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Design Icon: Charlotte Perriand Bookshelf

by Maxwell Tielman

Design*Sponge | Design Icon: Charlotte Perriand Bookshelf. Illustration by Libby Vanderploeg

Design: Bookshelf, sometimes known as the “Mexican Bookshelf”

Designer: Charlotte Perriand (French, 1903-1999), with Atelier Prouvé

Date: 1953

Country of Origin: France

Manufacturer: Atelier Prouvé (today Perriand shelves are manufactured by Cassina)

Materials and Construction: Oak shelves, aluminum vertical dividers, sliding trays to cover certain areas.

Background: As was the case with Ray Eames, female contributors to design teams were oftentimes overshadowed by their male counterparts during the twentieth century, only to be truly acknowledged in recent years. This was certainly the case for Charlotte Perriand, the designer behind some of the last century’s most iconic pieces of furniture. The above piece, oftentimes referred to as “The Mexican Bookshelf” because it was designed for the Maison du Mexique at Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, was commonly attributed to the french designer Jean Prouvé. In reality, the piece was designed by Charlotte Perriand and produced by Prouvé’s Atelier Prouvé. Because Jean Prouvé’s name attracted higher bids at auction, Perriand’s name was all but erased from these designs—it wasn’t until recently that the actuality of Perriand’s authorship was finally accepted and widely acknowledged. This shelf, one of several similar shelves and multi-purpose furniture pieces by Perriand, is composed of  oak shelves, subdivided by aluminum vertical elements. Sliding trays ran along the front faces of the shelves, allowing users to hide and reveal certain areas. Because of the shelf’s variously-sized compartments, one was able to store a number of different objects on it. Today, many of Perriand’s shelf designs are in production again, this time by the Italian furniture company, Cassina.

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

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