The long history of the LC4 infinitely adjustable recliner
The continuously adjustable chaise longue, also known as the “Chaise Longue Le Corbusier”, continues to delight design furniture aficionados. Its long, elegant silhouette is a hymn to simplicity and comfort, two essential dimensions of modern design that make this object an icon of design furniture. The Italian publisher Cassina markets and distributes the famous chair in its LC collection, under the name LC4.
Although the chair is named after Le Corbusier, it would be more accurate to attribute its design to a very talented woman, Charlotte Perriand, who together with the great Swiss-born architect revolutionised the way interior furniture was designed in the late 1920s. A radical revolution in a country where Paris was then one of the world capitals of art deco. Trained at the Ecole de l’union centrale des arts décoratifs (EUCAD), Charlotte Perriand was a promising student, but already had little interest in the decorative arts. She graduated from the school in 1925 and won the right to participate in the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts, a first recognition for this young woman of 22, who was not afraid to assert herself in a very male environment.
Charlotte Perriand began her career in 1926 and was sponsored by Henri Rapin and Maurice Dufrêne, members of the Committee of the Salon des artistes décorateurs, and produced her Coin de Salon, which she presented at the Salon des artistes décorateurs the same year. In 1927, she made a name for herself by exhibiting a silver cabinet made of violet wood, metal and glass, again at the Salon des artistes décorateurs. The use of glass and especially metal, which she later used for the LC4 chair, marked her departure from the dominant Art Deco style of the time. But it was 1927 that brought her consecration, only a year and a half after her graduation! Charlotte Perriand moved into an apartment-studio on the corner of Place Saint-Sulpice and designed Le Bar sous le toit in her home, then the Salle à Manger de Saint-Sulpice. Recognised by her peers, she caused a breakthrough in the world of decorative arts with her use of steel and metal and her attention to the rationalisation of space. It was no longer the decorative aspect that was important, but the search for a functional home and furniture.
It was in this context that Charlotte Perriand decided to meet Le Corbusier, who was already a world-renowned architect, but vilified by the profession of decorative artists for being too avant-garde and a self-proclaimed opponent of decoration. He visited the flat in the Rue Saint-Sulpice and realised that the apprentice architect had already made seating furniture – stools and chairs – which corresponded to sketches he had drawn to define nine different ways of sitting. The “Corbu ” then quickly proposed a work programme to Charlotte Perriand and offered to be his partner with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret-Gris.
Charlotte Perriand began to work on an ergonomic study of seats adapted to the positions of a mannequin. One of these was a half-rest position, which corresponded to one of the positions (for women) sketched out by Le Corbusier. This was the beginning of the long adventure of the LC4… Several models were designed, including one inspired by Doctor Pascaud‘s Surrepos armchair, a reclining chair with a tabular and metallic structure.
But it was finally the rocking chair of the Thonet brand – a pioneer in the industrial production of tubular steel furniture – that inspired Charlotte Perriand for her rocking chair project. But the project quickly came up against the chair’s base: what system could be devised to enable the user to hold himself in a desired position? The answer was found in the aviation sector: an ovoid profile made of lacquered steel sheet found by chance in a catalogue of aeronautical products! The base was shaped like an H, to which four conical legs were attached. In 1928, the famous chaise longue was born..
The rocking chaise longue, not yet called the LC4 chair – Cassina publishing house named it that – deserves the title of design icon because, in addition to incorporating an ingenious mechanism that makes it an ergonomic and functional piece, Perriand and Le Corbusier associated leather with the prototype, a new material for the time. The final prototype incorporates a mattress fabric made of colt leather on a steel wire structure attached by springs to the metal frame. Avant-garde in terms of the materials used, ergonomic with its adjustable cylindrical headrest and the seat that follows the shape of the body, elegant in terms of its silhouette and the use of leather, the infinitely adjustable chaise longue is a design must-have of the time. And that is why it is highly prized by collectors.
When was thefirst official “release” of the Tilting Lounge Chair? It can be dated back to 1928, when Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret as architects, with Charlotte Perriand in charge of the interior design, installed the famous chair with other furniture produced by their agency in the library on thefirst floor of the pavilion at the Church villa. Henry and Barbara Church then entrusted the restoration of their former property in Ville-d’Avray to the architectural firm of Le Corbusier. Then, at the Salon d’Automne in 1929, during which the trio caused a sensation by exhibiting in a 90 m2 model cell, Un équipement intérieur d’une habitation, the chair, so elegant in a modern environment, caused a sensation.
Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret-Gris “exploded” in the media in 1929 with the Salon d’Automne. However, they had no experience of mass-produced furniture and their interior furniture, however brilliant, appeared particularly expensive to produce. Bruno Weil, representing the famous Austrian company Thonet and Director of Thonet Frères Paris, decided to sign afirst publishing contract with the three architects for the edition of certain models. The first models of the rocking chaise longue were produced and published by Thonet in 1930. They were published in a “luxury” version under the name of model B 306.
Unfortunately, the chaise longue was never a commercial success. And what is valid for the famous seat, is also valid for the other pieces of furniture signed Perriand in solo, or in collaboration with Le Corbusier and Jeanneret-Gris, all published by Thonet. At the end of itsfirst life, in 1937, only 172 copies of the Thonet chaise longue were produced… A meagre result when one considers the success of Thonet‘s bentwood chair n°18, which sold millions of copies at the time!
In correspondence between Charlotte Perriand, to whom Le Corbusier had delegated the management of the furniture, and the publisher Thonet, the latter insisted on the very high price of the “Le Corbusier-Jeanneret-Perriand” range, which did not correspond to the expectations of the consumer of the time, who was looking for cheap models. The economic crisis of 1929 did not encourage the development of avant-garde furniture.
In 1959, Le Corbusier, scalded by the commercial failure of the furniture designed by his tightly-knit team, had the Chaise Longue reissued for his own benefit, with his signature alone..
It was not until 1964 that the chaise longue found a publisher of choice to finally reach a public that loved beautiful design. The Italian firm Cassina, under the direction of Charlotte Perriand, reissued the furniture signed Le Corbusier-Jeanneret-Perriand. Since then, the famous seat has remained a fixture in the Lombardy firm’s catalogue under the name Chaise Longue LC4.
It should be noted that in 1938, after the flop of the contract with Thonet, Charlotte Perriand planned to take up her creations and use wood to give them new life. The aim: to design a range of furniture all in wood and therefore more economical. Consequently, she studied a wood and leather version of the rocking chaise longue. In 1940, during her stay in Japan, she designed the Tokyo chaise longue, a variation of the famous LC4 chaise longue. Published for the first time in world exclusivity by Cassina, this model with its sinuous and organic shape exists in bamboo, teak or beech versions.
In 2014, Cassina, in homage to Charlotte Perriand, published the LC4 CP model, on the occasion of Louis Vuitton’s 2014 Icons Collection. It is a limited edition of 1,000 pieces. The self-supporting mattress is directly attached to the structure. Made of natural, untreated leather, it is produced by Louis Vuitton’s tanneries.