Jean Prouve – French Furniture Designer

Posted on 13th October 2011 in French Designers

Chairs by Jean ProuveJean Prouve Born in 1901 to an artistic father, Victor Prouvé director of the Art School of Nancy in France, Jean Prouve was exposed to the tenets of the school which promoted making art accessible linking to industry and social awareness.  Primarily interested in working with metals, he first apprenticed to Émile Robert, a blacksmith and then with Szabo, another metal craftsman completing his education by attending , engineering school in Nancy.

Feeling confident to go out on his own, he opened the first of several studios in 1923 producing metal art pieces such as chandeliers, wrought iron lamps and furniture particularly chairs. He did not use the steel tube technique championed by many of the modern furniture designers of this time but rather embraced the use of sheet metal. He helped to establish the Union of Modern Artists in 1930 whose main tenets focused on logic, balance and purity.

With a solid training in high quality craftsmanship and artistic, intellectual principles; his work reflected this background with intriguing yet immensely affordable and practical furniture. A self taught architect interested in industrial design, he was particularly interested in producing architecture and furniture that allowed for portability.

Ateliers Jean Prouve was opened in 1931. Successful, he collaborated with Eugène Beaudoin, Les Corbusier and Marcel Lods, architects and Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanerette, furniture designers.  The Ateliers were modern design laboratories that constantly pushed the envelope to design and produce furnishings and prefabricated buildings on an industrial scale.

During the war his business survived by manufacturing bicycles and a survival stove eventually being commissioned by the Reconstruction Ministry to provide refugee frame houses on a massive scale. This interest in affordable mobile architecture continued with his exploration of utilizing aluminum to produce sheds for Africa as well for homes, a pavilion and a façade of a restaurant. Collaborating with Jean Dimitrijevic, they designed the Musée des Beaux Arts du Havre comprised of aluminum, steel and glass winning the Reynolds prize in 1962.

As one of the most influential of modern furniture designers, he strove to maximize constructability and minimize designing simply for the sake of design. The Standard Chair, 1934 and the Visiteur Lounge were classic examples of his design ideas. The Compass desk and the Bibliotechque are examples of his playful yet practical experimentation with sparsity of form and interlocking, horizontal volumes.   The bookshelf made of pine and mahogany, was designed in collaboration with Charles Perriand.







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Eileen Gray – French and English Furniture Designer

Eileen Gray Born to an Irish aristocratic family in 1878, she was encouraged by her father to pursue her artistic interests taking her on painting tours throughout Switzerland and Italy when she was a child.

Living between family homes in London, England and Enniscorthy, Ireland, she studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art when she was twenty years old. Visiting Paris in 1900, she was exposed to Art Nouveau at the Exposition Universelle, a world fair. Deciding to relocate to Paris, she continued her studies at the Academie Julian and Academie Colarossi.

While she continued to study painting she happened upon a lacquer repair shop in Soho, London and found it interesting. Wishing to learn more about this, she moved back to Paris and began to work with Seizo Sugawara from Japan. It wasn’t until 1913 that she decided to exhibit her works which met with almost instant success.

After World War I ended and she returned to Paris from London, she designed the Bibendum chair and other accessories for a commission to decorate an apartment in the Rue de Lota. With lacquered panels included on the walls, critics responded favorable prompting her to open Jean Desert where she sold her and her friends artwork.

The Bibendum chair, perhaps one of the most recognized modern furniture designs, was intended to be included as innovative furnishings for a successful business woman who desired something new and fresh. Bibendum, named after a character originated by Michelin tires, was specifically designed for lounging including soft leather semi-circular padding over a stainless steel tubing frame. With a beech wood seat, it included rubber webbing to ensure comfort. This as well as the Serpent chair and the Pirogue Boat bed were designed to be simple and plain so as not to complete with the owners collection of tribal art. The designs of these chairs were a marked departure from her usual more traditional design. In an attempt to move with the progress of modern times she had found her artistic voice.

In 1924 she began to work with Jean Badovici in architecture designing furniture for the house E-1027 in southern France. One of her better known modern furniture pieces is the circular glass and steel E-1027 table.  Gray went on to design and furnish a home of her own designed as a living/working machine, it has become a Modernist icon. Once again, war disrupted her life and she was forced to leave the coast of France during World War II and moved inland.

