The Radical Pierre Paulin’s Lesser-Known Era

Demisch Danant is spotlighting some of the French furniture master’s obscure ‘80s-era commissions, which until now have never been publicly shown.

Mitterrand office set at Palais de l’Elysée, 1985. Image courtesy of Paulin Paulin Paulin

When the 1980s rolled around, few expected Pierre Paulin to continue innovating. Though widely influential for irreverent pieces like the Pop Art–inspired Tongue Chair and topographic Dune sofa that rebuffed midcentury’s clean-lined forms and were more akin to sculpture than functional objects, the French master was already in his 60s and had faded into invisibility “next to marketing geniuses like [Philippe] Starck and his peers,” says his son, Benjamin, who co-manages the late designer’s estate. His entire oeuvre is imbued with a rare sensitivity, but Paulin is often boxed into the first decade of his prolific career. 

That overlooks some of Paulin’s most radical work, which he created during this perceived lull. A favorite of the Mobilier National, which administers state furniture by French designers, he was commissioned to design pieces for national institutions and residences for French officials: the presidential office of the Elysée Palace, the Musée du Louvre’s Denon Wing, and the Hall of Tapestries in Paris City Hall. Chief among these is the beloved office set he created for French president François Mitterand in 1985, a five-piece collection adorned in clashing shades of lacquered bleu de France and Tyrian pink stripes. Rare were such iconoclastic pieces made for serious settings, but they surprised and delighted audiences in equal measure.

(FROM LEFT) Mitterrand office set at Mobilier National; photography by Adrien Dirand. Pierre Paulin at Canapé Hotel de Ville Chirac. Images courtesy of Paulin Paulin Paulin

The works were never before produced for public viewing until recently, when New York design gallery Demisch Danant teamed up with Benjamin’s family business—the aptly named Paulin Paulin Paulin—to give them a new lease on life. Doing so was a full-circle moment for gallerists Suzanne Demisch and Stéphane Danant, dedicated champions of postwar French design who displayed the furniture Paulin created for Georges Pompidou shortly after launching their gallery nearly two decades ago. The Mitterand collection is on display there until May 27, as are select pieces at the gallery’s TEFAF New York booth from May 12–16. 

“My father’s ambition was to create pieces that could fit any space,” Benjamin tells Surface. “Even big fans are now discovering a brand-new facet of his work that not only brings a new light on the whole oeuvre, but also redefines it by precising his intentions.”

Ensemble Chirac Sectional Sofa (1986/2023) at Demisch Danant. Photography by William Jess Laird
Tapis Siége (1972/2014). Image courtesy of Paulin Paulin Paulin
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