Jean Prouvé once said that he liked his furniture designs to express “what the material thinks.
Jean Prouvé once said that he liked his furniture designs to express “what the material thinks.” In the case of his Standard chair, the use of bulky hindquarters with slim front legs states that as with most chairs, it is the rear two legs that take the most strain when someone sits down. The visual portrayal of the load-bearing qualities of a chair has the effect of giving the Standard a voice, raising its status from a meek, mute object to a proud and trusty servant. Jean Prouvé was a man with strong egalitarian beliefs. Despite a successful career, he was never tempted to leave his hometown of Nancy, France (where he was actually mayor for a time), for the brighter lights of Paris. As a designer was more at home producing pieces for schools, town halls, and even petrol stations than he was for private clients or upmarket boutiques.
His designs, as exemplified by the Standard chair, have a rugged yet lyrical charm, almost despite themselves. Indeed, this combination of Prouvés graceful, almost feminine feelings for form with his more macho approach to construction and choice of materials accounts much of the appeal of his work. The Stand=ard chair is sometimes referred to ads ‘Chair No. 4’, as it was his fourth attempt at creating a versatile office chair. Of course, now that offices are routinely equipped with swivel chairs, the Standard more often takes up residence in restaurants, cafés, and homes. It must be pointed out that the chair often now finds itself relatively refined surroundings. having been adopted by an educated, usually wealthy, design-literate elite since it was put into production again in 2002 by Vitra. (Ateliers Jean Prouvé, his manufacturing company, had stopped producing the chair in 1956.) Whether Prouvé himself would be pleased or appalled by this new fan baser we shall never know. But I would assume the latter would be the appropriate answer.
One of the most endearing aspects of the Standard chair, to contemporary consumers, is that, although it speaks the language of the Standardized industrial production, this is clearly a chair created by one man in a workshop, not on an office computer. Prouvé was known to prefer designing with materials and tools in front of him, as opposed to sitting at a drawing desk. Having started his career as a blacksmith, he never lost his love for getting his hands dirty. This is why the design for the Standard chair was continually being tinkered with over the 22 years that Ateliers Jean Prouvé produced it. Need, it was some years after it was first conceived that Prouvé altered the design to allow the chair to be easily dismantled for storage and transportation.
This is one of those original situations that you really shouldn’t try to improve on or try to bring it into contemporary culture. It’s like a classic film, that studios then try to make a sequel to, which (aside from the Godfather) almost always turns out terrible, and takes away from the original greatness of the first film. Once a classic always a classic, but let’s leave the Classic’s alone and be innovators of our own.
Check Out More Prouvé – Galerie Patrick Seguin
Recommended Prouvé Book (Beautiful Images of Private Collections ) – A Passion for Jean Prouvé: From Furniture to Architecture: The Laurence and Patrick Seguin Collection