After the war was over she returned to Paris but had to seek new accommodations as her old apartment had been bombed during the war. Settling into a quiet life in Paris, she eventually created a summer home from a makeshift garden shed only to live there on a year round basis. It was only near her death in 1976, at the age of ninety-eight did she return to Paris.


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Christophe Pillet – French Furniture Designer

Posted on 6th September 2011 in French Designers

Christophe Pillet – French Furniture Designer – A younger modern furniture designer, he was born in 1959. Graduating from the Fine Arts Academy in Nice in 1985, he continued his studies at the Domus Academy in Milan. A year after he opened his own design firm in 1993, he was awarded the title of Best Designer of 1994.

Using his creative abilities to work in a wide swath of fields like stage design, architecture, interior design, product and furniture design he has worked with well known Phillipe Starcke for over five years and in 2005 began collaborating with Porro.

One interesting element that he likes to weave into his modern furniture designs is the use of fire which he views as a sensual and delicate element that works well with contemporary furniture. He also designed a collection of minimalist tables labeled “Neat” produced by Kristalia. While the materials used aluminum, plywood and white lacquer are straightforward enough it is the actual production that gets more involved. With a barely there profile it lives up to its name as no frills, only the most essential of bare modern lines.

The chair “Pulp” is a unique one piece molded to conform to the shape of the human body it cantilever’s back with a profile as intriguing as its appearance. Immensely suitable for constant use such as in an office setting or public reception areas, it can be easily cleaned and lends itself easily to being stacked.

He is responsible for creating the interiors for the Hotel Sezz in Saint-Tropez, France. With his signature less is more approach to his minimalist modern furniture designs, the “Triomphe Sofa” typifies his interest in designing furniture that has what it needs and no more with a softly rounded back and strikingly defined lines.

An intriguing outside patio furniture piece is the “Loop Bench” which is made of polypropylene which is color fast and resistant to fading from the sun.  Completely 100% recyclable, it also collision proof. With an understated brilliant simplicity, imagine a rubber wrist band compressed with an oblong void left in the middle. With completely rounded edges it is child friendly as well.

He also works with more luxurious materials and finishes as well. The “Rive Droite Armchair” is made of walnut with seat and back cushions filled with down and covered in either textiles or leather. With almost no apparent connections between the pieces of the frame it is a simple and elegant design of pure modern furniture.

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Charlotte Perriand – French Furniture Designer

Posted on 5th September 2011 in French Designers

Charlotte Perriand – Living from 1903 to 1999, she was a French architect and designer that pursued her design from a philosophical base. She believed that the better the design the more it helped to create a better society.

Studying furniture design at the Ecole de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs furniture she already started exerting her influence at a young age of 24. She was known for creating modern furniture design using chromed steel and anodized aluminum. Championed by the critics when she presented at the Salon d”Automne in 1927, she went on to collaborate with the world famous architect Le Corbusier known for his strict attention to minimalist lines and details. Lasing nearly ten years with him she created during this time “The Equipment of Habitation: Racks, Seats, Tables” which was produced initially by Thonet and then Cassina. Some of the pieces she designed while she was with him were the “LC2 Grand Comfort” armchair, the “B301” reclining chair and the “B306” chaise lounge.

Becoming more involved in the politics of her time during the mid-1930’s she joined several leftist organizations and continued to design both modern furniture and living spaces. Perhaps because of her involvement in these groups it began to influence her design style which started to shift towards the use of more traditional materials and affordable materials along with an emphasis on handcrafted techniques.  She experimented with wood and cane in the hope that she could produce well designed and affordable furniture at a mass production scale.

Part of this exploration was to collaborate with Jean Prove and Pierre Jeanerette on designing prefabricated buildings.

Spending time in Japan from 1940 to 1942 as well as reading the Book of Tea, greatly influenced her designs from 1940 until her death. While she was sent their as an advisor on industrial design to the Ministry of Trade and Industry she eventually was forced to leave the country as an “undesirable alien”. She continued to design both interiors and furniture and helped to design a prototype kitchen for Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation apartment building in Marseille in 1950 and the ski resorts of les Arcs in Savoie in 1962.

