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Merging the past with the present

Blinds & Shutters recently took a trip to Paris to visit Ballauff, the original home of pinoleum.


It’s difficult for any established business to maintain its heritage and tradition while keeping up with the modern world. Ballauff, however, manages it with ease as a recent trip to Paris by Blinds & Shutters demonstrated.

Ballauff’s 16th century office in the Marais district on the Place des Vosages seamlessly blends a magnificent interior – much of it original – with all the modern equipment a business requires in the 21st century. The production factory based in  Mantes-la-Jolie, 40 miles outside of Paris, has a mix of modern equipment yet still boasts equipment such as a 150-year-old warping machine.

This apparent contradiction is what makes Ballauff’s original woven wood so successful – a harmonious blend of tradition techniques with modern equipment that allows the natural beauty and quality of the wood to be the focus.

The factory is situated on the same site where it has been for over 140 years, passed down through five generations of the Cointement family. Split into two for safety and fire hazard reasons, one side houses the raw material – logs of French pine and strips of wood from the rest of the world including West Africa. The well-treated wood can be kept undercover outside for up to two years and different batches are clearly labelled as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). “Every year we get a visit from the FSC, which makes sure forests are properly managed and sustainable. Having both these certifications boil down simply to being good for the planet,” says Olivier Cointement, managing director, Ballauff. Any unused or unsuitable wood is also kept for the furnace to ensure nothing is wasted, and the factory can produce its own energy.

Nowadays, Ballauff works mainly with wood veneer in natural colours of mainly brown or white. A new automated machine was purchased with the move from logs to veneer and it cuts the wood into thin reeds (1mm or 1.4mm) at the required length (120, 140, 150 or 200 cm). One veneer sheet makes 80 reeds. “When the machine has finished cutting the reeds, we always check the quality and then wrap them into small bundles,” says Olivier. It is no wonder that a company sharing the same raw material as a Stradivarius violin needs to approach its production in a very particular way.  Bois de Resonance, besides having excellent properties for sun shading, also has excellent sound resonance properties, which are then used to great advantage by the traditional manufacturers of violins and cellos.

The next stage of pinoleum production is the very important area of warp beaming.  As the finished product is so unique, Ballauff has three warp beaming machines that cover all the weaving designs in its range in all the widths available in a range of different yarns both polyester and cotton. There are about 100 bobbins per machine that ensure tension free warp yarns being presented to the looms during the weaving process.

These threads are mostly white or ivory but modern colour trends means there are now a number of colours yarns and cords that Ballauff dye themselves to make sure colour coordination is complete throughout their full product range. It is quite possible that it takes a full day to set up a new beam for a new quality.  “Modern weaving using textile yards is much quicker but using a  ‘Grand Dame’ of a machine for yarn preparation was never destined to be fast and efficient. Nor should it be, as this is the very essence of the Ballauff bois tisse  (woven wood) philosophy. In the past, we have fewer designs but more volume.  Today we have more designs using more painted colours but with less volume,” explains Olivier.

In a separate workshop, there are a large number of looms, each one set up for a particular design. Different pinoleum designs are created using the different weaves and reeds. Olivier explains that ensuring the gaps in-between the reeds are absolutely perfect is incredibly tricky, but it has been perfected over generations of weavers.

Rolls are created in 50m rolls, but the natural colour of the wood poses problems for uniformity. Conservatories, for example, have a number of blinds hanging together, so Ballauff is careful to ensure that any blinds supplied for a particular client possess the same uniform colour for the natural fabric. This is done through a visual inspection by means of an A-C rating often used for wood. “Customers love the natural colours, but obviously want exactly the same grain. In the UK, half of our pinoleum blinds sold are in natural wood, and half in colour,” says Olivier.

Before any painting of pinoleum blinds is undertaken, the blinds go through a process where they are treated with eco-friendly insecticides and fungicides to prevent any fraying of the reeds or mould. “This is a special treatment that seals the wood ready for painting if required. This means our pinoleum blinds can be used in any area of a building, including bathrooms. Blinds from the Far East can arrive mouldy as they have been left in a humid warehouse before shipping,” adds Olivier.

Once the pinoleum has been treated, it’s off to the painting room. A deal with The Little Green Paint Company provides Ballauff with around 180 colours, but they can also be made to order. The paint used is also environmentally friendly.

At each stage in the production process, the blinds go through stringent quality control and before the blinds are ready to be stored in the warehouse ready for delivery, they go through one final quality control. A trip through the warehouse reveals an astonishing array of colours and designs and shows that Ballauff is one of very few woven wood producers that has an equal capability of producing natural, stained and painted qualities in a full range of widths that ensure minimal yield loss by its customers.

The plethora of rolls in its warehouse reflects the full range of colours, both stained and painted in all these widths that Ballauff keep in stock to ensure a fast and efficient delivery service.  “Colours go through cycles and fashion trends, and we have to keep up with those trends,” says Olivier.

In keeping up with trends, Ballauff has increased its range of pinoleum to incorporate a privacy backing and a reflective backing. Ballauff also distinguishes itself through the uniqueness of its eco range of natural weaves. This range uses hemp, juts, buds and stems together with parts of bamboo that combine to produce original and harmonious furnishing mediums for enhancing the living space within a house/apartment.

To this end, and back to the Paris headquarters, Olivier has created a unique environment for collaboration in design and trends. The offices have been sub-divided and let to innovative and highly creative small businesses in the design industry. They include a soft furnishings duo as well as a curtains, blinds and wallpaper team that uses unusual but stunning fabrics and materials. “It’s fantastic to have such creativity around and we all bounce ideas off each other constantly. It’s also useful in terms of contacts and development work. We have, in effect, created a design house,” says Olivier.

To further entrench its innovative approach, Ballauff has opened a trade showroom with partners to show off the versatility of pinoleum. On one side of the showroom, all the samples are hung from rails for easy access with pinoleum decorating the walls representing different designs and applications (pinoleum makes a great ‘wallpaper’ incidentally). On the other side of the showroom, a full bedroom setting shows off pinoleum sliding panels and blinds to great effect.





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