Design Moment: Prouvé Standard Chair, 1934

A self-proclaimed ‘factory man’, Jean Prouvé was the master of utilitarian design

Prouvé’s Standard Chair comes in a variety of colours. Photograph: Skandium

Prouvé’s Standard Chair comes in a variety of colours. Photograph: Skandium

 

“Prouvémania” – as the New York Times called the demand for Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) designs at the start of this century – peaked in December 2004 when Sotheby’s sold a pair of doors by the French designer for $680,000.

His tables and chairs were at the time being snapped up for Manhattan lofts and, as the report acerbically described them, “hedge-fund managers’ Connecticut McMansions”.

And there was plenty to fill the auction rooms, where his original pieces, no matter how used, still sell at fine-art prices.

Jean Prouvé Standard Chair, 1934. Photograph: Vitra
Jean Prouvé Standard Chair, 1934. Photograph: Vitra

Prouvé was the master of utilitarian design, making everything from lighting, to letter openers, pre-fab buildings to chairs in his busy factory, proclaiming “I’m not an architect; I’m not an engineer – I’m a factory man”. His friend Le Corbusier called him “an architect-engineer”.

His Standard chair is one of his best-known pieces, displaying his understanding of engineering and structure. The back legs, which support the sitter’s body, are wide and strong, resemble an aircraft wing, and the front legs, which bear the lighter load, are made from tubular steel.

Some models were made completely of metal, but most had a wooden seat and back. The Standard was introduced in 1934 as Chair No 4, since it had been preceded by three prototypes, and it is still manufactured under licence by Vitra, and is available from Skandium and other suppliers.