Go to the city, build your fortune, retire to the countryside. That used to be the Great European Dream. Cities buzzed with youth while villages became glorified retirement homes. But the internet has had a funny effect on urbanization. For many young creatives it’s become the virtual gallery, boardroom, and marketplace—a stand-in for city life. As urban living becomes more intense and less affordable, designers are finding they can opt out without dropping out.
Atelier Bingo is the ultimate case study. Paris-based freelance designer Adèle Favreau and creative director Maxime Prou were locked into a desperate rhythm of Métro commutes, long office hours, and subpar sleep when they heard about an old factory Favreau’s uncle was converting in the Vendée, a region in west-central France on the Atlantic Ocean. Photos of the rural, light-flooded space stopped them in their tracks. Favreau imagined a return to her roots in nearby Cholet; Prou, whose childhood home of Réunion is 10,000 miles away, took the four-hour drive in stride. He drafted his notice, they gave up their lease, and bid adieu to the City of Light.
It hurt their career trajectory, well, not at all. Though projects thinned out for a while, Favreau says the long stretches of downtime “gave us a chance to experiment and create a strong visual universe. We worked on our graphic look and found a common voice.” The couple’s “fusion of ideas,” says Prou, “is sometimes very simple, sometimes more complicated, but always spontaneous.”
They chose the name “Bingo” because of this spontaneity. “We’re always waiting for that ‘bingo’ moment, when the image pleases us both,” says Favreau.
Two years after their move, the factory on a wooded road in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre has become a veritable capital-F Factory—a collaborative, multi-studio creative space with Bingo at its heart. The pair have won clients from Vogue to Wrap magazine and participate in exhibitions from Nantes, just up the road, to Brussels, and Paris. There’s worldwide demand for their limited-edition screen prints and textile designs, and the internet is always their first point of sale.
The Bingo “voice” has obvious influences in the cut-outs of late-career Matisse. The pair took to paper-cutting out of admiration for the French artist’s “colors, compositions and shapes—so incredible and so poetic,” says Favreau. “What’s cool are the random forms that come out of cut paper. Sometimes the end result is more interesting than what you were trying for. A circle isn’t a circle, exactly.”
Yet their creative context spans a century. They’re fond of the experimental Cobra movement that emerged across Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam in the mid-century, with shades of Kandinsky and Joan Miró. Their American crush is the printmaker Robert Motherwell of the New York School of artists.
Less traditionally, they also follow radical contemporary Europeans, designers that operate on the fringes, often living remotely like themselves. Prou name checks Israeli-Danish artist Tal R, Swiss conceptual photographer Linus Bill, and publishing houses like Lubok in Leipzig, Germany, and Nobrow in London.
And yet, as much as any of those cultural inspirations, the pair’s immersion in the landscape has been instrumental in cultivating a distinct look. “Recently we’ve discovered that the color combinations in our work have evolved with the seasons,” notes Favreau. “In winter we tend to use colder colors and in summertime the colors are more vibrant. We love to wander and observe the constant changes in the countryside.”
Do they miss Paris? Not the city, just their friends still living there. Urban life factors not a jot into their plans. When asked about their dreams for the future, Prou fantasizes about designing album covers for a jazz label. They’ll be doing it, says Favreau, from a little wood house in the forest, “with a terrace for our dog, Donut, open to the sun.”