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Pierre Paulin, after starting as a stone carver, would become one of the most innovative and appreciated French designers of the 20th century.
Creativity was evidently a family gift in the Paulin household. Pierre Paulin‘s uncle, George, was an automotive designer famous for inventing the retractable hardtop roof mechanism. George was executed by the Nazis in 1941 as a hero of the French Resistance.
But it would be Pierre Paulin who would continue the family legacy and become one of the most renowned interior designers of French modernism.
It’s hard to believe that after failing his high school diploma, nobody would have imagined a future in the world of design for this boy born in 1927 in Paris to a French father and a mother from German-speaking Switzerland. Nor would anyone have imagined that one day he would be the one designing the interiors of the Élysée Palace apartments for President Georges Pompidou.
His childhood was not easy. He moved from Paris to Laon, in northern France, a dull dormitory town for railway workers.
After abandoning his studies, he started working as a ceramist in Vallaurius and then as a stone carver in Burgundy. This is where Pierre developed a passion for sculpture. However, just as he envisioned a future as a sculptor, a serious injury to his right arm in a brawl forced him to set aside his dreams.
But Paulin didn’t give up.
Paulin refused to surrender. And life still had many surprises in store for him. The only place where he could pursue his dreams was Paris. So, in 1951, he returned to the capital and was admitted to the Comondo school. One of his professors, the decorator Maxime Old, recognized Pierre’s talent and recommended him to the designer Marcel Gascoin, with whom he began collaborating.
This was the turning point Paulin had been waiting for. By working with other designers from the studio, such as Pierre Guariche and Michel Mortier, he became familiar with contemporary Scandinavian design and fell in love with the light and colors that blend in austere simplicity.
From there, a rebirth began, and he started creating marvelous armchairs and design objects like the Ribbon chair.
He left France and traveled to the Scandinavian peninsula, where he discovered the organic architecture of Alvar Aalto. Upon returning to France, he was captivated by the irony and forms of the controversial Coconut Chair by George Nelson.
After being influenced and inspired, Paulin was ready to take flight. He did so in 1953 with his first exhibition at the Salon des arts ménagers and the cover of the magazine La Maison Française. It is worth noting that while industrial design was already well-developed in Italy, Scandinavia, and the United States, with the Italian design generation already flourishing, France was still in an embryonic stage in this field.
If it grew rapidly from an embryonic stage, it was also thanks to Paulin and his unmistakable style. The Mushroom (1959), Ribbon (1966), and Tongue (1968) chairs are icons that continue to inspire many contemporary artists today. Rational, elegant, full of charm and a sense of humor. These were the years when he fully expressed his creativity, to the extent that he was called upon to redefine the exhibition spaces of the Louvre.
He himself defined the Mushroom collection as “the best industrially designed object I have ever created.” Today, the Mushroom chair is part of the permanent collection at the MoMA in New York. Another point in his favor was the revelation of his design typical of the Space Age era.
Its most remarkable feature is the absence of seams, which enhances the softness of its forms. It is no coincidence that a few years earlier, Paulin had begun researching stretch fabrics and started collaborating with the development department of Artifort to achieve the desired prototype.
The creations signed by Pierre Paulin are easily recognizable today as they were yesterday, preserving a unique grace and harmony.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Paulin reached the ultimate recognition as he furnished the living room, dining room, and exhibition rooms of the private apartments at the Élysée Palace for Pompidou in 1971, and 12 years later, he worked for another French president, François Mitterrand, furnishing the presidential office. Among his other famous clients were Renault, Citroen, Airbus, Tefal, and Ericsson.
Paulin passed away in 2009 in Montpellier, France.