Furniture and interior designer Maxime Old’s lineage and education helped carve his place in the chronology of French high design, which, through a subtly modernist lens, he helped bring into mid-century Modernism. Born into a deep-rooted family of Paris cabinetmakers, Old worked for Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann upon completing his studies at the prestigious Ecole Boulle in 1928. The period spent at the prominent Art Moderne studio formed his ideas on high-level craftsmanship which he brought to his own firm in 1934. Old’s private career thrived from the beginning, as is evident in the frequent citations of his work in issues of Art et Décoration, Mobilier et Décoration, and Le décor d’Aujourd’hui from the period. In 1939, Mobilier et Décoration wrote, “He designs and draws with taste, intelligence and precision. He oversees the direction and technique of all the fabrications of his studio. He likes and demands beautiful work. And his beautiful woods are assembled with logic and precision.” This description corresponds to current ideas on Old’s work, which stress its distinctly luxurious yet modern classicism as well as its timelessness. Old drew on various Modernist schools, such as the Bauhaus and UAM, seen in the minimal aesthetic and functionality of his designs. He preferred subtly angled and sculptural forms to ornate surface ornamentation. Balance characterizes his oeuvre: Old sought the perfect negotiation between curve and angle and often enhanced form with metal accents, fittings, or feet. Although balanced, his mixing of different woods, glass, metal, and fabrics added a varied and rich textural aspect to his designs. Positioned firmly in the post-war streamlined aesthetic favoring comfort and utilitarianism, Old’s furniture often transformed or performed several functions so that, “With the flick of a lever, a waxed-oak low table levitated and expanded to become a dining table for six. Leather wall panels lowered like drawbridges to reveal tidy writing surfaces with a multiplicity of useful slots.” (Owens 2000) Still, Old’s mainly custom-made designs, which he displayed at his Paris gallery from 1948 to 1968, should be situated in a high-end and avant-garde context. His overall repertoire is distinguished by a sense of lightness, which even extends to his large case pieces with their structural elements separated by slender supports. Old often used the pedestal base, seen on a cabinet on sale by Jon Howell, in his 1940s and 1950s designs, to foster this weightlessness. Similarly, Old’s designs for desks, chairs, and stools often incorporated X-shaped frames that made cushions and writing surfaces seem suspended in midair. These furnishings would have fit into an aesthetic ensemble that Old conceived for many private and commercial spaces, ranging from offices to ocean liners. Old notably received commissions from the Mobilier Nationale to design works for Paris’ City Hall, the Ministry of France for their offices in the Hague and Helsinki, and French embassies in Finland, Norway, Canada, and Ghana. In addition to his commercial work, Old was vice-president of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs and the Chambre Syndicale de l’Ameublement. He taught design at the Centre Arts et Techniques de l’Union centrale des Arts Décoratifs (1944-1951), the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (1962), and the Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Arts Décoratifs (1948-1950). Old regularly participated at the important Salon d’Autumn, Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and the Salon des Arts Ménagers. Old continued designing until his death in 1991. Today, sales of his work achieve high figures, as shown by Paris dealer Yves Gastou at the September 2010 Biennale des Antiquaires, certainly owing to Old’s elegant and simple designs that would enhance any décor.
Yves Badetz. Maxime Old architecte-décorateur (Paris: Norma, 2000).
Mitchell Owens. “Maxime Old, New Interest In A Midcentury French Master.” Architectural Digest (September 2000).
Yolande Amic, Le Mobilier Français 1945-1964. Paris: Ed. du Regard, 1983, 42-3.