French Mid-Century Modern, on a Roll

Like its counterpart in the U.S., French mid-century modern design is now enjoying a heady resurgence.

But it’s a little more elegant, as one might imagine.

Case in point: At Design Miami in December, Louis Vuitton unveiled 18 pieces designed by Pierre Paulin for a 1972 project conceived by Herman Miller, but never produced.

Paulin’s original groundbreaking designs came on the heels of his 1971 commission to decorate the private apartment of Georges Pompidou in the Élysée Palace, where formal receptions were held.

“It was a break with classic French interiors – very modern, with foam for contemporary furnishings,” says art historian Elizabeth Chase, who’s also a founding partner in Paris-based Artecase.

Influenced by the work of Charles and Ray Eames in the U.S., Paulin was stretching foam rubber – a byproduct from the Italian automotive supplier Pirelli Tire – over steel frames, covered in material originally intended for bathing suits.

By 1983, Paulin was designing François Mitterrand’s apartment as well.

“Here were French institutions commissioning a designer to do something completely new in one of the most important spaces in France,” she says.

On both sides of the Atlantic after World War II, a search for a new national identity was all the rage, manifested in a new kind of look for new kinds of products. It all took place before a backdrop of the prewar Bauhaus, and influenced by the Eames’s, who’d worked during the war with government and industry to produce molded plywood splints for broken limbs.

Paulin was not alone in the post war French revolution. Designers Marco Zanuso, Andre Motte and Robert Mathieu were working also to design new forms for a new era.

Today, original works by the French mid-century modernists can be found occasionally in New York, Miami and San Francisco.

And then there’s Artecase in Paris, where Chase and her compatriot Elizabeth Boullier work ceaselessly to track them down.

“It’s what we do,” she says.

Enough said.

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