Culture

Pierre Chapo or the elegance of solid wood

In Gordes, a picturesque village in the Vaucluse perched on its rock, Fidel Chapo continues the family legacy of his father, Pierre Chapo (1927-1987), a designer and furniture creator. Fidel Chapo has relaunched the manufacture of furniture designed by his father. With the help of his son Zoran, they are working on a hundred pieces of furniture from the Chapo collection, based on the original models. Many discerning collectors order re-editions of the furniture created by Pierre Chapo. A prolific creator, he has dedicated his entire life to design with one desire: to create furniture that is functional, aesthetic and homogeneous, and one common point: a love of wood. This article looks back at the emblematic creations of a designer whose work has been somewhat forgotten by history, yet who remains one of the great furniture designers of the 1960s to 1980s.

Photo credit : Le Strict Maximum
Interior of the Chapo Gallery in Gordes, portrait of Pierre Chapo.
Photo credit : Karel Balas
Fidel Chapo in the Chapo furniture workshop in Gordes, in front of a famous model of his father, Pierre Chapo
.

Pierre Chapo was born in 1927 into a family of craftsmen in the Parisian district of Belleville. ten years later, the Chapo family moved to Vierzon in the Cher region. At first, Pierre Chapo thought he was going to become a painter, but when he met a marine carpenter, Mr Perrot, he discovered woodworking. He then decided to enrol at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in the architecture section.

In 1956, he did a decisive internship for the architects Lescher and Mahoney in Phoenix (Arizona). He perfected his training in cabinet making. In the meantime, Pierre Chapo travelled through Central America, Mexico, the United States and Canada in a Ford T. A journey of initiation, as he visits the studio and the house of the American architect-designer Frank Lloyd Wright.

Back in France, Pierre Chapo makes his first wooden furniture. In particular, he made the L01 Godot bed, at the request of the famous poet and playwright Samuel Beckett. For its time, this French elm bed is strikingly modern with its pure lines that give it great elegance, in the image of the design of Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé.

Photo credit : Drouot
Bed L01 “Godot”, design and production Pierre Chapo, 1959. The name of the bed is a reference to the play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. A piece marked by the sobriety of its lines, resolutely modern for its time.
Photo credit : Chapo Créations
Bed L01 “Godot”, detail of a corner, designed and produced by Pierre Chapo, 1959. Note the comb joint at the corners of the frame, the only decorative element of the furniture. The furniture can be used as a sleeping area, as a bench or as a daybed.
Photo credit : Design Market
Daybed L 01 by Pierre Chapo, reissued by Chapo SA and made in the Chapo workshop in Gordes by Pierre Chapo’s son and grandson.

In 1958, Pierre Chapo and his wife, Nicole Lormier, opened their own gallery on Boulevard de l’Hôpital in Paris. They exhibited the cabinetmaker’s first pieces of furniture and those of other designers Chapo liked: Charlotte Perriand and Serge Mouille for the modernity of their pieces, and above all the sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), with whom he shared a love of artisanal woodwork and a taste for organic design. Chapo set up his workshop in Clamart. In 1960, his talent was acclaimed and he received the Gold Medal of the City of Paris at the Arts and CraftsExhibition.

From the 1960s onwards, Pierre Chapo acquired a certain notoriety; he designed and produced solid wood furniture that was noted for its modernity. Some of his creations became emblematic, including the S10 chair, remarkable for its combination of leather and wood, the S24 chair appreciated for its sobriety, the S45 chair or “Chlacc” chair, with its assertive design. Finally, what can we say about the stylistic exercise Pierre Chapo undertook in designing the T22 “ L’œil ” coffee table? A piece “hunted” by experienced collectors for the beauty of its curves, one of the rare free forms designed by the master cabinetmaker.