As a part of the machine age view of living, some of her best works are a series of tubular steel chairs the “Fauteuil Dossier” the B301 in 1928, the “Swivel” chair  the B302 from 1928-29 and the “Chaise Lounge” the B306 in 1928.

As she moved away from working with Le Corbusier and became independent,

she stated  “The most important thing to realize is that what drives the modern movement is a spirit of enquiry, it’s a process of analysis and not a style…We worked with ideals.”

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Pierre Paulin – French Furniture Designer

Posted on 2nd August 2011 in French Designers, Furniture Designers

Tulip Chair

Pierre Paulin was a French furniture designer who was known for his exuberant use of color and materials with designs that challenged the notion of imaginative and whimsical. Chairs shaped like mushrooms and tongues captured the interest of the modern furniture world, former French Presidents Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand and the contemporary furniture world alike. While his creations adorned the palaces of presidents he brought high design to the masses with pieces that utilized modern day plastics and organic metamorphic shapes and volumes. Born in Paris on July 9, 1927, he was influenced by modern furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames and the simple yet powerful use of lines in Japanese drawing. His time spent studying stone carving and clay modeling at the Ecole Camondo in Paris in the early 1950’s helped to inform his sense of sculptural design. This experience became apparent as he began designing modern furniture. Minimalist by design, his seeming inexhaustible ability to create the most unusual chairs is one of his signature marks. Chairs such as the “Flower Flume”, is delicately wrapped with a semi-sheer material with a seemingly floating seat base. Softly rounded it seems almost ethereal. With comfort in mind as well, he designed the “Pumpkin Seating” that begs for a good curl up in or the “Ribbon Chair” that seems to be perilously perched atop a base. Not at a loss for unusual names for his contemporary furniture pieces, the “Tongue Chair”, 1967, simple in design rolls like words off the tongue with soft undulating curves. Touching the floor delicately in two locations, it is a low to the floor conversation piece. The “Mushroom Chair” speaks for itself as an iconic piece of modern furniture design. Shaped more like the deflated top half of a mushroom, it is soft and inviting in a soft half circular form. Covered in upholstered fabric over a tubular steel frame, it is included in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And of course there is one of his most famous chairs, the “Orange Slice” chair. Designed in 1960, it consists of beech shells covered in upholstery and resting upon a minimalist steel frame. Its unique design allows for it to transform as the piece is viewed from different angles, Colorful and timeless, it is a testament to contemporary furniture that good design endures. Bringing together the best of both worlds of form and function it remains as popular today as it was then.

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Philippe Starck – French Furniture Designer

Posted on 21st July 2011 in French Designers

Philippe Starck is one of those designers who has become a household name literally because he has championed designing everyday useful items in creative and innovative ways. One of his main clients, Target who specializes in offering mass produced consumer items just a notch up on the design scale.

Born in Paris January 18, 1949 and educated at the Ecole Camondo, he opened his first design firm when he was 19 years old which surprisingly specialized in inflatable objects. From here he was fortunate to design the private interiors for French President Francois Mitterrand as well as joining the Domus Academy in 1986 as an associate lecturer.

Moving  into the role as a freelance designer, he is part of the New Design movement but unlike most who produce one of a kind items he creates products and furnishings accessible to the general public that marry seemingly disparate materials. This mix includes such materials as plastic and aluminum and glass and stone. He won the 2005 Industrial Design Excellence Award for a toothbrush sanitizer. His use of organic forms for industrial design he has continued into his design of contemporary furniture.

Along with his industrial design, he has been busy designing for the Italian manufacturer Kartell whose contemporary furniture pieces use polycarbonate plastic a popular material for many mid-century modern furniture designers. Playing with both material and spatial volume, the Louis Ghost chair, the Eros chair and the Bubble Club sofa and armchair are all transparent.

His name synonymous with modern furniture has also become famous for creating the boutique hotel. Featuring his contemporary furniture and industrial designs, he continues to brand public spaces with his unique perspective and synthesis of modern furniture and mass appeal. He has done considerable design work for Starwood launching their “W” Hotels with his unique style of modern and hip. The lobbies, his specialty are known as the “Living Room” and are geared to appeal to a younger crowd.

