Harmonies: Intérieurs de Ruhlmann Portfolio: Plate 12, 1924
Émile–Jacques Ruhlmann (French, 1879–1933); Jean Badovici (Romanian, 1893–1956)
Publisher: Éditions Albert Morancé (Paris)
Collotype print; 10 5/8 x 8 7/8 in. (27 x 22.5 cm)
Purchase, The Abby and Mitch Leigh Foundation Gift, 2003 (2003.608a–qq)
Able to offer their clients a full range of services, certain French Art Deco designers were known as ensembliers. Not only could ensembliers produce furniture, they could fabricate complete interiors, creating rooms that achieved a harmony of color, texture, material, and workmanship. Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann was perhaps the best known ensemblier, but his was not the only firm able to offer customers such service. Louis Süe and André Mare's Compagnie des Arts Français and DIM (Décoration Intérieure Moderne), for example, also designed and produced complete interiors, as did the studios connected to the large department stores, such as Bon Marché's Pomone, Au Printemps' Primavera, and the Magasin du Louvre's Studium Louvre.
Ensembliers differed from today's interior decorators in that, instead of composing their interiors by bringing together existing objects and materials from different sources, they both designed and made (or commissioned to be made) everything they needed in order to achieve their effects. In this, they resembled the fashionable architect-decorators of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries such as Robert Adam in Britain or Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine in France, who designed not only houses but everything—down to the doorknobs—that went into them so that no single element would offend the eye because it was inconsistent with the whole.
The way of the ensemblier precluded mass production—it was essentially a custom trade. Their business practice was like that of the fashionable couturiers who designed clothes to be sold in small numbers and at high prices to the rich, a fact Ruhlmann recognized when he pointed out that "style doesn't come from below. It appears in the house of the 'grand couturier,' and is only taken up by the ready-to-wear trade afterwards."
While the majority of French Art Deco interiors are today only known through black-and-white photographs, this brilliantly colored image of a boudoir-library designed by Ruhlmann (whose hand is especially evident in the architecture, furniture, lighting, and wallpaper) reveals the sort of vivid, unexpected palette favored by designers and interior decorators around World War I; the billowing curtains, low-slung divans, piles of tasseled pillows are all hallmarks of the period's taste for theatrical exoticism.