The great French furniture designers

The great French designers

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Who are the major French furniture designers?

Our furniture is constantly reinventing itself. And even if, today, tables, beds and other comfortable armchairs often have Scandinavian accents, historical pieces of French design still seduce pupils. We invite you to come back to the big names in French design, men and women who have revolutionized interiors while democratizing access to furniture.

Le Corbusier (1887, La Chaux-de-Fonds, 1968, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin)

It is undoubtedly one of the most famous names in French architecture, town planning and design. Swiss of origin, Le Corbusier, born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, was naturalized French in 1930. We owe him a new concept of collective housing where the facilities are combined in a single building and whose Radiant City is a proud example. But he also designed pieces of furniture. Architecture and furniture indeed work in concert, both complementing each other.

It is mainly in the 20 years that Le Corbusier, in collaboration with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret and his disciple Charlotte Perriand, designs a whole range of furniture. Some of this furniture is still edited by Cassina. Among Corbusier's most iconic pieces of furniture are:

  • LC2 armchair, made of padded and leather covered cushions, all resting on a tubular steel structure
  • LC4 lounge chair, shaped like a swing to hug the body and made of chromed steel and leather or cowhide

Jean Prouvé (1901, Paris - 1984, Nancy)

He wanted to create a "work for all", modern houses and furniture accessible to the greatest number. Jean Prouvé is a French architect and designer who first trained in ironwork. Sheet steel naturally becomes one of these materials of choice. He produces many metal elements for buildings, such as staircase handrails or elevator guards.

Jean Prouvé also has furniture produced in series using industrial machines. We can cite in particular the Compass Office, created in the 50s, whose metal foot recalls the narrow and pointed legs of the measuring instrument and which is one of the emblematic forms of the designer. Antony beds with their sheet metal structure are also representative of his work.

Charlotte Perriand (1903, Paris - 1999, Paris)

Disciple of the Corbusier and major figure of the design of the 50 years, Charlotte Perriand invents a style as poetic as minimalist, inherited in particular from her stays in Japan. She likes wood, paper, straw ... Charlotte Perriand is the creator of many iconic pieces of designer furniture, including:

  • Ombra Tokyo chair, made from a single molded piece of bent plywood. It seems to fold like origami paper in a simple, clean style.
  • Petalo coffee tables : 5 in number, they all offer a different colored tray and can be retracted into each other to then open into a flower with triangular and rounded petals.

Charlotte Perriand, (born October 24, 1903, Paris, France, died October 27, 1999, Paris), French designer known for her iconic XNUMXth century furniture, such as the LC “Grand Confort Armchair” set of modernist living room furniture including a chair, two sofas and an ottoman, one of the many collaborations with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, his cousin.

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Perriand grew up in Paris, where his father worked as a tailor and his mother was a seamstress. During her childhood, she traveled to the isolated mountainous region of Savoy, France, where her paternal grandparents resided. Later in life, although she had lived and worked in the city and was inspired by the energy of the city, she returned to the French Alps to relax, ski and enjoy the beauty of the nature of the region.

Perriand captured the attention of his junior high school art teacher with her drawing skills. At the insistence of his mother, Perriand attended the School of Central Union of Decorative Arts from 1920 to 1925. It was there, under the artistic direction of the artistic director of the school, Henri Rapin (talented and practicing interior designer), that she flourished, and her work was very promising. Years later, she remembers Rapin's hands-on teaching approach and the discipline that had disciplined her and helped her bring an idea from the drawing board to reality. In addition to taking courses, Perriand completes his training and feeds his curiosity by enrolling in courses offered in department stores that house their own design workshops. She attended the conferences of Maurice Dufrêne, director of the workshop La Maîtrise, located at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Due to its association with the store, Dufrêne challenged the students with pragmatic and applicable projects, the results of which could be used by Galeries Lafayette. Perriand's schoolwork revealed to him a skillful designer and his projects were selected and exhibited at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925. Dufrêne also chose his hanging projects for the Galeries Lafayette; later, this work will be machine-made on a larger scale and used in other interiors designed by Dufrêne.

