Many furniture designs that now stand as accoutrements to discerningly curated residences were not formed with high-end customers in mind. In the 1930s, through the Second World War, and into the ’50s in Europe, the industrial spirit of architect-designers like Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier, and Charlotte Perriand placed an emphasis on the durable, functional, and economic, in line with the possibilities that came with mass production. Client contracts were as likely to be tied to the state, for fitting out hospitals, schools, and social housing, as to private projects.
Out of such democratic designs came iconic models—from, for example, Pierre Jeanneret’s now sought-after office items for Le Corbusier’s bureaucratic buildings in Chandigarh (the trajectory of these objects from public to private is exemplified in Amie Siegel’s 2013 film Provenance), to what we find in Galerie Patrick Seguin’s Design Miami/ presentation of furniture originally conceived for university accommodation in France. Lucky French students! you will think, for these pieces by the aforementioned modernist trio are simple but far from simplistic, with clear geometries and appealingly sturdy materials. It’s hard to imagine university housing featuring such effective interior design today.
The display rebuilds three interiors of chambres universitaires (dormitory rooms), exactly as they were constructed for college campuses in and around Paris, and in Nancy, during the ’30s–’50s era. The university market represented an opportunity to conceive light and inexpensive new pieces, whose quality could be easily reproduced—reflecting social ideals, as well as economies of scale. At Nancy, Prouvé made furniture for 70 rooms, whose institutional specifications explain the almost exclusive use of metal plates and steel, enameled in various shades of red.Stern lines are softened by occasional splashes of color: Perriand’s single bed with its cylindrical pillow now likely serves as a desirable chaise longue—and we see functionality become luxury. Le Corbusier’s pieces clearly fit into his concept of compact “cells,” and his research towards rationalized living spaces.
In spite of a journey away from their humble roots, the ethos of these designs can still be expressed by an early motto of the Union des Artistes Moderne: “We like logic, balance and purity.”
Visit Galerie Patrick Seguin at Design Miami/, Booth G/01, Dec. 3–7, 2014.