Maria Pergay (b. 1930) is such a legend in the world of French decorative arts that she was recently honored in her native France with the Legion d’honneur for her contributions to the arts. For over 50 years Pergay has created inspiring furniture and objects infused with her unique sense of style. The pieces shown here today are just a few of my favorites from her vintage and current dossier.
From humble roots in Eastern Europe, Maria Pergay studied costume and set design in Paris before family life took over and took her out of commission. It was only after running into a friend from college who asked for her help in decorating store windows that she entered the world of design. Starting in 1957 with designs for silverware, she went on to open her own shop in the Place des Vosges where she added objects, lighting and furniture of simple lines to her repertoire.
The turning point in her career really was her discovery of work in stainless steel, the material that continues to be her muse to this day. Her first foray using this material for furniture in the late 1960s sold out immediately with designer Pierre Cardin buying the entire collection. And the rest is history.
A classic Maria Pergay piece is the Flying Carpet Daybed, which debuted in 1968 to high acclaim. It probably had to do with molding seemingly cold stainless into a warm, curvy-sexy piece of furniture that did the trick. This is as IN now as it was 50 years ago! It’s timeless chic at its best.
Another vintage Maria Pergay piece of great aesthetics is her Wave Desk of stainless steel and leather insert of 1968. It’s an ideal piece to break the monotony of a room and a terribly hip replacement to your standard desk. Maria’s eccentric Urchin sculpture of 1972 is an enchanting mélange of natural curiosities and stainless steel and an object I could readily place alongside other works of 20th century sculpture. I absolutely LOVE it!
More recent works of design are Pergay’s Broken Cubes – which work easily as end tables – that explode to reveal the richly hued wood beneath. There is also the staggering Console Feuilletee that harmoniously mixes leather with stainless steel. I personally find this tension between the man-made and the natural, the shiny and the matte, between the rough and the slick extremely attractive, which explains why I’m so drawn to Maria Pergay’s work.
Another new wondrous object is Pergay’s folding-screen that incorporates six sections of wood “frozen” in stainless steel panels. What an amazing backdrop to a sleek loft bedroom this would be!
Maria Pergay is one for the design history books, not only for her pioneering furniture design work with stainless steel, but also because her work has remained viable, chic and modern for over 50 years. And while I don’t encourage replicating a late 1960s room in most cases, one or two pieces of her vintage and contemporary works can easily stand their ground and can go a long way in blending seamlessly with today’s home décor.
Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising.
image credit: maria pergay: Demisch Danant Gallery, New York, who represents Maria Pergay.