The Radical Pierre Paulin’s Lesser-Known Era
by Ryan Waddoups
Demisch Danant is spotlighting some of the French furniture master’s obscure ‘80s-era commissions, which until now have never been publicly shown.
When the 1980s rolled around, few expected Pierre Paulin to continue innovating. Though widely influential for irreverent pieces like the Pop Art–inspired Tongue Chair and topographic Dune sofa that rebuffed midcentury’s clean-lined forms and were more akin to sculpture than functional objects, the French master was already in his 60s and had faded into invisibility “next to marketing geniuses like [Philippe] Starck and his peers,” says his son, Benjamin, who co-manages the late designer’s estate. His entire oeuvre is imbued with a rare sensitivity, but Paulin is often boxed into the first decade of his prolific career.
That overlooks some of Paulin’s most radical work, which he created during this perceived lull. A favorite of the Mobilier National, which administers state furniture by French designers, he was commissioned to design pieces for national institutions and residences for French officials: the presidential office of the Elysée Palace, the Musée du Louvre’s Denon Wing, and the Hall of Tapestries in Paris City Hall. Chief among these is the beloved office set he created for French president François Mitterand in 1985, a five-piece collection adorned in clashing shades of lacquered bleu de France and Tyrian pink stripes. Rare were such iconoclastic pieces made for serious settings, but they surprised and delighted audiences in equal measure.