Pierre Paulin, Modernizing the French Presidential Palace.

In 1969, Georges Pompidou is elected as French president. Being an admirer of contemporary art and wanting to modernize France, Georges Pompidou appointed interior designer Paul Paulin to redesign the official residence of the French president: The Élysée Palace.

Photograph from Vanity Fair France

A new image for France

Georges Pompidou is elected in 1969 by the French public to become the next president. During this same time period, modernism had taken off and was a symbol of efficiency and youthful design. As a collector of contemporary art, Georges Pompidou owned artworks made by Hans Arp, Giacometti, Nicolas, and Staël. This appreciation for the contemporary movement motivated him to change the image of the French presidency and modernize it.

President Georges Pompidou

To accomplish the delicate task of modernizing one of France’s most historic and emblematic building, Georges Pompidou appointed Pierre Paulin, a French interior and furniture designer who already had two of his chairs exposed at the MoMA in New York.

Pierre Paulin: Modernising the Elysée Palace

The Elysée Palace, Paris, France

Redesigning the interiors of the presidential palace was no easy task for Pierre Paulin. He was given special instructions by the president: He was not allowed to touch the walls as these held historic value to France, secondly, he could not use loud machinery so that the president and governmental staff could continue on working efficiently, and lastly, he was asked to use contemporary materials such as plastic. Pierre Paulin redesigned the dining room, where foreign residents would be invited to discuss international affairs, a smoke room, a cinema located in the palace’s basement and finally, the library.

The Smoke Room, Photograph by Le Monde France

When Pierre Paulin revealed his work to the president and his wife, they were amazed by the results. They loved it. However, they were resilient to expose this to the French public as this design was too revolutionary compared to the Renaissance style that characterized the French Presidential palace that it might not be appreciated by the French public. However, detached from the president, Pierre Paulin gave journalists a first tour of the redesigned rooms. The new interiors were exposed to the French for the first time and it was an immediate success.

Pierre Paulin Salon de l’Elysée, Paris, France, 1971

This modernized the image of the French government and gave the nation a sentiment of youth, George Pompidou even recalled that presidents and prime-ministers of foreign countries on governmental visits were very impressed by the new design. Pierre Paulin will even be reappointed years later by French president Francois Mitterrand to redesign the palace once more from 1984 to 1989.

The Dining Room, Elysée, Pierre Paulin

The dining room was by far one of George’s favorite rooms. it had 900 fluorescent tubes that were hung to the ceiling and lit the room up. It was composed of tones of beige and white giving making it very light and luminescent. However the next French president, Valery Giscard d’Estaing exhibited less appreciation for this modernism, he even said that he never set foot in the dining room because he was scared that one of the luminescent tubes would fall down on his head.

Love it or hate it, these interiors were revolutionary for a presidential office at that time period. It reflected French design and projected an image of change to other nations. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Pierre Paulin excelled at his task.

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