Meet Pierre Jeanneret, Swiss Designer

Editor’s note: When people ask why I write about woodworking, I usually answer: “It’s the only thing I’m qualified to do – besides washing dishes.” In truth, however, my unspoken goal is to nudge woodworkers to close their laptops or books and build something. Anything. One of the ways to inspire is to expose people to work or styles they haven’t seen before. While I like and respect the Shaker, Arts & Crafts and period styles, the world is a much bigger place.

Recently Suzanne Ellison, our indexer and a contributing editor, has been showing me a lot of work by Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967), a Swiss architect, furniture designer and cousin to Le Corbusier. I’ve asked her to share some of that here. I know some snarky commenters are going to say it’s clunky or ugly. That’s not the point. There is something you can take away from each of these pieces. Some look dated. Some are brilliant.

You’ll understand Jeanneret’s work better (especially the Indian stuff) if you read this short bio at MoMA.

— Christopher Schwarz


If you are designing chairs for new modern buildings in a high heat and humidity environment you are going to use teak and there will be caned backs and seats for breathability. The chairs are for government offices and college classrooms so they have to be sturdy. Lastly, a high number are needed. Jeanneret came up with a basic design that could be adapted for various uses and that could be made with local materials. I like the chunky V-legs and arms balanced with the lightness of the woven back and seat. In profile the upside-down “V” with a line across the top almost looks like the Chinese character for human. My favorite is the Lounge Chair. I could live with it.

All the Chandigarh designs were done in the 1950s, as was the Scissor Chair for Knoll. It had a simple frame and came with cushions that snapped on. All of the chairs and stools made for the buildings in Chandigarh were teak and made in India. Chandigarh was the first planned city post-independence from Britain.

More pieces he designed for the buildings he and Le Corbusier designed in Chandigarh, India.

— Suzanne Ellison

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16 Responses to Meet Pierre Jeanneret, Swiss Designer

  1. toolnut says:

    I like checking out other styles. My usual responses to seeing other styles could be any of thefollowing:
    1) It would be better if…
    2) I never thought of that.
    3) How did they do that?
    4) Why didn’t I think of that?
    5) Good God, what were they thinking?
    6) I like it.
    7) I hate it.
    8) Huh?
    Whatever the response, I usually learn or find ideas from them.

    PS. Note to Chris, I noticed you dropped the saucy from indexer and I’m guessing you’re washing a lot of dishes since you spent Valentine’s Day out of town.

  2. Matt Merges says:

    No snark here, I love “modern” design. It’s what inspires me to get out into the garage/workshop.

  3. hikerob says:

    Thanks for broadning our view a bit! Very interesting. Liked the sketches of the rustic chair.

  4. dnramirez says:

    Inspirational. Checkout Gerrit Rietveld. He started work in his father’s furniture workshop at the age of 12, and finally one of the great Dutch Architects.

  5. Ryan Cheney says:

    To paraphrase the Schwarz, I usualy think of mid-century modern as “early, mid, and late crate”. My girlfriend loves it though, and I’m starting to come around on some of it. I dig the Scissor Chair with cushions, and the Committee Table is a nifty design I’ve never seen before. Haven’t made a chair yet, but the Scissor chair isn’t near as intimidating as a Winsor (which I don’t like anyway, sorry), or Maloof Rocker, or Greene & Greene, and it isn’t as monolithic and ubiquitous as the Morris either.

    • tsstahl says:

      Committee Table is a nifty design
      I saw a room full of that style table a number of years ago and I’m racking my brain to shake the memory loose. This is going to gnaw at me until i get it…

  6. TIWilson says:

    Very cool. I always like to see stuff that’s new (to me).

  7. woodworkerme says:

    it’s nice but I don’t think I would make them. seeing different stuff is good so if someone talks about it I will know what they are talking about…..

  8. Thomas Scott says:

    “I know some snarky commenters are going to say it’s clunky or ugly. That’s not the point. There is something you can take away from each of these pieces.”

    Hey Chris,
    A good friend who was a naval architect once said to me,
    “When you see something really ugly, take a closer look at it. Chances are that someone has abandoned conventional aesthetics to find a clever solution to a problem.”

  9. jenohdit says:

    The campaign furniture thing comes full circle now.

    Jeanneret and Le Corbusier were Swiss, but mostly worked in France (based there creating work for all over). As the MOMA bio noted, Jeanneret also worked with Jean Prouvé and a lot of his own wooden designs were very reminiscent of Prouvé’s metal work. Prouvé designed a lot of furniture but also a lot of architectural scale work with scissor legs. See his “Compass Table” and the awning of his Social Security Building in Le Mans.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they collaborated on all of those projects. After designers work together for a long time they do start to think the same way regardless. Patrick Seguin has written a good bit about Prouve and is a well known dealer. The connections are pretty easy to see at his site.

    The x-shaped legs are a staple of French furniture especially in the Deco and Empire eras. Napoleonic campaign furniture made of steel was styled after Roman bronze folding furniture and the form remains popular today. see “faldistorium’ or “sella curulis” via google I don’t have time to search for more Empire era metal examples right now. They are pretty sweet, often with beautiful gilded ornament.

    This is 18th Century wood,.10 Some Roman and Medieval examples Here’s another Roman example

    As MOMA also mentions Prouve and Jeanneret worked to develop prefabricated housing. In some ways the architectural equivalent of campaign furniture. Much of that was sent to Africa. The Ivory Coast was one destination. This is a pretty common form of chair from that region. They are often found in collections of African Art. It’s an obvious precursor to the rustic chairs above. Search for the terms “Côte d’Ivoire” and “chaise” for french results.

    Charting the connections among those, Egyptian, Roman, French Empire, British Colonial, and finally Roorkhee and other modernist variants would make for an interesting if possibly exhausting project.

  10. durbien says:

    Considering the legs are basically the LAP logo, I think you have to build one!

  11. otto0880 says:

    Neither of you mentioned Charlotte Perriand (shockingly in Suzanne’s case given the rampant sexism of the early Modern “masters”). She was the third leg of the stool with Corb and his cousin and responsible for designing with them the early metal and leather chairs (now called LC! etc). And almost ignored.
    She went her own way, leading design teams into her 80s and concentrating on wood rather than metal.
    She married, moved to Brazil and appears to have reworked her early designs with a craftsman in wood. Look at the Brazilian version of LC1.
    And she designed many tabourets (stools) that develop ‘staked’ furniture in modern styles.
    A great designer that should not be left out of the triumverate and probably should lead it.

    • saucyindexer says:

      Mais non! Charlotte has not been forgotten. I have been working on a portfolio of her work to throw at Chris at a later time. I have no doubts she influenced all the male designers in her circle. The gallery of Pierre Jeanneret’s furniture was to briefly explore how he took a a basic design and varied it to make the many pieces for the new government and university buildings in Chandigarh. It was also a look at using local materials both for the commission and the rustic pieces he made for his home while living in India.

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