One of the great furniture designers of the 20th century, André Sornay, was perhaps lesser known than his contemporaries such as Le Corbusier, Ruhlmann and Jean Prouvé; this was due most likely to the fact that he lived and worked in Lyon and not in Paris. Born and raised in Lyon and very attached to his native city, he studied art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Lyon. He was a talented illustrator and had hoped to begin a career illustrating books, when he precipitately found himself at the helm of his family’s furniture business after his father’s death in 1919. He was 17 years old.
He completely revolutionized his family’s business, moving away from mere copies of classical furniture to conceptualizing and creating a whole new line of modern furniture using techniques of his own. Influenced by the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements, where the synthesis of art and architecture was a permanent quest, he belonged to a group of architects, artists and decorators that wanted to design new forms, perfectly suited to modern life. This Union des Artistes Modernes included such renowned designers as Pierre Chareau, Francis Jourdain, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand – all avant-gardist designers eager to democratize art.
Sornay armchairs, c. 1930s.
Sornay Buffet, c. 1935.
André Sornay’s creations were characterized by pure, geometric lines, harmonious proportions, and functionality. He developed signature techniques such as an assembling technique called “le cloutage”. This process of applying veneered woods with rows of nail heads that simulated rivets typically seen on industrial parts such airplane wings. Not only was it practical in terms of production, but beautiful as well (and trademarked in 1932).
Sornay Cabinet in mahogany, c. 1930-1940.
Sornay Bookshelf, c. 1930-1940.
He also developed the “meuble à système” (system furniture) giving multiple functionality to his furniture. For example, a console table could fold out to form a dining table for four, with stools that tuck away underneath the console when not in use. Another mark of Sornay’s clever mind was the integration of lighting into his furniture. He created night stands with built in lamps and floor lamps that served as end tables.
Sornay walnut night stands with integrated lamps, c. 1935.
Sornay floorlamp, c. 1935.
Always ahead of the times, Sornay used a combination of traditional and contemporary materials in his designs and developed his own ways of treating them. Oregon pine, an orange colored wood imported from the US and Canada, was steel brushed, sanded, ebonized and sanded again to allow the original colors to show through the black finish. He polished his pieces with Duco laquer (an automobile laquer) and created furniture pulls and other hardware from aluminum.
Sornay side table in ebonized Oregon pine, c. 1935.
Sornay didn’t stop at furniture design either. He was a gifted interior designer and his services as such were greatly in demand by the bourgeoisie Lyonnaise. He made beautiful illustrations of his clients’ interiors and the furniture he created to adorn them.
Sornay dining set, c. 1940.
Sornay “smoking tables”, c. 1940.
Sornay gueridon, c. 1940.
Timeless, visionary and practical to boot, Sornay’s designs from the Art Deco period continue to make their mark in contemporary interior design as coveted objects of beauty…
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 01:30:00 PM
Looks like France is going to have a white Christmas if this weather keeps up! It’s been snowing all over France like never before! Jean-Marc and Jean-Noel got to experience it first hand, driving (at a snail’s pace) through Lyon in a veritable blizzard… over 2 ft of snow in some areas! Traffic came to a stand still yesterday all over the country. We are relieved to hear that the Fray brothers are relatively safe in Venice now (where the water’s rising!).
Canal du Midi – Beziers.
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 11:24:00 PM