Widely regarded as the ambassador of 20th-century French style, designer Andree Putman was also the pioneer of the boutique hotel. Nadia Chan traces the evolution of Putman's inimitable touch.
FROM THE INTERIOR for the Air France Concorde, to silverware for Christofle, as well as her own line of furniture and fragrance, Andree Putman is indisputably the grande dame of modern French design.
Known for her independent spirit and willingness to take risks, Putman showed the first signs of her bold design traits at the age of 16. In her own way of protest, the young Putman told her mother she no longer wanted any of the elaborate, bourgeois furniture in her bedroom in the family home in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, got rid of it all, and made do instead with a bed, a table, a lamp, a chair and nothing else.
'I have always cultivated the rebel spirit,' says Putman. 'I wanted to empty rooms. I avoid decoration for decoration's sake. I broke away from the dictates of 'good French taste' that's deeply ingrained in the family. To me, the ultimate luxury in design is the freedom of choice.'
By the age of 20, Putman convinced her mother to purchase pieces by Mies van de Rohe and Isamu Noguchi, and became increasingly obsessed with the idea of bringing quality art and design to the masses. So much so, Putman spent several years managing the style of the household division at Prisunic, a mass-market French department store.
'I've always worked with the idea of making beautiful things accessible to everyone,' says Putman, who adds that, 'design isn't separated into rich and poor - that is merely a design phenomenon from the late 19th century.'
And therein lies her genius. Putman favours simple, familiar and non-trendy spaces and objects. 'I aim to offer the ideal solution to everything used in a house,' she says. 'It can either be very inexpensive and clever, or very expensive and incredibly rare, and visually exceptional. I also love to see beauty in modest things, and I adore the contrast.'
For Putman, interiors look best when, instead of noticing the originality, or being overwhelmed by the image of money, one simply feels good in them. She applies the same goals to all of her design projects - to be functional, comfortable and convenient, 'like the way our homes should be,' says the designer.
While Putman dared to be different, her approach to interior design also carried the meticulous attention to detail of a mother decorating the nest for her family. The 'Putman style' proved to be
a big hit at home and abroad, notably in New York City. Having worked on private residences and prestigious government commissions in Paris, Putman began her conquest of the Big Apple in the 1980s, designing Yves Saint Laurent boutiques and the ground floor of the department store, Barneys New York.
When Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell approached Putman to work on the Morgans hotel in New York, the result was totally different to the established notions of what a hotel should look like. Rather than creating the ambience of some luxurious bygone era, Putman chose a style that was comfortable and contemporary - similar to what guests would choose for their own homes - and thus the boutique hotel was born.
'I've always kept clear of the establishment and stuck closest to real life,' says Putman. 'I would never design something that looks like it's from a period I didn't live in. This is not always what's been done or what people expect.' Expected or not, in Putman's case, it makes sense.
1. A bathroom at Morgans hotel, New York, 1984.
2. Alaia boutique, Paris, 1985.
3. Conference room at the Ministry of Culture, Paris, 1984.
4. Concorde, 1994.
5. Sheraton hotel, Paris, 1995.
6. Le Bureau restaurant, Monaco, 1996.
7. Andree Putman?s bathroom, Paris, 1996.
8. Gildo Pastor Centre, Monaco, 1996.
9. Lo Sushi II, Paris, 2003.
10. Private residence, Tel Aviv, 2004.
11. Private residence, Shanghai, 2004.
12. Bayerischer Hof hotel, Munich, 2005.