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Out of Thin Air
Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret's 1938 mountain retreat rebuilt by Cassina.
Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret's Refuge Tonneau.
Courtesy Cassina

Designed by Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret in 1938 but apparently never built, the Refuge Tonneau was envisioned as a compact and efficient mountain retreat from extreme weather. Almost 75 years later it has been reconstructed for the first time by luxury Italian furniture brand Cassina as part of their exhibition for this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.

The aluminum dodecahedron structure—inspired by a merry-go-round in Croatia— ingeniously accommodates up to eight dwellers on two levels in its efficient pinewood interior. The lower space includes four single beds, while two double beds are tucked into a mezzanine above. A heater in a central steel support pillar warms the entire space. Using a system of leather straps adapted from train car compartments, the beds on the lower level can be flipped and turned into tables, while the kitchen area includes a steel washbasin for collecting snow melt. The warm pine interior keeps the bare essential nature of the space from feeling too austere.

Using the original sketches, Cassina re-created the mountain hut with the help of Perriand’s daughter and longtime assistant, Pernette Perriand-Barsac. In a world facing increasingly severe weather conditions and frequent natural disasters, the efficiency and dignity of the Refuge Tonneau offers numerous lessons both for designing quick and compact housing and living lightly on the land. It’s a reminder of the truly revolutionary thinking of the first generation of modernists, whose buildings and objects continue to startle with their originality and relevance.

Alan G. Brake