Francis Gelb sets a cool, chic table—and overthrows the old rules about stuffy utensils that only get used for formal meals.
Though East Fork is best known for our pottery, the goods we sell from other makers are a compelling part of the story, too. We want to help you set your table, stock your pantry and otherwise find the small things that are really big things that make your space a little more specific, personal, comforting: a candle that becomes a signature scent, maybe, or a cutting board you’ll have for decades.
But for us, niceness alone doesn’t cut it. Nor does beauty. We gravitate to objects with a story behind them, made with a very precise point of view, an intriguing process or, most often, both. Some do things the old way, and in this Journal and on our product pages, you’ll read about fifth-generation artisans and companies that have been around for more than 100 years alongside those who are new, and doing things their own way. Looking for backstories is a passion, but we find it’s also a way to cut through the noise of things in a world that’s full of them. The way we look at is, things resonate when you know what went into their making.
And that brings us to Sabre Paris, the brand behind the beautiful flatware, serving sets and rice spoons (which are great for way more than rice) we sell. Let’s start with how the company speaks of itself on its website: “Sabre has become the embodiment of a table of madness!” Madness here is the meticulous construction and highest quality materials rendered in colors and shapes that you wouldn’t find from those venerable but staid old flatware houses, or as company founder Francis Gelb puts it, “Back in 1993, when Sabre started, it was sophisticated-boring-expensive or cheap and colorful, with nothing in between. I had that vision of adding something happy, simple and elegant. This is what we try to do.”
However, he couldn’t bring his vision to life while working for his parents’ flatware business. Sabre came together while Francis was working as a consultant for brands that were launching home goods lines. He came up with a prototype for a cutlery set for Habitat, a design store chain founded by influential British designer Sir Terrance Conran. To fulfill his first Sabre order, he sourced the parts then assembled the flatware pieces at the kitchen table in the apartment of Pascale, the woman he married and who designs Sabre’s products with him, back when they were dating.
Francis Gelb and Pascale Gelb, designers, Sabre Paris
Today, Sabre employs 35 and is known for both high quality and its very happy and warm and welcoming image of Paris, its cheerfulness, as Francis puts it. “I’m selling brasserie ambiance. It’s not the very sophisticated Château de Versailles, which I have no interest for. If you want gold and very ornate stuff, you don’t come to us. If you want cool chic, this is what we do,” he said. With the exception of bamboo, which Sabre sources from China, all materials come from France and Italy, most from two- or three-person workshops that construct the components which are then assembled by Sabre employees, as the orders come in.
Francis mentioned that some customers shop at Sabre because they are looking for a specific color flatware to match, say, their kitchen curtains. Or they find that, in selling serving pieces separately, they like to mix and match, perhaps opting for something more colorful to go with their classic flatware. He said that he has observed that most people tend to get stuck with flatware they really don’t like because it’s the last thing they buy in setting up a kitchen. “You can really change your table with just the flatware. Most of the time, people’s flatware is very ugly,” he said with a laugh. “That’s what we’re trying to help them with.”
Here’s how he described who he sees as a typical Sabre customer: “Many of our customers are wealthy and they could buy Hermes if they wanted to, but they want Sabre flatware.” He noted that recently while in one of the three Sabre stores (there are two in Paris and another in Saint-Germain-en-Laye), a shopper from Greece told him that she’d seen Sabre flatware on many yachts in the Mediterranean.
The Sabre store in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.
Francis said that during the pandemic, Sabre acquired many new customers—who much like his wife Pascale, who orders goods from other companies that complement their products to stock the company’s stores—discovered Sabre on social media and the company’s website, including many from places where Sabre hadn’t had much of a presence prior to 2020, like countries in Asia and Scandinavia. “We have doubled the size of Sabre in the last 12 months. It’s really amazing though we were absolutely not prepared to grow the company so much in such a short period of time. It’s a little tricky to get supplies for all the products. If I had told everyone that we were going to double in 2021, they would have said that is not realistic, but in fact, that’s what happened. When the pandemic started, we were doing 2,500 pieces a day and now we do over 7,000 every day. It’s amazing growth,” he said.
Next on his list of things to achieve is a focus on sustainability, something he said that at 57, he learned from his children. He said, “Sustainability is a subject that is important for us. It’s really changing everything. There is nothing more sustainable than metal because you can keep it forever, but we also work with wood, acrylic and nylon. Now, we know that all of the products have to be eco-responsible for the future but that’s something that takes a lot of time,” then gave the example of a type of plastic made from a protein found in cows’ milk that was invented in the 1920s. Called Casein, it was used to make buttons. Sabre is looking into how Casein may be used to make handles for their flatware and serving pieces and also, pricing recyclable packaging. Francis said, “It’s not a question of whether to make these changes. This is what we all have to do.”