Photo credit : Galerie44
Chair/Armchair S10, model Sahara, design: Pierre Chapo for Les Ateliers Chapo, 1964. This chair is one of the designer’s “classics”. It has an imposing solid elm frame and a natural leather seat. The armrests are also in leather.
Photo credit : Galerie44
Chair/Armchair S10, model Sahara, design: Pierre Chapo for Les Ateliers Chapo, 1964. A subtle combination of thick leather and solid elm, whose colours blend together, the S10 imposes its elegance. The finish is a simple and natural mixture of linseed oil and turpentine.
Photo credit : Galerie44
Chair/Armchair S10, model Sahara, design: Pierre Chapo for Les Ateliers Chapo, 1964. Pierre Chapo’s signature on this piece: the assembly of the wooden pieces is typical of his meticulous work.
Photo credit : Bellelurette
Chair series model S11, design: Pierre Chapo for Les Ateliers Chapo, 1966. The S11 chair borrows some of its technical elements from the S10, such as the interlocking system and the stretched leathers that ensure the solidity of the seat.
Photo credit : Bellelurette
chair series model S11, design by Pierre Chapo for Les Ateliers Chapo, detail, 1966. For this model, Pierre Chapo refined his technique with interlacing wood made possible by the “48×72” assembly. The chair thus takes on a real architectural appearance.
Photo credit : Chapo Créations
S24 chair, designed by Pierre Chapo for Ateliers Chapo, 1967. Solid elm chair. Once again, work is done on the mid-wood corner joints, with a deliberate choice for a refined design, since only visible B.T.R. screws “decorate” the model. A light and comfortable seat.
Photo credit : Les Illumines Design
Coffee table T22 “L’oeil”, design by Pierre Chapo for the publisher Seltz, 1972. An arch table with round legs, this seat evokes the shape of an eye, hence its name. The structure is in solid elm or oak.
Photo credit : Les Illumines Design
Coffee table T22 “L’œil”, design by Pierre Chapo for the publisher Seltz, 1972. The beauty and elegance of the shapes are striking..
Photo credit : Les Illumines Design
Coffee table T22 “L’oeil”, design by Pierre Chapo for the publisher Seltz, 1972. Two identical tables can be assembled to form a larger coffee table. The centre can be empty or occupied by a tray attached to one of the parts.
Photo credit : Espace Moderne
Coffee table T22 “L’oeil”, design by Pierre Chapo for the publisher Seltz, 1972. This is the version with a single half-moon-shaped piece and the eye-shaped centrepiece. The free-standing consoles of the T22 can be arranged according to taste. A “must” in vintage design!
Photo credit : Design Market
Chair S45 or “Chlacc”, design Pierre Chapo, 1979. This seat is immediately recognisable by the slender line of the backrest. Technically complex to make, the S45 chair leaves a strong sculptural impression.

What about the design developed by Pierre Chapo? It oscillates between traditional woodworking and the modernity of rectilinear forms with rounded or slanted corners. Pierre Chapo’s furniture is generally very robust and benefits from a remarkable quality of execution. The work on the interlocking joints in particular reveals a great precision of gesture. Pierre Chapo’s favourite material is solid elm, whose raw grain he likes. He sometimes uses oak, ash or fir. The finish is always very meticulous, the woods are nourished with linseed oil and turpentine.

A gifted designer, Pierre Chapo made a wide variety of wooden furniture: seats, of course, but also sideboards, storage shelves, desks, benches and sofas, beds, chests of drawers and even coat racks. In 1967, he moved his production workshop to Gordes, in the Vaucluse, to create the company “CHAPO Gordes S.A.” where he continued his work throughout the 1970s.

Photo credit : Chapo Créations
R08 sideboard in elm or solid oak, Pierre Chapo design, 1964.
Photo credit : Hep Galerie
Sideboard R16, design Pierre Chapo, circa 1969, piece in solid elm.
Photo credit : Hep Galerie
Sideboard R16, design Pierre Chapo, circa 1969, detail.
Photo credit : Design Market
Vintage shelf B17A, design Pierre Chapo, 1972.
Photo credit : Piasa
Solid elm desk model B19E, design Pierre Chapo, circa 1960. A design made of simple and harmonious forms..
Photo credit : Piasa
Solid elm desk model B19E, design Pierre Chapo, detail, circa 1960.

Creative, Pierre Chapo is also an outstanding wood technician. In the 1970s, he developed a range of furniture with a beam assembly. The beamed legs of his creations led him to further research. The aesthetic result is as good as it gets. Pierre Chapo’s design combines the traditional know-how of the cabinetmaker with a high degree of technicality to obtain a refined and functional design, with an architectural inspiration.

Photo credit : Le vide grenier d’une parisienne
Table T21, beam base, design Pierre Chapo, 1973.
Photo credit : Drouot
Pair of S31 stools, tripod base in beams, design Pierre Chapo, 1973.
Photo credit : Design Market
S34 chairs, design by Pierre Chapo. In 1974, Pierre Chapo completes the range of furniture with a bundled frame. Asymmetrical, yet perfectly balanced chairs. The offset back makes this chair unique.

Stricken with Charcot’s disease, Pierre Chapo died in 1987 at the age of 60. We remember his exceptional work, which his descendants are now reviving, to the delight of enlightened design lovers!

François Boutard