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How To Turn Your Office Into A Mid-Century Marvel

June 2016Words by Mr Adam Welch

Jean Prouvé "Design Office”, 1948. Photograph courtesy of Galerie Patrick Seguin

In this soul-crushingly digitised millennium, there are a lot of different kinds of awful environments in which you can eke out a living. Maybe you work in a giant, open-plan hangar, next to innumerable dead-eyed individuals plugged into computer terminals (an environment that’s, all in all, a little bit too much like the bit where they all wake up in The Matrix). Or maybe you’re employed by a right-on start-up, and have found an “urmazing” warehouse space, which, though it supplies the requisite amount of industrial chic, lacks a lock on the toilet door. If you’re really lucky (slash… unlucky), perhaps you work in one of those places with weird Willy Wonka candy stalls by the escalators, acid-green “idea-pods” round every corner and, shudder, a ping pong table where a smoking area should be. Whatever the case, chances are your workplace is not incredibly stylish.

Things used to be different. At least, if this summer’s edition of Design Miami/ in Basel is anything to go by. One of the themes ricocheting around the June edition of this renowned design fair – which brings together more than 40 international galleries focusing on collectable design – is designers of the past that envisioned a better workspace. One of the most dramatic iterations of the idea is being mounted by Galerie Patrick Seguin, which is exhibiting an entire office building (replete with furniture) designed by pioneering modernist Mr Jean Prouvé. The idea behind this “demountable” structure, which was first installed as the office at Mr Prouvé’s Maxéville factory in 1952, was to demonstrate to the public the beautiful and practical simplicity of prefabricated architecture. In 2016, though that’s still the case, it also just looks very, very nice. 

Meanwhile Paris’s Galerie Marcel Poil is showing the wonderfully intricate bureau setup of art deco designer Mr André Sornay – an ingenious bit of built-in design incorporating a series of swivelling articulated circles – and Copenhagen’s Dansk Mobelkunst gallery has dug out a series of 1930s light fittings designed by the architect Mr Palle Suenson for the offices of the Aarhus Oil Factory (see below).