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MAH JONG BY ROCHE BOBOIS: the 50th anniversary of a furniture icon

The modular sofa - designed a half-century ago as a pure expression of design freedom - is celebrated with a fresh new take.

words: Robin Hodes

photos courtesy of Roche Bobois

When Hans Hopfer designed the Mah Jong sofa in 1971, did he do so using a crystal ball? One has to wonder.

Because few furniture pieces can claim such staying power. The Mah Jong has long been a staple for Roche Bobois - a world leader in furniture design recognized for its French "art de vivre" - and has withstood fifty years of culture and trend shifts. I mean, yeah, there's some logic to it. Mah Jong offers infinite design and seating possibiliites, so it's pretty hard to get bored of... but still... fifty years?? That's an awfully long shelf life and yet, it's as fresh now as it ever was.

By playing freely with the elements of the Mah Jong, the user becomes the designer of his or her own sofa. The Mah Jong can be an armchair, sofa, lounge chair, bed, or complete living area.

When Hans Hopfer first created the Mah Jong in 1971, he imagined it to be a sofa based on the total freedom of form and function. Using three basic elements that can be combined or stacked, his versatile design allowed for limitless options of composition from simple to highly complex. At the time, it was considered most avant-garde.

Hans Hopfer's Mah Jong sofa as it appeared in 1971

painter, sculptor, and designer Hans Hopfer - the creative genius behind Mah Jong

Roche Bobois' Mah Jong sofa has since become a benchmark in terms of modularity and creativity. It's entirely handmade in Italy in a dedicated workshop akin to those of haute couture fashion houses; appropriately, Mah Jong has been "dressed" over the years by major fashion designers including Kenzo Takada, Missoni, and Jean Paul Gaultier.

This year, Roche Bobois celebrates 50 years of the Mah Jong Sofa with an all-new array of compositions, new vibrant and luxurious fabrics, and, as part of the brand's Fall/Winter 2021 collection, beautifully crafted veneer wood bases in a variety of finishes... with a raised seating option for a "floating" effect. Cocktail and end tables can be created to match the bases, and for the first time ever, there's even a Mah Jong bed.

And best of all, those famed designers who helped define Mah Jong's rich history have been invited back to shape its future!

This new collection marks one of the last designs of the late Kenzo Takada's illustrious career. He was the first designer to ever reupholster the Mah Jong (while he was working under the brand Kenzo) for Roche Bobois’ Fall/Winter 2005 Collection.

Free and daring in his approach, Kenzo Takada is considered “the most Parisian of Japanese designers”. A master of color and patterns, his creations reflect the graphic and cultural hallmarks of his signature East meets West style.

Mah Jong by Kenzo Takada is offered in three colorways/variations in 3D quilted

fabrics: including IRUNE (meaning "rest" in Japanese), a mix of deep blues and khakis; NATSU (meaning "summer" in Japanese); a mix of pink and red tones, and UMI (meaning "ocean" in Japanese) a mix of blue and green tones.

The IRUNE Mah Jong is upholstered in Matsuri Collection fabrics ranging from khaki to turquoise, accented by deep browns, and softened by twine and light grey tones. It is set on elegant bases lacquered in a matte bronze patina finish.

The NATSU Mah Jong is upholstered in Matsuri Collection fabrics in a warm, joyful sunset palette of pink, red, fuchsia, and yellow. The frames and low backs are solid oak, and the platforms are Alpi® Zebrano.

The UMI Mah Jong is upholstered in Matsuri Collection fabrics in oceanic tones of blues and greens, and set on stained wood bases with a Pierre de Lune (or Moonstone) finish. The frames and low backs are in solid oak, and the platforms are Alpi® Zebrano.

Then and now, Jean Paul Gaultier's exclusive collection for the Mah Jong conveys the poetic, rebellious, and slightly offbeat spirit that has made him so famous... and so adored.

legendary French fashion designer and costumer Jean Paul Gaultier

With a unique take on his iconic sailor stripe, Jean Paul Gaultier's adaptation of the Mah Jong is set on an ultra-chic blue ink lacquered base. This raised Mah Jong sofa once again breaks from convention, exuding elegance, sophistication, and an edginess that is unmistakably Gaultier.

The Jean Paul Gaultier Mah Jong is upholstered in Collection Couture fabrics and set on lacquered wood bases with a high-gloss JPG Blue Ink finish.

True to its instantly recognizable style, the Missoni Home Italian fashion house combines fabrics with elaborate materials and colors for its interpretation of the Mah Jong. Jacquards, impressionist motifs, floral designs, and tiny chevrons play beautifully off one another.

The Missoni-upholstered Mah Jong is set on stained wood bases with a chestnut finish. The frames and low backs are in solid oak, and the tops are Alpi® Rosewood.

By encouraging people to design their own compositions, the Mah Jong has forever changed the landscape of the living room, allowing designers and homeowners to arrange their spaces to fit their lifestyles. We warmly wish Roche Bobois' iconic Mah Jong Sofa a very happy 50th anniversary, and look forward to seeing what future imaginings the next fifty years will bring!

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