The enduring image of Charlotte Perriand is of a chic young woman reclining on the chaise longue she created with Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. It’s one of modernism’s iconic images. But although the pioneering French designer and architect, who died in 1999, spent her formative years in Le Corbusier’s atelier and took Jeanneret as a lover, she answered to no master but her curiosity, which led her to Soviet Moscow and all over East Asia. As she warned Jeanneret: “I like my freedom.”
One of Perriand’s great passions was the outdoors, particularly the beach. “My mother used to collect beautiful seashells and photograph them,” says her daughter, Pernette Perriand--Barsac, who worked with Perriand for many years. In 1934, the designer drew a plan for a prefab beach house for a competition, and at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach that house will be built for the first time, for an exhibition sponsored by Louis Vuitton. (Perriand has been an inspiration for recent Vuitton collections.)
La Maison au Bord de l’Eau (The House at Water’s Edge) opens to the public on December 4 on the sand at the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach. Set on stilts, it brings to mind traditional Japanese architecture, with its wide sliding doors and low, stark lines—though it was conceived before Perriand first traveled to Asia in 1940. “It’s very personal,” says Perriand-Barsac of the house, citing a wall specifically designed for displaying beach finds like her mother’s beloved seashells.
Perhaps more than those shells, what Perriand found at the seaside was boundlessness. When she decided to leave her oppressive first husband, Percy Kilner Scholefield, in 1930, she did so while they were vacationing near Majorca, Spain. The couple had been kayaking along the coast; he wanted to go on, and she did not. “I stayed for those long, golden, sandy beaches,” she wrote in her 1998 memoir, Charlotte Perriand: A Life of Creation. “I was free.”