Some design should not be messed with. Designers can’t reinvent the wheel, just as they cannot improve the simplicity of a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, the pleasing proportions of an Hermes Kelly or the functional beauty of a Thonet chair. A classic baby grand by historic French piano maker Pleyel might be considered the same were it not for the fact that a new collaboration with Peugeot Design Lab – the carmaker’s design division that works on non-automotive products – has made ingenious innovations for both the pianist and listener with an avant-garde take on the traditional piano.

“The goal was to develop an object that neither Peugeot nor Pleyel could create independently,” explains Cathal Loughnane, Head of Peugeot Design Lab, of her radical instrument that appears to sleekly sweep from the floor, replacing the usual three legs with a curve of carbon fibre. “The objective was above all to be innovative.”

Those innovations begin with the lowering of the mechanics that align the piano’s cover and keyboard. The near-flush form is what gives the piano much of its contemporary aesthetic as well as meaning that for the first time the audience can see the artist play from any viewing angle. Also for the first time, the artist hears the sound of the instrument with a level of quality not heard from pianos that create a barrier between keyboard and cover. “This is one of the biggest innovations in the contemporary history of the piano,” notes Loughnane.

Other feats of the design include a new opening system for the piano lid, which is self-supporting and can be raised with one hand, an idea that was directly inspired by a car tailgate. The use of carbon fibre on the lid and leg was chosen for its sound projection qualities that improve acoustics.

Telling of Peugeot Design Lab’s understanding of Pleyel’s time honoured savoir-faire is where they didn’t innovate. The body of the piano and the soundboard are still made of wood, which reacts best to sound, and the black lacquer finish remains. “We do not do style for the sake of style,” says Gilles Vidal, Peugeot’s Director of Styling. “Nothing is free in this project and the innovations we have brought have to be understood.”