French designer Jean Prouvé was a multi-talented pioneer whose significance has only been realized in recent decades. Design Stories traveled to Prouvé's hometown of Nancy to meet his daughter Catherine, who is passionate about preserving her father's design legacy.
BREATHTAKING VIEWS over the city of Nancy, located in northeastern France, open from the top of the hill. The same views were once admired by the French designer Jean Prouvé (1901–1984), whose home we have arrived to see at the invitation of the Swiss design brand Vitra.
'Designer', though, is quite a simplification: Jean Prouvé was also a metal artisan, an engineer, and a self-taught architect – Prouvé himself used the name constructeur, which combines all of these. During his career, Prouvé designed basically anything that could be manufactured using industrial methods, from paper knives to armchairs, from hinges to prefabricated houses, from windows to entire industrial buildings.
His youngest daughter, Catherine Prouvé, has joined us to tell us more about Prouvé's work and influence. Over the past twenty years, she has worked tirelessly to preserve her father's legacy and bring it to people's attention. A good example of this is the collaboration with Vitra: since the early 2000s, the brand has reissued some of Prouvé's most iconic works, allowing more and more people to discover them.
Standing on a steep hill, the Prouvé House, or Maison de Jean Prouvé in French, was built in 1954.
“The house was built during one summer by our family and a few friends,” says Catherine.
Jean Prouvé is best known as a pioneer of mass production and designer of metal furniture, but also for developing prefabricated architecture. The home, too, was built from prefabricated elements: wood panels, metal beams, and perforated aluminum sheets – the latter a very typical feature in Prouvé’s designs. Many of the components are said to be leftovers from Prouvé’s previous projects.
Jean Prouvé’s handprint is still visible all over the house – both in the architecture and in the details.
The architecture and interior of the home perfectly capture Prouvé’s design principles of availability, strict functionality, and economical use of materials.
“My father’s handprint is visible all over the house,” says Catherine. “All our furniture also consisted of my father’s prototypes. Even the fireplace, which is still in place, was designed and made by my father!”
The layout of the single-story house is unusually linear: at the other end are the shared spaces like the kitchen and living room, and at the other, the bedrooms. The back wall does not have a single window but is all storage space; the corridor leading to the bedrooms is filled with large cabinets, while the living room wall is covered with a bookshelf. But on the façade, the entire living room wall is glass, offering a handsome view of the city.
“My father was a very attentive and friendly person.”
Speaking of the living room, Catherine recounts a lovely anecdote about her father:
“He was a very attentive and friendly person. He worked in Paris but came home for the weekends, and when we woke up on Saturday morning and went to greet him, we would often encounter hitchhikers in the living room, snoozing on my father’s lounge chairs.”
TODAY, PROUVÉ’s chairs and other furniture are beloved by collectors, but Catherine is unsure of what his father would make of it.
“I think he would be surprised to see the price of his furniture at auctions,” Catherine says. “My father created furniture and homes for those in need – soldiers coming back from the war, for example. But, of course, it just shows that his work is valued!”
Jean Prouvé’s work is nowadays accessible through re-editions by Vitra.
In addition to vintage pieces, Prouvé’s work is nowadays accessible through re-editions by Vitra.
Prouvé used to be the manufacturer of his own designs, but after his factory Ateliers Jean Prouvé was closed, it took several decades before his creations were brought back into production. According to Catherine, the collaboration with Vitra feels particularly special as it allows her father’s designs to be enjoyed by a wider public instead of just collectors and connoisseurs.
“All reissues are developed in close co-operation with our family,” she says. “The details, materials, and colors are examined and debated in intense and conscientious discussions. The collaboration fills us with deep satisfaction – it helps maintain the legacy of my father.”
Jean Prouvé’s designs
Text: Emmi Ratilainen Images: Vitra