Are Gubi’s Pacha Chairs Comfortable?

It is hard to imagine a designer whose creations adorn the Elysée Palace in Paris failed to win the recognition he deserved in his own time. Yet for Pierre Paulin, that was very much the case. His ideas were often revolutionary, but the one person who refused to promote them properly was the artist himself. So, as you find out how comfortable Gubi’s Pacha chairs are, you can also appreciate a creative mind ahead of its time.

The seats are a playful, cloud-inspired take on modular furniture. As family life changes, so can the way you use them. There are so many options when you rearrange them that a few pieces should last a lifetime. Want a traditional three-piece? No problem. Want to break it up into smaller units. Again, no problem. The joy of modular furniture is that it is entirely up to you how you want to present the individual items.

That is one way that Pierre Paulin was ahead of his time. When he was designing the Pacha Collection in the 1970s, the standard equipment for a living room was a sofa and two chairs. There may be a coffee table plus a television set and a few decorative odds and ends but that was about it. He wanted flexibility. Hence, his concept of life in the clouds.

Art On a Cloud

There is no secret where Pierre Paulin got his inspiration. It came from the clouds. His first sketches were simple pencil outlines, from which he developed the first chair, and everything took off from there.

We must accept clouds may have different associations depending on where you live. In the UK, they are often gloomy, dark masses threatening rain or worse. Even in these weather-obsessed islands, however, the image of a bright sunny day with fluffy clouds scattered across the sky is pretty standard and even the dark ones have a silver lining.

You have only to look at literature and art from the past to realise that, for most people in most periods, clouds mean luxury. You find renaissance art crammed with deities lounging around on clouds, maybe hurling the odd thunderbolt or two. Other pictures have angels plucking at harps, or cherubs with their trumpets.

The idea is consistent. Clouds are celestial, and sitting on a cloud proves you are one of the elite. So what is not to like about experiencing the same feeling down here on earth?

Cultured Clouds

Look at literature, too. The shape-shifting masses of water droplets can stand for anything from the absurd – for example, Cloud Cuckoo Land in Aristophanes’ The Birds – to the dizzy heights of the sublime you find on Cloud Nine.

To the poet William Wordsworth, they stood for solitude – “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats o’er vales and hills” – and there are too many examples of clouds as a metaphor for heaven to make it worth selecting a few.

One thing stands out, though. Clouds change. That is one idea Pierre Paulin wanted to capture with his Pacha Collection. The modular form means the seat that is part of a sofa one day can be a solo chair the next. Arms or no arms – it’s up to you. The cloud formation is as flexible as your imagination. It is also the answer to the question whether Gubi’s Pacha chairs are comfortable.

Who Was Pierre Paulin?

It is no coincidence the designer of the Pacha Range from Gubi came from a background steeped in both arts and crafts. His uncle Georges Paulin invented the Eclipse folding roof – the one on open-top cars. He went on to work with high-end motor manufacturers, including Rolls-Royce, to promote creativity in business.

That probably helped nurture Pierre Paulin’s practical side, but it was more his great uncle Frédy Stoll who provided the artistic inspiration. He was a notable Swiss-born sculptor working in France around the end of the 19th century. He learned his craft from Rodin – The Thinker and all the rest. He then hit the big time after the First World War, where his memorials and commemorative pieces brought him to international attention.

Young Pierre originally planned to follow Frédy into the arts world, studying ceramics at Vallauris and stone carving in Burgundy. The disaster struck and a severed tendon in his right arm put paid to his original ambition. Instead, he went to the Camondo design school in Paris and got his first experience of creating furniture as an apprentice to Marcel Gascoin.

Travel only added to the range of his influences. There were periods in Scandinavia and the USA where he cited George Nelson and his ambition to create functionality “with two little drops of poetry” as a source of inspiration.

Early Designs

Pierre Paulin’s first designs may have owed something to his uncle Georges and his work in the car industry. His breakthrough idea was to stretch swimwear fabrics across chair frames, and he went on to create a number of design classics.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he was coming up with low-slung furniture in keeping with the laid-back mood of the times. His designs were forward-looking, eclectic, and showed obvious elements of his background in sculpture.

