The 8th-Generation Bordeaux Family Business That Has Nothing to Do With Wine
Most equate the Bordeaux region of France with wine. But today the area is also a cutting-edge hub for high-tech manufacturing, especially for the nautical and aerospace industries.
The city is home to CNB (Chantier Naval de Bordeaux) shipyard, one of the world’s most advanced marine manufacturers. In a factory so historic it’s buttressed with original iron support-beams designed by the same team that did the Eiffel Tower, CNB builds its Bordeaux mono-hulls and Lagoon catamarans, the most popular in the world.
Bordeaux is also home to the SuperYacht Refit Group, comprised of 38 independent contractors that fabricate everything from innovative navigation systems, to anchor-less stabilizers, to luxury interiors. The latter includes Catherineau, a family-owned company that’s upholding France’s longstanding tradition of fine furniture making.
If Louis XIV were alive today he would undoubtedly own a jet and a yacht in addition to the Palace of Versailles. He chose Andre Charles Boulle to create the palace furnishings, but for the jet and yacht, he would probably turn to Catherineau, whose sleek design style varies radically from Boulle’s over-the-top rococo creations, but whose reputation is every bit as prestigious as Boulle’s. Like Boulle, who was known for a combination of technological innovation and the finest workmanship, Catherineau excels at both.
Although we were a few centuries too late to visit Boulle’s factory, we were more than compensated by touring Catherineau. Fabricating jet and yacht interiors may not sound inherently exciting, but this mistaken notion was dispelled once we saw its workshop.
The sustainability of a family business lies in our ability to innovate.
Catherineau is no parvenu. It’s been in Bordeaux since 1750 when Pierre Catherineau started a cooperage (barrel-making) business. Now, in its eighth generation, under the guidance of Alain and Michele Catherineau and their two daughters Anne-Sophie (an engineer and MBA) and Marie (an engineer), the business has evolved into one of the world’s most renowned, high-end aerospace and yacht interior design and fabrication studios. “The sustainability of a family business lies in our ability to innovate,” Anne-Sophie told us.
Although the company has evolved since its conception, “wood remains in our DNA,” Anne-Sophie says. Catherineau’s success stems from a combination of bespoke factors like stunning wood veneers, meticulous craftsmanship, mirror-like varnish finishes, top quality leathers and its own paint colors. But none of this would result in global renown without its patented composite technology enabling the fabrication of pieces that are 30 percent lighter than conventionally manufactured interiors.
Buckminster Fuller’s adage “form follows function” has never been truer when it comes to aviation and race boats, where every ounce counts. For example, Gunboat, a racing catamaran manufacturer that builds its yachts in La Grande-Motte, France, saved more than 2,000 pounds by hiring Catherineau to refit the cabins of its boats. Using a proprietary process that soaks thin honeycomb-shaped paper in epoxy, Catherineau creates deceptively strong, ultra-thin structural panels. When Catherineau gets a design brief from clients including French jet maker Dassault, Airbus or yacht interior legend John Munford, the specs include precision measurements seldom seen in the terra firma world. Millimeters matter.
First, teams of engineers use computer modeling to design a product that meets the stringent regulatory, engineering and design aspects of the project. Next, the team builds a full-sized mockup of the walls of the interior of the jet cabin, yacht galley or other rooms. Catherineau’s workrooms are filled with these hulking white shells, which resemble dinosaur bones.
Then the team painstakingly constructs the interior so that it clings to the mold, forming a second skin. Ultimately, the new “skin” is removed and installed in the client’s jet, helicopter or yacht.
Luxury does not exist without excellence.
With aviation clients including Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault and Daher and private clients including French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, Catherineau is helping honor Bordeaux’s past while ushering it into the future. “Luxury does not exist without excellence,” Anne-Sophie says.