Rattan reemerged as a design material during WWII when traditional materials were no longer as readily available. French creators took an interest in the natural plant fiber that had mostly been abandoned since the early 1900s, but now offered new opportunities, such as multiple prototyping, due to recent technical innovations and its low cost.
Rattan furniture also appealed to the post-war designers as a way to soften interiors, bringing nature and beauty together.
Louis Sognot (1892-1970) was an interior designer with an extremely long and productive career starting in the 1920s up to the 1960s. Mostly known for his innovative design using new material during his collaboration with Charlotte Alix in the 1930s, Sognot was deeply involved in the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM) and became an influential mentor for the next generation.
Later, Sognot would shift from the functionalist movement’s radical views and take his own interior design concepts in a more comfortable and sophisticated direction.
Along with the new materials of glass and metal, rattan started to be incorporated in furniture because of its ease of use and ability to translate organic and complex shapes into sculptural designs. After WWII, Sognot started to use rattan intensively, making the use of this material his trademark, and continued up until the mid 60s. The combination of a post-war economic state, when wood and rattan were more obtainable than metal, along with Sognot’s natural expressions, resulted in a more poetic vocabulary of shapes in Sognot’s work.
Jacques Dumond (1906-1991) influenced an entire post-war generation of designers with his vision of modernity and emphasis on experimentation with material. These included André Monpoix, Janine Abraham and Dirk Jan Rol, Roger Fatus, Étienne Fermigier, and Philippe Leloup, with whom he collaborated often in the 1960s. Dumond promoted the idea that “new materials + new techniques = new forms,” a philosophy expressed through his experimentation with Formica, rattan, glass, and steel. This generation of designers benefited from Dumond’s enthusiasm for modernism and his collaborative approach.
Joseph-Andre Motte (1925 –2013) once explained, “material is in charge, then imagination.” Moreover, Motte’s choice of otherwise overlooked materials contributed to cost-effective production. His desire to be economical existed in tandem with his belief that the large-scale manufacture of works offered consumers a means to personalize their living environments. Motte’s work represents the intersection of beauty and functionality in the face of an industrial society.
Motte was one of the first to use rattan in his generation. The Tripod Chair (1949), edited by Rougier, was an early use of rattan for furniture production, followed by modular elements in rattan and glass. Tripod Chair (1949) won a silver medal at the Milan Triennial, 1949 and possessed a perfect simplicity of lines while still maintaining comfort.
Motte consistently used rattan into the 1960s. Motte was interested in the human experience and beauty, and rattan suited Motte’s distinctive use of blending traditional artisan craft techniques with innovative modernist forms.
Janine Abraham (1929-2006) and Dirk Jan Rol (b.1929) designs incorporate a strong concept of line, space and color with a special characteristic elegance. They are very much a part of the new generation of modernist designers whose work took into consideration the need for mass production of furniture.
It was in 1952 when Abraham began learning how to work with rattan from Caillette, a recipient of the René Gabriel prize same year for a rattan chair. In 1953, she visited the house of Rougier, a company of craftspeople located Rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the neighborhood of the Marais, who specialized in rattan. The company benefited from a certain reputation with the designers of the period, among them Joseph-André Motte, who appreciated the design of her Chistera armchair. Janine Abraham developed a long-standing relationship with the director, Madame Piat. In 1955, Abraham designed a set of rattan furniture pieces for a bedroom – bed, crib, dressing table, low chair, etc. – presented at the Foire de Marseille, in which one could perceive a blend of formal precision and highly encouraging stylistic freedom.
Joining the studio respectively in 1954 and 1955, Janine Abraham and Dirk Jan Rol were from the outset enchanted by the personality of Jacques Dumond, whose relevant advice they greatly appreciated, along with the total freedom he allowed them to achieve their respective projects. In 1957, they created their own agency.
Rol provided the structural and architectural know-how, while Abraham contributed imagination. They realized the importance of mass-produced modern furniture, but they were not willing to sacrifice solid workmanship. In 1959, Abraham and Rol presented Soleil Fauteil at SAM, which later became an iconic work of 20th-century French design.