Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, born in Paris in 1879, was a master Art Deco furniture designer and designer of interiors. His father ran a painting and contracting firm, which Ruhlmann took over after his father’s death. In 1910, after getting married, he designed furniture for their apartment and, that same year, exhibited his furniture.
“To create something that lasts, the first thing is to want to create something that lasts forever.”
On this website by Frank Pollaro, an authority on Ruhlmann’s furniture who also makes reproductions of his work, you can read more about Ruhlman, see rare photos of his work as well as some of his sketches, and see pictures of his furniture gathered from various sources, including this cabinet from the Art Institute of Chicago, one of many stunning pieces found there. Now that’s a door!
“His early designs reflected the Art Nouveau influence popular in France at the turn of the century. Later his influences could be traced to architects and designers creating innovative furniture in Vienna around the time of the First World War.
Although his very early work was quite heavy, apparently influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement, by 1920 Ruhlmann made clear his disdain for the movement. In a magazine interview in 1920 he succinctly stated his case: “A clientele of artists, intellectuals and connoisseurs of modest means is very congenial, but they are not in a position to pay for all the research, the experimentation, the testing that is needed to develop a new design. Only the very rich can pay for what is new and they alone can make it fashionable. Fashions don’t start among the common people. Along with satisfying a desire for change, fashion’s real purpose is to display wealth.” He further stated: “Whether you want it or not, a style is just a craze. And fashion does not come up from humble backgrounds.
His strongest inspiration may have come from the classical design elements and craftsmanship ideals found in 18th century furniture. Ruhlmann would later shape these same ideals into what he called his precious pieces. These pieces, most often occurring between 1918 and 1925 were his favorites. They made use of the rarest woods such as Macassar ebony, Brazilian rosewood, and amboyna burl, usually in combination with each other. Most of the forms were very simple, making use of gentle, almost imperceptible curves. These pieces were most often embellished with ivory; used for handles, dentil, feet, and inlay. The ivory brought a static sense of control to the pieces that made them unique, timeless and extremely elegant in form.”
“When examining Ruhlmann’s furniture, take notice of the subtle use of grain. Ruhlmann was careful not to allow the figure of the wood to vie for attention with the form of the furniture. His two favorite woods; Macassar ebony and amboyna burl both create soft but striking background patterns, without focusing attention on the wood itself. This allowed the veneers to support the design details instead of competing with them.”