Saturday, 27 April 2013

1930s Interior Design - Charlotte Perriand

Charlotte Perriand was born in Paris in 1903 to a tailor and a seamstress, and spent her childhood between her parents in Paris and her grandparents in Savoie, a place that would come to influence her later designs. In 1920 she enrolled in the Ecole de L'Union Centrale de Arts Decoratifs ("School of the Central Union of Decorative Arts") to study interior design from 1920 until 1925, under designers Henri Rapin,  Maurice Dufrène and Paul Follo.  

furniture by Maurice Dufrene
A year after graduation, Perriand married and moved into a rented garret with her husband on Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris.  Her earliest work reflected the Art Deco tastes of the day, but when a friend suggested that she read two books by architect and designer Le Corbusier, 1923’s Vers une Architecture and 1925’s L’Art Décoratif d’Aujourd’hui, she knew what she wanted to do. The writings came as a revelation: "They demolished . . . everything I had learned."  She began to search for inspiration in the machine aesthetic of the cars and bicycles she saw on the Paris streets, much like Marcel Breuer who said that the handlebar of his bicycle inspired him to use steel tubing to build the Wassily chair.  She applied to work at Le Corbusier's studio, but was rejected with the comment “We don’t embroider cushions here.” What was a girl to do?  Renovate, of course.

Bar sous le toit
After gutting her apartment, she transformed the largest room into a metal and glass bar, rather than a conventional salon.   She recreated this glacial Bar sous le Toît, or bar under roof, of aluminium, glass and chrome for the Salon d’Automne, Paris's annual art exhibition, in 1927. It created a 'succès de scandale', as did Perriand herself with her Josephine Baker hairstyle and chromium-plated ball-bearing necklace.
Charlotte Perriand & Alfred Roth, 1927, and ball bearing necklace.
Designer Pierre Jeanneret, saw the exhibition, and took his cousin and partner Le Corbusier along. He  promptly changed his mind and offered her a job in his studio.

Charlotte Perriand with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret at the rue de Sevres studio, Paris
Once there, she was put in charge of their interiors work and promoting their designs through a series of exhibitions. Over the years she worked closely with Pierre Jeanneret, Jean Prouvé, and Fernand Léger producing a variety of objects from photo collages to furniture.  She supervised the installation of interior fittings for Le Corbusier’s Villa La Roche, his Pavillon Suisse and his Cité de Refuge (Salvation Army hostel), all in Paris, in 1928, 1930–32 and 1932 respectively.

In 1928 she designed three chairs with chrome bases using Le Corbusier's principles of identifying needs and designing accordingly. One chair was made for conversation: the B301 sling back chair, another for relaxation: the LC2 Grand Comfort chair, and the last for sleeping: the B306 chaise lounge.

Charlotte Perriand on the B306 Chaise Longue, 1928 
The LC2 Grand Confort Chair, 1928
 1928, Chrome-plated tubular steel and canvas

In 1929 Perriand was one of the founder-members of the Union des artistes modernes and in 1930 organized its first exhibition, which included furniture manufactured by Michael Thonet to her and Le Corbusier's designs.

Revolving armchair, designed by Perriand, made by Thonet Frères, Paris, 1928

The depression and the economic constraints of the early 1930s saw a shift in Perriand's attitudes. She also began to reject the machine aesthetic of the 1920s and moved towards an understanding that "one can work honestly in any material" along with an appreciation of the values of artisan culture. In her designs from that period she seems inspired by the traditional furniture of Savoie, where she spent time as a child, as well as the work of Scandinavian architects such as Alvar Aalto.  She began to create objects in the once derided “vegetable substance,” - wood.

Perriand Style Wood Arm Chair

In 1935 she began to pursue her own ideas on domestic design, studying and publishing her ideas on hygiene and space-saving methods of storage.  Perriand’s formal association with Le Corbusier ended in 1937. She continued, however, to collaborate with his associate Pierre Jeanneret: between 1937 and 1940 they designed furniture in wood and aluminium and, in conjunction with Aluminium Français, established a research team with Jean Prouvé to study the development of prefabricated housing.

Charlotte Perriand & Jean Prouve Mexique Bookcase, 1953
In 1940 Perriand was invited to Japan to act as an adviser on industrial art.  She became enamoured of Japan and Japanese style, and her designs became characterized by a unique blend of Japanese and Western influences.
A view of "Contact avec L'art japonais: tradition, selection, creation" as shown in Tokyo, 1941
In 1941, after studying local woodworking techniques, Perriand decided to replace the steel tube base of her 1928 chaise-lounge with 12 bamboo slats, giving the Lounge an organic elasticity and texture.she transposed into bamboo.  The Tokyo Chaise was never mass-produced, until recently when Italian furniture manufacturer Cassina unveiled the first consumer version of the design.

Caught by Japan's entry into the war, Perriand managed to obtain an exit visa to Indo-China, where she remained until 1946.  In 1943 she married Jacques Martin; they had one daughter.   After the war she again worked with Le Corbusier, designing a prototype kitchen for his Unités d'Habitations.  She continued her studies of domestic furnishings and interiors as well as such commercial interiors as the offices of Air France, London (1957) and Tokyo (1959). From 1967 to 1982 she coordinated the team of architects and designers who developed the Station des Arcs (Savoie) ski resort.
Chalet in Savoie, France
Today it is impossible to flip through a home style magazine, or even an Ikea catalogue, and not see Perriand's influence on furniture we now take for granted. Cassina holds the exclusive worldwide rights to manufacture and sell the designs of Le Corbusier, and those he made in collaboration with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand. You can find the range here. I love this one.

Sling chair with steel frame
Deb xx

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