After graduation, strongly encouraged by Dufrêne and Rapin, who told her that she "had to show to make herself known", Perriand submitted his work to be exhibited in numerous exhibitions. Its most significant entry dates back to 1927 at the Salon d'Automne with its bar under the roof, an installation of furniture, finishes and a built-in bar. With the use of materials such as nickel and a bold design, Under the Roof reveals Perriand's preference for an aesthetic that reflects the age of the machine and breaks with the School's preference for finely crafted objects in handmade in exotic and rare woods. With shiny surfaces, reflective metals, and dull geometric shapes, the tapestry was devoid of patterns and warm materials such as wood or soft textiles. This project marked a turning point in his career, as Perriand wholeheartedly embraced the use of steel - a medium previously only used by men - as the material of choice to express new expressions of modern design.

Amid the sudden recognition and success of her work, she expressed some anxiety to a friend, the creator of Jewelry Jean Fouquet, about continuing the next project, for which she had no plans. At Fouquet's suggestion, Perriand read the books by Le Corbusier Vers une architecture (1923) and L'Art Décoratif Today (1925), which lead him to work with the author, an innovative and revolutionary architect. She was “dazzled” by his writings; this last book, which eviscerated the decorative arts and, by extension, her education, was in keeping with the new way she had designed. According to Perriand's account, when she arrived in his studio with her portfolio in hand, looking for a job, he said to her with disdain: “We don't embroider cushions in my studio”. Not discouraged by his degrading comment, she invites him to the Salon d'Automne to see his work. Le Corbusier, who recognizes a soul mate after seeing his Bar under the designer roof, hired her.

From 1927 to 1937, she worked in the workshop, later calling this experience a “privilege”. It focused on the interior equipment of the home or furniture designed by the workshop, including the manufacture of prototypes and their final manufacture. She will contribute to the design of three iconic pieces of furniture: the tilt-back seat (1928; “tilt-back chair”; also identified as LC1), the easy chair “Grand Confort armchair” (1928; LC2 and LC3), and the easy chair long (1928; LC4). Due to Le Corbusier's excellent reputation, he is often given exclusive credit for the conception and design of the chairs. However, as with any highly collaborative endeavor, recognizing the merit of a particular person is problematic. Perriand acknowledged that he set the framework for the general shapes of the chairs and provided design direction, but said she spelled out the details, construction and the actual design with Pierre Jeanneret. In the 21st century, the pieces are still sold by the Italian furniture company Cassina, which credits them with being the three designers. Perriand's influence in the workshop extended beyond furniture and the execution of prototypes. In 1929, she participated in the design of the trio's vision of modern luxury, “Equipment for the Home”, for the Salon d'Automne, which included a complete apartment, with bright kitchen and bathroom.

Soon after leaving Le Corbusier's studio, she began working with Jean Prouvé, a designer who found his niche by executing and designing metallic objects like screens and stair railings using favorite geometric patterns. avant-garde architects. Prouvé was passionate about expressing his art through contemporary means and materials; Perriand fully subscribed to it. The Prouvé workshop being inundated with projects for the French army during the war, Perriand designed military barracks and furniture for temporary housing. When France surrendered in 1940, the team disbanded, but met in the spring of 1951. She then recalled with great affection her deep respect and friendship with Prouvé, noting her death as a “Terrible loss” for her.


