French Designer Pierre Paulin Dies at 81

The creator of whimsical yet technologically innovative seating passed away on June 13.

Courtesy Artifort

I was saddened to learn recently that Pierre Paulin, the designer of iconic space-age furniture, passed away on June 13 in Montpelier, in southeast France. Paulin’s work first became popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, when he designed a number of technologically innovative seats with names like Orange Slice, Tulip, and Groovy. His chairs–shaped like mushrooms and ribbons and covered in colorful skintight upholstery–won widespread acclaim and found their way into major museums around the world. (In 1969, the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, became the first major museum to add his furniture to its collection.) Chosen by two former French presidents, Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand, to furnish the presidential residence, his furniture is still in the Élysée Palace, in Paris. “He made design into an art form,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a tribute to the designer. “The beauty of his work spread far and wide, from the furniture of the presidential palace to the daily lives of millions.”

I last met Paulin in Paris at Maison et Objet earlier this year, where Ligne Roset was debuting a new edition of furniture by the designer. He was in good spirits and told me that he felt his work was better known in America than in France. “What drives my work are technological breakthroughs,” the designer said in an interview–one of his last–with Metropolis contributing writer Véronique Vienne. “I do not start with the idea of a form. I try to solve problems with the most advanced methods available to me. The way my furniture looks is the result of a process during which I uncover the shapes my design will take. Each new project is a chance to reinvent my aesthetic.” His Flower chair for the Italian manufacturer Magis made its North American debut at ICFF last month, winning an Editors Award for seating.

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