In this time of transition for art and design galleries around the world, contemporary furniture dealer Rebecca Ross Carlén, founder of Galerie SORS, in Paris, has decided to expand. “We’re not pulling back,” she says in a telephone interview three weeks after France allowed businesses to reopen from the coronavirus shutdown. “I’m investing more, producing more pieces, working with new designers,” she says, noting that she’s also found a location in the South of France for her first satellite gallery.
A former luxury real estate broker from Beverly Hills who landed in Paris after marrying a Swede, Carlén founded Galerie SORS in 2015 and two years later opened a space in the 7th arrondissement on the rue de Varenne, across the street from the Rodin Museum. Classic Haussmannian in style, with high ceilings and decorative moldings, it became the headquarters of a contemporary design firm devoted to commissioning and selling bespoke furniture created by carefully selected European craftspeople.
The inventory at SORS (its name is the Old French word for “source”) includes the liquid-graphite-coated Low Key table by Luxembourg-based Privatiselectionem; a pigmented-resin wall sculpture by the French artist Rémi Capdepuy that looks like an imaginary planet; and Creux, a patinated cast-bronze lounge sofa that was designed by Carlén herself.
SORS pieces are highly textural and hand-finished, made of natural materials by artisans who use contemporary techniques to create what Carlén calls a postmodernist look.
“We’re working with stone and brass and funkier materials like gunmetal, often placing them in a home with more comfy pieces,” she says. Everything she sells, she adds, fulfills an aesthetic as well as a functional role, meaning that each piece “works as a table or a chair or a lighting element but is also clearly a sculpture in the middle of the room.”
The firm’s business model is client-centered. SORS serves as a kind of liaison between designers who create and collectors who commission original pieces for private spaces. When a design is completed, the gallery will produce up to eight editions of it, one of which will go on display in the showroom, while the rest are offered for sale in the conventional way.
Carlén grew up in Los Angeles, where her mother was a realtor. “So, I was always around properties and homes and remodeling and renovating projects,” she recalls. After college, she followed in her mother’s footsteps, moving into the high-end real estate sector in Beverly Hills, where she worked both as a broker and as an interior decorator for about 12 years.
“When I relocated to Paris and started a family, I had a few years to think about what I was going to do,” she says. She visited museums and galleries and got to know the work of European artists like the design duo Privatiselectionem, who create the kind of quirky architectural furniture made of raw and textured materials that Carlén loves.
She had found her niche. “So many established design galleries are dealing with equally established artists or well-known mid-century modern designers,” she notes. “We’ve made our thing about being involved with contemporary production and new talent — people who are creating things right now who aren’t already famous.”
The coronavirus shutdown in France motivated her to accelerate a plan she had been developing to create a second showroom in the South of France. She had already found the perfect space: a 2,500-square-foot, 40-year-old raw-concrete brutalist house in the style of French-Swiss architect and designer Le Corbusier.
The structure is located in the spa town Digne-les-Bains, at the base of the French Alps. “It goes well with the styling of everything that we represent and create,” she says. “It is also such a find in Provençe, with beautiful views and lavender growing all around.”
Carlén expects to begin renovating the building in the autumn and start welcoming visitors in early 2021.
“Often, we see that collectors come to Paris and then tour the South of France looking for pieces, so we’re tying into that,” she says. “We will be offering them a whole experience. We can help accommodate them at four- or five-star hotels at the base of the Alps, then bring them to the house to see the pieces and have a real Provençal experience.”
Carlén hopes that the new space, situated on nearly four-and-a-half acres of land on in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, will allow her to present both indoor and outdoor installations, as well as special events, such as an annual gathering of VIP clients. In the meantime, she’s focused on reopening and pursuing her mission.
“I can’t say that business is a hundred percent like it was before this whole disaster,” Carlén says, “but I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of activity we’re getting.” The majority of her clients, she adds, are “coming back and finishing out what we were starting, so I’m actually very optimistic.”
Galerie SORS’s Rebecca Ross Carlén shares her thoughts on a few choice pieces