Pierre Paulin Designs Start to flourish

The curve of his design experience was always going to come up with something truly original. That came in 1975 when the first Pacha chair hit the market. Among his revolutionary ideas was to do away with legs altogether. After all, how many clouds have you ever seen with legs on them? None. The idea was to keep things literally down to earth while giving you the experience of floating in the fluffy luxury of the clouds. What more to show Gubi’s Pacha chairs are comfortable?

It was the kind of sinuous design that was bound to attract attention. Soon French presidents, Georges Pompidou and François Mitterrand, came calling, and he got the chance to redecorate parts of the Élysée Palacee in Paris, their official residence when in office. Other pieces featured in the Louvre.

Those were the commissions that should have been the making of Pierre Paulin. But he was reluctant to promote himself in the way his talents deserved. Instead of becoming a household name – at least in design circles – he and his wife Maïa Wodzislawska-Paulin sold the firm they had founded. They retreated to the Cévennes Mountains, where he poured his energy into designing, building, and landscaping a country house.

Family to the Rescue

Before he died in 2009, though, the family came up with the idea of a new enterprise called Paulin. Paulin, Paulin. It had a single purpose: to make sure all his designs found their way into production. For the family, it took on the additional aim of winning him the stellar reputation his own diffidence had cost him during his lifetime.

It has worked – at least if the list of iconic places where you can find his work and people who collect it is anything to go by. In the UK, Pierre Paulin features in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In New York, it’s the Museum of Modern Art. In Paris, the Pompidou Centre. The list goes on.

Nor are the collectors any less iconic. Rap artist Kanye West is up there, as are Nicolas Ghesquiere and Virgil Abloh, two of the creative powers behind Louis Vuitton. They wouldn’t have bothered if they hadn’t found Gubi’s Pachas chairs comfortable.

Sitting in the Clouds

Though the design dates back almost 50 years, with the benefit of hindsight, it was ahead of its time. It was not until Jacob Gubi, the founder and creative director of the company named after him, reissued the range in 2018 that it became totally mainstream.

“Gubi is delighted to reissue this timeless and characterful collection and play a part in building Paulin the legacy he deserves,” Jacob Gubi said at the time. “Pierre Paulin created so many iconic designs, it seems wrong that the Pacha Collection has been edited out of his story. Gubi is delighted to reissue this timeless and characterful collection and play a part in building Paulin the legacy he deserves.”

Since then, he has expanded and modernised the range with the backing of the family, particularly Pierre’s son Benjamin, who sees it as one of his roles to promote his father’s legacy. “Unfortunately, the French market simply wasn’t ready for the Pacha Collection in 1975. Thankfully, Gubi is now giving this collection the destiny Pierre Paulin wanted for it,” he said.

Pierre Paulin had done extensive research into the notion of comfort before he sketched is ideas. He was not plucking ideas out of the air. He had a solid idea of how to create the last word in luxury and comfort. Rejecting post-war austerity designs, he came up with a model designed around the human body. There is support where it is needed and freedom where that is better for you.

What is Modular Living?

Why go static when you can go mobile? That’s the idea behind modular design. You can buy individual chairs, sofas, or pouffes from the Pacha Collection, and they will suit most rooms. But, if you want real flexibility, why not go for the modular configuration? The same basic elements, but you can remove the arms and push the chairs together to make a sofa. The more elements, the more people it will seat. You have endless combinations, you can adapt to changing needs and environments.

The standard chair offers more support for your arms — you can even sit sideways and still be comfortable. It also gives plenty of support to the back. You create the sofas by linking up multiple modules with an optional, easily removable armrest between each one for extra comfort.

There is also a swivel version of the Pacha Lounge Chair, which provides even more flexibility. The Ottoman provides an even more relaxed sitting position while being an informal seat in its own right. However you choose to put them all together, there is a cloud formation perfectly suited to you. Comfort and the Gubi Pacha chair go hand in hand.

Comfort on Cloud Nine

Whichever way you look at them, there is no doubt the Pacha chairs, and the rest of the collection, are the last word in comfort. Since the Pacha’s Collection’s relaunch in 2018, it has taken off with the world’s movers and shakers. You will see it in magazines, being heralded by social media influencers, taste-makers, and home-makers alike. In fact, becoming quite a social media star. Given how shy and retiring its creator was, there is irony in the way it has taken off. It is racking up shares, likes, and praise. For them, living in the clouds is an everyday reality. That is the final proof Gubi’s Pacha Chair is comfortable.

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