Design Icon: The Pierre Paulin Armchair That Kylie Jenner and Other Celebrities Love
French furniture and interior designer Pierre Paulin did not have an illustrious start to his career. After he failed his Baccalauréat (the French national exam that students sit for after the end of their secondary education), he trained briefly as a ceramist in Vallauris and then proceeded to be a stone-carver in Burgundy. Whilst training as a sculptor, he eventually got into a bloody fight that injured his right arm and ended his dreams as a sculptor there and then.
But Paulin was not to be undermined. He eventually started designing furniture, and launched his debut exhibition at the Paris furniture and home design festival Salon des arts ménagers in 1953. Around five years later, he started working at Maastricht-based Dutch manufacturers Artifort, where he quickly gained recognition for his modern designs.
Paulin eventually caught the eye of then-French president Georges Pompidou and his wife. The young French talent was then invited by the royal couple to redecorate their private living quarters in the Élysée Palace apartment, the royal residence of France. Paulin delivered: he transformed the glitzy rooms into a contemporary abode and introduced newly designed sculptural sofas and chairs into the space.
Originally known as the Élysée collection, the playful seats were moulded from strips of wood wrapped in foam and upholstered in leather. Easy on the eye with its round contours and expressive personality, it beckons one to sink into it and linger.
With its approachable and cosy look, it’s easy to see why the chairs have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity at a time when we're all craving a sense of comfort. American media personality Kylie Jenner has a pair of the club chairs in her office, while actress and fashion maven Olivia Culpo flaunts hers in her living room.
A sofa piece in Willabelle Ong's living room (Photo: Courtesy of Willabelle Ong/@willamazing)
Louis Vuitton artistic director Nicholas Ghesquière's Paris apartment, where a pair of Pierre Paulin sofas from 1971 and a Gae Aulenti coffee table sits (Photo: Courtesy of Nicolas Ghesquière via The World of Interiors)
Singaporean fashion and media personality Willabelle Ong also keeps a sofa piece in her living area, as does Louis Vuitton artistic director Nicolas Ghesquièr, who acquired a pair of the original sofas that are housed in his Paris apartment.
The sofa is innovatively crafted from strips of wood wrapped in foam (Image: Courtesy of Paulin Paulin Paulin)
Pierre Paulin, pictured with his wife Maïa and his son Benjamin (Photo: Courtesy of Paulin Paulin Paulin)
More commonly known as the Pumpkin chairs (for their uncanny resemblance to the outer appearance of the squash), the collection is also alternatively called the Alpha; the rare originals were first produced (albeit briefly) by French manufacturing company Alpha in the early 1970s.
The sculptural seats were somewhat of a sleeper hit, only gaining a cult status in the early 2000s. In 2007, the discovery and renewed interest in the design spurred Paulin to create an easier-to-manufacture version of the chair for French maker Ligne Roset. In 2017, the Paulin estate—where the designer’s son Benjamin and his wife Alice Lemoine oversee the Pierre Paulin archives—reissued the designs, which will be called the Alpha collection. Produced by luxury furniture company Ralph Pucci, the designs are crafted with the original specifications and made-in-France mandate in mind.
The Alpha seats are part of the 14 pieces that will be produced commercially. Other Paulin hits, which include the iconic Dune sofa loved by American singer-songwriter Frank Ocean and Kanye West, will be available as well.