An immaculate marquee stands in the courtyard of Ateliers Perrault, located in Saint-Laurent-de-la-Plaine (western France). It is so tall and wide that “you could fit the village church inside,” said Jean-Baptiste Bonhoure, the CEO of the carpentry and fine woodworking company. It is here, in this rural commune of 1,800 residents, nestled in the greenery between Angers and Cholet, that the trusses – the triangular structures that make up the framework of the choir and apse of Notre-Dame de Paris – will be assembled from May 25.
A spectacular dry run, to which the press will be invited, will ensure that the beams, rafters, crossbeams and braces fit perfectly. Four years after the devastating fire that ravaged the cathedral as the stunned world looked on, the moment promises to be thrilling.
In contracting this company from the west of France, the public institution tasked with the reconstruction of Notre-Dame was well aware of its impeccable track record. Ateliers Perrault has been in business for 263 years, and its prestigious projects are as numerous as the wood shavings that fill the workshop floor.
‘Respecting the direction of the wood’s fibres’
The company (with 170 employees and €24 million in revenue in 2022) has carried out the renovation of the Queen’s Hamlet at the Château de Versailles, the belfry of the Eglise Saint-Sulpice in Paris, and is currently working on the Grand Palais and the north facade of Les Invalides. It has also worked for Banque de France, clients like Rolex or Chanel, and for wealthy villa owners in Palm Beach (Florida) and Monaco.
The company has even exported its expertise to the other side of the world. The San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse, located on an island at the eastern tip of Patagonia, bears witness to this. “But we are also working on restoring a calvary that was struck by lightning just two kilometers from here,” said the boss, Jean-Baptiste Bonhoure. “There is no such thing as a small project.” At 36 years old, the construction engineer had the “incredible opportunity” to lead Perrault after its acquisition by the Ateliers de France group in 2019, ending an eight-generation family saga that began in 1760.
For the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris, the company partnered with a business from Eure (northwestern France), les Ateliers Desmonts, because they needed to master an ancient skill: the squaring of beams with an axe, as practiced by carpenters in the 13th century.
“It’s the only technique that allows us to respect the direction of the wood’s fibers, which allows the beam to be both more flexible and more resistant. But there’s also an aesthetic dimension,” explained Matteo Pellegrino, 29, a carpenter from Montauroux (southeastern France), who was promoted to head up the squaring team. “The axis forms teeth on the surface of the wood, it looks a bit like fish scales.” To reproduce this original appearance, about 60 axes, inspired by those of the cathedral builders, had to be crafted by an Alsatian blacksmith, La Maison Luquet.
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