Jacques Tati’s Villa Arpel takes the cake at Design Miami

Modern Rhymes

Perhaps the most seminal of seminal French filmmaker Jacque Tati’s epochal projects, Mon Oncle (1958) tells the story of Monsieur Hulot. The film follows him as he comes to terms with modern life and postwar France’s infatuation with mass consumption. In true Tati fashion, set design, lighting, sound, and visual effect played a vital role in this movie, more so than actual dialogue. Some might argue that his true genius was in the implementation of architecture and design. At the center of Monsieur Hulot’s noble and comedic struggle is the Villa Arpel, a domestic mise-en-scene and protagonist that emulates if not exaggerates these period-sensitive conditions.

Set behind a garden of puzzle-like grass patches and colored stone walkways, a boxy home takes on a life of its own. Its frontal, circular windows become watchful eyes while a whole host of dysfunctional gadgets and appliances puts Monsieur Hulot through a series of running gags. This particular home, set in a fictitious suburban development outside of Paris, is indicative of a society or new generation that favors style over substance.

Les Atelier Courbet and Thirwall Design's Design Miami showcase employed key architectural elements from a 2007 reconstitution of Jacques Tati's Villa Arpel (Courtesy Les Atelier Courbet and Thirwall Design)

Paying homage to this absurdist and satirical masterpiece, New York gallery Les Atelier Courbet teamed up with architecture practice Thirwall Design to conceive the Please Be Seated installation during last week’s Design Miami. Coinciding with the release of Taschen‘s comprehensive monograph Jacques Tati: The Complete Works, the fair booth showcase was mounted for the US launch of three limited-edition furniture designs French studio Domeau & Pérès extracted from the film and reproduced.

These completely impractical seats evoke the same critique as Mon Oncle‘s scenography, first reconstituted by Domeau & Pérès and Tati’s estate Les Films de Mon Oncle for a 2007 Paris exhibition, at which the furniture was first debuted. This reconstruction has since traveled to the 2014 Venice Bienniale, Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs, before arriving in Miami Beach last week. Thirwall Design’s exhibition design pulled a selection of key architectural elements for the main reconstruction: the watchful circular windows and the colored stone pathways.

Mrs Arpel Sofa

Tati Rocking Chair

Mr Hulot Daybed

A further iteration of the set design and the Tati Collection will be on view at Les Ateliers Courbet’s New York flagship—134 10th Avenue—from January to March 2020.

Header image: 2009 Paris exhibition of Jacques Tati’s Villa Arpel from the movie set of Mon Oncle presented by Domeau & Pérès and Les Films de Mon Oncle (Benoît Fougeirol)