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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!