The wood and metal cabinets that emerged from the Ateliers Jean Prouvé in the 1930s were designed as sets of closed shelves with sliding doors, whose metal frame was attached to the wall.1 Work on them during the War, notably for Solvay firm, led to the design in 1 944 of a demountable household model whose overall characteristics underwent little change. From the version intended for the equipping of emergency accommodations through the aluminum models marketed until the late 1950s, the construction principle remained similar to that developed for wardrobes at the same period. This principle used two vertical, pressed metal sides with grooves into which were slotted shelf racks, these sides then extended by angle returns holding the plywood back. The metal parts were fixed to the top and bottom with threaded rod and wing nuts; these tie-rods ensured overall rigidity, which was further enhanced by the channels into which the shelf-supports were fitted and by the vertical, solid wood handles on doors sliding in top and bottom grooves. The same base was used for the various wardrobe and cabinet models and allows for their approximate dating.2 Although it was described as “standard” from 1948 onwards, the cabinet quickly gave rise to numerous variations, mainly in terms of the choice of materials: for the sliding doors, smooth aluminum sheet was used in 1941,3 then for mass production—along with Plexiglas—from 1946 onwards. Whether the doors were of wood or metal, the tops and bottoms were either solid or laminated wood, or aluminum sheet, or ceramic-coated. The metal parts were either painted or left bare, especially in the case of surfaces made of granite or diamond embossed aluminum. This kind of item became much more popular in the early 1950s,4 its diversity a result of growing demands from a clientele that seems to have especially appreciated the all-aluminum versions5 of which 110 examples were made in 1951. Designed as a demountable—like the wardrobe, it was delivered in kit form, to be assembled by the customer with a screwdriver and detailed instructions—the cabinet was also presented from the outset as stackable or juxtaposable. Combinations were used to create special-purpose items or partitions including a serving hatch in which three sideboards, two of them set back to back with, above, a third that opened on both sides, with a wood facade on the dining-room side and aluminum for the kitchen. They were also used for support-channel furniture (meubles suspendus or meubles équilibrés).
1. Cabinet plans for the Collège de Dieppe (1939); for Solvay hospital at Dombasle; and for M. Lajoinie (1941). See Sulzer, vol. 2, no. 843.3, 883.e9, 900–901.
2. The first version of the base for the registered model cabinet had a central crosspiece. From 1945 it comprised four tubes with inverted protector cups welded to 4 small, and later 2 large crosspieces; from 1946, bent steel front legs slotted into the crosspiece and 2 tube legs at the back; and from 1949, 4 bent steel legs (“metal shoes”) welded two by two and screwed to the back of the crosspieces. After 1953 these were replaced, on certain examples, by the 50 mm tube legs with wooden tips used on the SCAL bed.
3. These were bookshelf items for M. Labourier and the Atlas Company; see Sulzer, vol. 2, no. 931, 944.
4. No. 150: steel and wood cabinet (200 cm); no. 151: all-aluminum cabinet (160 cm); no. 152: all-aluminum cabinet (200 cm).
5. All the components were aluminum, with the exception of the steel base, the stiffener-handles and the solid wood runners.