The day the Germans arrived to occupy Paris, Perriand left France for Japan. About five weeks before her departure, she had received a beguiling invitation from the Japanese Embassy in Paris, requesting her expertise in industrial design for the Department of Trade Promotion, under the sponsorship of the Imperial Ministry of Commerce and Industry. . In order to increase the flow of Japanese products to the West, the ministry insisted on entrusting this task to a foreigner. Apparently, she was there to challenge the status quo among Japanese artisans, designers and architects. However, her own work has been greatly inspired by the myriad of experiences she has encountered. About seven months after arriving in Japan, she had requested (and obtained) an exhibition which was the culmination of tireless and passionate research through which she engaged with artisans, from traditional artisans to modern designers. Throughout the show, the use of natural materials like wood and bamboo was omnipresent, deviating completely from the aesthetic she had refined in Le Corbusier's studio. Some Japanese, eager to go beyond these materials, viewed the exhibit as somewhat primitive and not very progressive, as many of the objects were not suitable for mass production. The negative reactions did not prevent him from returning to Japan in 1955 for a second exhibition, “Proposition d'une synthese des arts”.

Perriand continued to work with former colleagues such as Prouvé, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret while making new connections with others like Fernand Léger, the Brazilian architect Lúcio costa and the Hungarian architect Ernö Goldfinger. The projects are as varied as the locations: design of rustic lodges without decor in the French Alps (1938), kitchen prototypes for the Unité d'Habitation in Marseille (1950) and Tokyo (1959), commercial interiors for Air France in London (1958). Her latest and largest project - the Les Arcs ski resort in Savoie (1967-1965) - unites her work and the landscape she remembers so fondly from her youth. These designs demonstrate the caliber, value and longevity of Perriand's rich contribution to the profession.

In 1985 “Charlotte Perriand: Un Art de Vivre”, a major retrospective of her distinguished work, was presented at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Asked about the exhibition, she deplores the weight of looking back and discovering “the things she left behind a long time ago…”. She preferred to look to the future. Reinventing her design philosophy, embracing change and being ready to experiment have allowed her work to be relevant and suitable for highly collaborative and productive exchanges. In 1998, the year before her death, she published an autobiography, Une Vie de Création (Charlotte Perriand: A Life of Creation).



Andrée Putman (1925, Paris - 2013, Paris)

He is one of the big names in interior design and architecture. Andrée Putman, a true ambassador of luxury and French chic, has become known throughout the world, from New York to Hong Kong, for her sober and minimalist conception of design. Andrée Putman owes her international reputation first of all to her remarkable intervention at the Morgans Hotel in New York, for which she imagines a geometric bathroom dominated by black and white checkered tiles. She was also the one who designed Jack Lang's office in 1982, all in refined, geometric, wooden furniture without artifice ...

She also speaks about her interior design through the development of numerous hotels, restaurants, tea rooms and luxury boutiques around the world. It was André Putman who, first, popularized open-plan and airy "loft".

Pierre Paulin (1927, Paris - 2009, Montpellier)

His creations are exhibited in museums all over the world: at the MoMA in New York, at the Pompidou Center and at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, at the Victoria Art Museum in London ... And countless retrospectives, exhibitions and books that explore the work of French designer Pierre Paulin. The chairs and chairs he imagines, with organic and colorful shapes, whose cushions are covered with an expandable fabric cover, are still popular. Let's mention some of the iconic seats signed Pierre Paulin:

  • Mushroom
  • Tongue Chair
  • Ribbon Chair
  • Orange Slice Chair

Philippe Starck (1949, Paris)

Let's finish with the best known contemporary French designers: Philippe Stark. Since the 80 years, he revolutionized the codes of design, bringing a new dimension both ecological and democratic. He collaborates with major publishers, such as Kartell, Alessi or Vitra. Among these most popular pieces of furniture are:

  • The Louis Ghost armchair, a colored and transparent plastic chair that combines the classicism of a Louis XV armchair with the modernity of plastic.
  • The Mi Ming-Xo armchair: it's time, it's ancestral China that is summoned, in a polycarbonate armchair full of curves and transparency.
  • The Costes armchair: a seat that combines the elegance of mahogany and leather with the robustness of lacquered steel.

Notice to amateurs and collectors: some creations signed by these great names in French design are regularly reissued. And original copies are sure to fuel auctions and online shops.