History Lesson: Jean-Michel Frank

Artists inevitably take inspiration from the world around them, and it’s hard to imagine a richer environment than Paris in the 1930s, when Jean-Michel Frank was the most celebrated decorator and designer of the era. His projects were often to decorate rooms with Picassos and Braques hanging on the walls, and his circles included everyone from Parisian artists to socialites, Man Ray to the Rockefellers.

But Frank’s style is hard to describe. He’s known as a minimalist, but it’s his layer of maximalism that makes his work so interesting and complex. He was understated and restrained in the shapes of furniture he designed, but often dressed them in opulent materials: ornate mica screens, bronze doors, lamps made of quartz, as well as the shagreen-covered vanity and cubic sheepskin club chair he created for Hermès. Frank’s favorite color was white, which he made appear both spare and rich. And he’s credited with designing one of the most iconic minimalist pieces of furniture in history—the Parsons table—but would often cover the tables with the most luxe finishes.

Despite his keen eye for design and quality, Frank found the elements of daily life key to any space, and believed “perfect taste” to be a recipe for a soulless room.

A distant cousin of the famed diarist Anne Frank, he fled France around 1940 to escape Nazi occupation, and worked and traveled in South America and the United States. Sadly, he committed suicide by jumping from a Manhattan building in 1941, at the age of 46. But his work is still celebrated in museums today, and you can buy reproductions of some of his most iconic furniture pieces designed for Hermès.