Literature: Contemporary Architects. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980.
PIERRE CHAREAU Architecte-meublier , by Marc Vellay and Kenneth Frampton
Art Deco, by Victor Arwas
Encyclopedia of Art Deco, edited by Alistair Duncan
Pierre Chareau, born on August 4, 1883 in Bordeaux, was to become one of the most famous architects, interior, and furniture designers of the Art Deco movement. Chareau’s major contributions to twentieth-century decorative arts are a result of his experimentation with incorporating steel and glass into his designs. Only Le Corbusier is credited with working on the same sophisticated and original level as Chareau.
Chareau came from a family of shipbuilders and studied architecture at the Ecole des Baeaux- Arts in Paris (from 1900-1908). Upon the completion of his degree, he worked for the British firm of Waring and Gillow Furnishings in Paris from 1908-1913. One of his first interiors projects came in 1919 when, while on leave from the army during the First World War, he designed a study/ bedroom for his friend Dr. Jean Dalsace. That same year, the Salon d’ Automne exhibited the design of this room. These projects prompted Chareau to continue designing furniture and lighting fixtures and he only occasionally accepted architectural commissions. Although when he did, they were significant. From 1918 until 1940, when he relocated to the United States of America, he worked for himself.
In 1925, he designed an “Office-Library in the French Embassy” for the Pavillion de la Société des Artistes Décorateurs (he was also a member of the society from 1923-1932) which was shown a at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. This was a very important commission for Chareau, and proved that he had the expertise and the eye to become a driving force in twentieth-century decorative arts.
One of the features of this interior that received considerable recognition was the sliding wall panels, which could be adjusted according to the light requirements. The ceiling had an oculus that reflected artificial interior light. But even prior to the design of this interior, Chareau had already demonstrated an interest in lighting design, and designed an impressive series of lamps in alabaster that were inspired by the Cubist esthetic.
Chareau’s furniture can be distinguished from the work of his contemporaries because it was always executed from unusual combinations of materials, such as rich mahogany, unpolished metal, and lightly hammered surfaces. The sculptural designs were as unusual as the materials employed: pivoting or expanded fan-shaped configurations were among the hallmarks of his designs.
During the late 1920’s, Chareau took on two very important architectural commissions. Both were collaborations with the Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet. The first was a club house located in Beauvallon (1928), near St. Tropez, which was made entirely of reinforced concrete, and was highly praised for Chareau’s distinctive metal and wood furnishings. The second was a private residence, which would later define the designer’s career.
His most famous project is the Maison de Verre (1928-1932) in Paris, at 31 Rue Saint Guillaume. This is the first house built exclusively of steel and glass, and has become an icon of twentieth-century architecture. This house was also commissioned by the Dalsace family (aside from being the doctor’s own home it also housed an office for his medical practice). Consisting of three floors, it was conceived as a total space, with a façade facing onto the courtyard completely enclosed in glass. Its metal frame structure supported framed panels of glass. While the rooms were separated by wood or metal closet doors that slid or rotated, the structure (beams and steel beams), pipes and ducts remained visible, participating in the architectural design so as to transform the house’s functional elements into decorative ones.
In 1929, he was the founding member of the Union des Artistes Modernes, a Paris based group of artists, designers and architects (other founding members were Charlotte Perriand, Robert Mallet-Stevens, and René Herbst) and he exhibited with them annually through 1937.
Chareau moved to New York in 1940, where he continued to work for another ten years. One of his last projects, in 1948, was the studio of the painter Robert Motherwell in East Hampton, New York. Although it has since been destroyed, the entire studio was made from American army surplus materials.
Chareau was also a member of the International Congress of Modern Architecture.
Pierre Chareau committed suicide in New York on August 24, 1950.