An interesting note is his involvement with an energy group where he has designed a polycarbonate windmill that also functions as a wind instrument. “Ecology is not just an urgency of the economy and protection of our world but also creativity and elegance.”

His inspiration for his contemporary furniture designs is his stated position that risks are what makes life interesting, “Without risk, you don’t deserve to live.”, spoken so well from a designer who claims to be able to work on 250 different designs at a time.



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Le Corbusier – French furniture designer

Posted on 19th July 2011 in French Designers

Swiss born, Le Corbusier is one of the most famous French modern furniture designers and architects whose career crossed over 50 years of contemporary furniture design. Internationally acclaimed for his architectural work too, Le Corbusier was actually born as Charles-Edourd Jeanneret, but earned his name in the 1920s supposedly from a distant family member, but others have said it was a derogatory name that he happened to adopt.

Le Corbusier, however, regardless of which name he went under was a prolific architect who traveled internationally deisnging homes. Early on he studied at La-Chaux-de-Fonds Art School before traveling then settling for a bit in Paris. Then he studied architecture in Austria with Josef Hoffman, another prominent architect and furniture designer. He continued his travels world, though he hid out during World War I in Switzerland where he began focusing on modern furniture and architectural techniques including the Dom-ino house with an open floor plan that led his designs for a decade.

His forays into contemporary furniture design truly began in 1928 when he started working with the architect Charlotte Perriand along with is cousin Pierre Jeanneret. Le Corbusier took a unique perspective on modern furniture, looking at what he called three different groups of furniture: type needs, type furniture and human limb objects. Defined in one of his books called l’Art Decoratif d’aujourd’hui. To him, modern furniture was an extension of our bodys and should flow as our limbs do.

His modern tubular furniture started with a modern steel chair crafted with cushioning and he is well known for his modern and contemporary furniture styles of the time such as his lounge chaise and the Grand Confort chair. He began leading what was called the International style of furniture  and focused on aesthetics and functionality.

The main idea behind his furniture design is his concept of  “Modulor” a technique used to determine the number of units in architecture. Seen easily in the design of his armchair LC3, one of his most popular and emulated pieces of modern furniture, the concept ruled the shapes of his design. Despite the unusualness of the design at the time, the chrome and leather padded chair is almost cubic in appearance but is extremely comfortable to sit on. But this is only one piece of his contemporary furniture that became popular. His LC4 Lounge chair design has been emulated a thousand times over due to its unique shaped that follows human form and encourages relaxation and lounging.




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How Louis XIV inspired a generation of furniture

Posted on 1st June 2011 in French Designers, Furniture Designers

Louis XVI, along with his wife Marie Antoinette, helped usher in a new period of furniture design called the Louis XVI style. What exactly what this modern furniture style and where did it originate? To start, you have to consider the design period prior to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was a more Rococo-influenced furniture design period.

Rococo, which is considered late Baroque, was even more heavily ornamented and full of overlays and intricate designs as royalty and nobility used these unique furniture designs to signify their wealth and the ostentatious displays were perfectly acceptable. This style was softer, more feminine, but also much more ornate. Chairs with solid carvings and rich fabrics overlaid on the seats. Tables with gold inlays and rich in marquetry dominated the time period. Rococo is described as whimsical, floral, unsymmetrical, off-balance, off-color and ornate, carved designs. By the time Louis XVI’s predecessor passed on the throne, modern furniture and interior designers had already taken a turn towards simpler furniture designs and only needed a slight nudge to continue in that direction.

The new king of France and his wife helped usher in a return to cleaner, simpler designs with basic ornamentation, but a stronger lack of ostentatious ornamental overlay on the tables and chairs. The duo readily lived the simpler life and regularly resisted fancier interior designs and ornate furnishings for their suite.

Much of the furniture was made out of wood and still had ornate hints such as fancy handles on a cabinet, but the cabinet was bare of intricate overlay. As generations were used to utilizing the emblem motif, this was a hard feature to relinquish. Furniture was made with straight tapered legs and mahogany was in high demand. Oval back chairs with material padding in the back and bottom were popular with curved arms extending out, attached to the base of the chair. Nice fabrics were popular here, but these chairs tended to be more for ornamentation than pure comfort (those these days they are made much more comfortable with modern technology).

