Many innovators helped usher in the Modernist movement, but French architect, furniture maker, and interior designer Charlotte Perriand turned lofty ideals into revolutionary living spaces. Her extended collaboration with Le Corbusier made the sleek, chrome-finished future a reality, but her continued evolution and experimentation with different forms and materials made her a true icon.
Salon d’Automne Installation (1927)
Inspiring designers, take note—this is how to nail a job interview. Initially spurned by Corbusier, Perriand was determined to impress the architect and brought his concepts to life with this aluminum-and-steel rooftop bar (“Bar sous le toit”).
Swivel Chair (1928)
Perriand’s spin on an office chair demonstrated her ability to integrate stark elements (the metal frame) while respecting the chair’s owner (cushions resting on coil springs). A wooden prototype Perriand developed while in what was then called Indo-China in 1943 was recently reissued by Cassina. Photo courtesy of Cassina.
Chaise Lounge (1928)
Perriand’s first landmark collaboration with Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, this triptych of chromium-plated steel chairs, presented a Modernist view of living. Each was crafted with a specific function. The B301 sling back chair was for conversation, the LC2 Grand Confort was for relaxation, and the B306 chaise lounge was meant for sleeping. Above, Perriand, sporting a Josephine Baker hairstyle, poses with the lounge. She’d later re-interpret this signature work with bamboo. Photo via designmuseum.org.
Grand Confort Armchair (1928)
Inspired by a Maples club chair that caught Le Corbusier’s eye, this cubical creation is one of Perriand’s most famous designs. Decades later, it’s still iconic, as anyone who’s seen Maxell’s famous ads from the ‘80s can attest. Photo courtesy of Cassina.
Equipment d’Habitation at the Salon d’Automne (1929)
Perriand displayed her iconic furniture at the Salon d’Automne the following year as part of an exhibit titled “living equipment.” This model apartment, complete with a free-standing shower, demonstrated how the collaborators were attempting to create buildings with symmetry between exterior and interior forms. The glass ceiling even refracted light coming from the illuminated glass floor.
Meribel Ski Resort (1950)
Perriand’s time in Japan during WWII—she was brought in to advise on industrial art production and spent considerable time with designer Sori Yanagi—had a lasting impact on her work, leading the doyenne of Modernism to focus more on wooden furniture and sliding screens to divide space. This Larch Daybed is a prime example. Photo via 1stdibs.com.
Ombre Chair (1954)
Another Japanese-inspired piece, this stackable chair is formed from a single bent piece of plywood. Introduced during a return visit to Japan, the graceful folds of this piece are said to be inspired in part by bunraku (puppet theater). Photo courtesy of Cassina.
Nuage Shelving (1955)
Perriand’s stay in Japan also inspired this modular shelving system, built with sliding doors in an array of colors. Easily assembled to fit any space, these pieces could become freestanding furniture or, in the case of this image from the Air France library, become the focus of an entire room or wall. Photo courtesy of Cassina.
Perriand’s relationship with Corbu had a bit of a rocky start: Corbusier’s studio initially rejected the aspiring designer, infamously saying, "We don’t embroider cushions here," before her apartment layout at the Salon d’Automne in 1927, including an aluminum-and-chrome bar, impressed the iconoclast so much he hired her on the spot. In a career filled with impressive collaborations and an extended and influential stay in Japan during WWII, Perriand went on to create a wealth of influential furniture pieces—including chaise lounges, armchairs, and tubular “equipment for living”—as well as scores of influential interiors, including a conference room for the United Nations in Geneva, the Unite d'Habitation housing project in Marseilles, and the Méribel ski resort.
“I’m for teamwork. I’m very interested in the life of houses. Everything is created from within, if you will—needs, gestures, a harmony, a euphoric arrangement, if possible, in relation to an environment.” — Charlotte Perriand