Pierre Paulin always thought in three dimensions. He originally trained as a sculptor, inspired in part by his uncle, the sculptor Frédy Stoll, until he injured a tendon in a fight which caused him paralysis in his right hand.
‘I could think up a shape and make it spin in my head like a sculptor or an architect would,’ he said. ‘I made the most of that gift’.
Artifort needed more pieces to complement the range Paulin had already produced, and in 1965 the bold French designer came up with the Dutch company’s future bread and butter: the Little Tulip for dining and the Big Tulip Armchair for lounging, which immediately became bestsellers for Artifort.
Sections of the Big Tulip were moulded in Paulin’s sculptural style, but the idea of a metal exoskeleton was new for Paulin. It allowed different segments on a crossbar to be lifted up off the floor and given space to float, as Poul Volther’s Corona with its lightly padded leather ellipses had done over in Denmark.
Paulin was a perfectionist in everything he produced, with every junction and seam hidden and polished off, and no screw or bonding line in sight.
Like Danish master Finn Juhl, he leapfrogged convention and usual practice, confident that Artifort’s chief designer and engineer Theo Ruth would be able to make his designs work.
Had he been too bogged down by the practicalities, his designs would have suffered.
Although the general public found his work too expensive, Paulin became a designer for the elite in his home country after Monsieur and Madame Pompidou discovered his work.
In the mid-sixties in an exhibition at MOMA. The French President and his wife asked him to decorate their private apartments at the Elysée Palace, previously dubbed a “house of sadness” by Madame Pompidou. The makeover included painted aluminium walls and colourful carpets by the Parisian-based Israeli artist Yaacov Agam. Other rich benefactors followed.