explore when doors open with a push of the button; but will be closed on the weekends. Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine runs between the Bastille and Nation. The 11th arrondissement is on one side of the street, the 12th arrondissement is on the other.
When life began for the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine in the Middle Ages, it was an area far from the city centre. It was what we would call the suburbs. Considered countryside, this was a non-taxed area where artisans and furniture makers set up shop. The furniture manufacturers moved in at the time of Louis XI (late 1400s). It is Louis XIV and his minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert who permitted the artisans to copy royal furniture designs for use by French families who could afford to have furniture made.
It is refreshing to know that traditions are continuing and can bounce back.