When cutting-edge designer and architect Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) created her winning project for a prefabricated holiday home for the working-classes, little did she know that she would have to wait 80 years for it to gain the recognition it deserved. Blurring the lines between the indoors and outdoors, the design for La Maison au Bord de l’Eau originally won second place in a 1934 L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui magazine contest but was never commissioned. That is, until now. On show during Art Basel in Miami Beach (3-8 December 2013), Perriand’s fluid, meticulously functional design was the talking point of the show.
Sponsored by French fashion house, Louis Vuitton, La Maison au Bord de l’Eau (house by the water), which was built on the beach outside the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach, most probably now sees Perriand dancing in her grave!
In finding out more about the design and the woman behind it, surviving family members were interviewed. In an interview with Whitewall, Perriand’s son-in-law, Jacques Barsac, explains how the wooden and aluminium beach house emphasizes ''a free relationship to the body, and a relationship between what’s outside and what’s inside,” adding that it is a ''system for contemplating nature.'' When the design was first shown, ''No one was interested in building it. The reaction was one of dislike to horror,'' Pernette, Perriand’s daughter, claims in an interview with Wallpaper.
Although Charlotte Perriand went on to work for a wealthier market, Pernette claims that at heart, ''Charlotte designed for the workers, not for the bourgeoisie.'' And while the original design of the house had to be adapted, its unique combination of wood and metal makes it low-cost, possible to prefabricate, and therefore perfect for the mass-market. That is not to say that any aspect of quality or aesthetic is minimised as a result, quite the contrary in fact. Her work is a combination of different arts, or synthèse des arts as she called it which she was determined to share with absolutely everyone. And the home is where it started for her.
The elevated house of only 100 sq.m. is an easily constructible frill-free holiday house comprising two bedrooms and a kitchen. The main feature is its central deck covered by a white sail cloth that protects it from harsh sunlight while accentuating natural light. Free of unnecessary flourishes, the space demonstrates how maximum efficiency can be both soothing and timeless. Every aspect of the house is highly ergonomic, from its sliding doors and space-saving techniques, to the iroko floors and okuma walls chosen for their insect-repellent qualities.
Her work recalls elements of fastidiousness that recall Japanese design - she in fact, turned out to be a key figure in giving the country’s industrial design direction. ''She understood that what the modernists were trying to do was exactly what the traditional Japanese were doing with their house in architecture.'' - Jacques Barsac.
Perriand was the world’s first successful female architect and commanded great respect among her peers for her creativity. She was bold and sassy and rarely took no for an answer. At 24 she asked for a job at Le Corbusier’s studio, where she was told ''We don’t embroider cushions here.'' However, Le Corbusier soon changed his mind upon seeing the glacial rooftop bar she designed for the Salon d’Automne in Paris. Louis Vuitton was particularly attracted to Perriand's unique personality which proved to be the inspiration for the fashion house’s Spring/Summer 2014 Icônes collection of interchangeable and adaptable garments followed by the beach house.
Charlotte Perriand's overriding will and talent made her a key figure of the 20th-century Modernist movement. A curious traveller who sought inspiration all over the world, Perriand’s work is still relevant and much talked about today and La Maison au Bord de l’Eau is a mere reminder of her advanced vision.