Louis XVI brought furniture back to a realistic level that is still popular today and its rustic influence is still felt today in American designs and in wood designs around the world. Lines became straighter and what was once seen as a wonton expression of ornamentation became a cleaner, more modest look for modern home furniture design.

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Jean-Henri Riesener – French furniture designer

Posted on 25th May 2011 in French Designers, Furniture Designers

Illustration from Illustrated History of Furniture, From the Earliest to the Present Time from 1893 by Litchfield, Frederick, (1850-1930) - Writing table. Made by Riesener for Marie-Antoinette. Collection Mobilier National (From a pen and ink drawing by H. Evans) period: late Louis XV. Source files:

In the early 1700s, Baroque accents in design were still heavily in vogue as was the Rococo influencein visual arts and modern design. It was during the Renaissance that these designs gave way and were heavily influenced by ancient Roman and Greece designs, but was in the early 1800s that modern design began to pull away from the Baroque influence into a more neoclassical influence from a more traditional Rome and Greece that didn’t emphasize the romantic elements of church and religion which inspired an entire design concept.

It was during this time that the ebeniste became popular in France. Ebeniste means cabinet-maker in French, but truly goes beyond the simplicity of a cabinet-maker. While early on in the 1700s baroque was popular, it became clear as time passed that a simpler, cleaner look was influencing design despite the ostentatious designs of King Louis XVI who later on in life simplified his designs, but still loved the embellishments of marquetry created by the proper ebeniste.

One popular ebenist and furniture designer was Jean Henri Riesener, born July 4, 1734 in Gladbeck, Westphalia, Germany before moving to France later on in life to begin his modern furniture design career.  After marrying the widow of the man he apprenticed with, he became master ebeniste before working for the king where he eventually rose in the ranks to be known as the “greatest Parisian ebeniste of the Louis XVI time period.” His work became significant in what is now known as the Louis XVI style, a mix of Baroque and Rococo influence with the beginnings of Neo-classical design beginning to influence modern interior and furniture design.

Louis XVI was married to the infamous Marie Antoinnette who loved Riesener’s marquetry work on her cabinets and regularly had him make her creations. Riesener was skilled in may techniques from parquetry to trelliswork to gilt-bronze mounts and he preferred to hide the screwhesads on his work.

Riesener made many different items from cabinets to desks to secretaries to commodes with fancy inlay for the new King and Queen and was in high demand until he died in poverty. His pieces for Royalty and for the upper-elite may have made him wealthy. His designs were innovative with mechanical fittings that raised or lowered the table or desk.

Despite surviving the French revolution by removing fancy emblems from his furniture design, Riesener bought back many of his grand creations in hopes it would become vogue again, but eventually they didn’t and he finished his life in obscurity despite his heavy influences on the new neo-classical furniture design.

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Designer Eileen Gray

Posted on 23rd March 2011 in French Designers, Furniture Designers

Eileen Gray was born August 9, 1878 in Ireland near a small town in the south-eastern region of the country. Her father, who himself was a painter, encouraged her artistic interests by taking her on painting tours in Italy and Switzerland.

She entered the Slade School of Fine Art in 1898, to study painting. In 1900, the same year her father passed, she went to Paris with her mother to attend the Exposition Universelle that primarily exhibited Art Nouveau, a style that she particularly liked. She continued her studies in Paris while traveling between Paris, Ireland and London; finally settling back in London.

Interested in expanding her art, she became interested in lacquer work first learning from a shop owner and then continued to learn in Paris under Seizo Sugawara. It was not until several years had passed, in 1913, before she would display any of her own lacquer artwork.

After the end of World War I, she received a commission to decorate an apartment in the rue de Lota. Designing most of the furniture, carpets, lamps and installing lacquer pieces on the wall, it received favorable criticism from local art critics. Embolden by her success, she decided to open a small shop, Jean Desert, to display and exhibit her work as well as that of her friends. Continue reading “Designer Eileen Gray” »

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