Can you imagine being the custodian of an entire legacy of design? That’s the task faced by Marie Wabbes, widow of famed Belgian designer Jules Wabbes, whose aesthetic of simple, clean lines and exquisite craftsmanship was a palpable influence on Belgian—and, by extension, European—design, especially during the 50s and 60s. Mrs. Wabbes has taken the job in stride, tirelessly defending the designer’s legacy through years of legal wrangling and finally penning an agreement with manufacturer Bulo just last year to re-issue many of his designs.
Chair Louise. Designed by Jules Wabbes, re-issued by Bulo.
Wabbes’ career trajectory in some ways parallels that of Pierre Paulin, who died last year, though the former’s career was cut short in 1974 when he succumbed to cancer at the age of 54. Wabbes shared Paulin’s fortune of mixing it up with the royals. Paulin’s patronage by Georges and Mademoiselle Pompidou (they commissioned Paulin to refurbish four rooms of the Elysée Palace) is well-known, but most probably aren’t familiar with Wabbes’ interior design of the Belgian royal couple’s apartment on board the Belgian naval vessel Godetia, or his fitting out of the International Science Hall at the Brussels Universal Exhibition. He also did the interiors of Sabena Airline’s DC 6C and DC 7B aircraft.
The charge to outfit institutions of such prestige went hand-in-hand with Wabbes’ philosophy of solid, clean-lined, durable furnishings. One of Wabbes’ hallmarks was his disdain for veneer and laminate, which he believed would eventually peel, split, and crack, so a significant portion of his work involved solid wood construction. The material didn’t constrain him: he would section the wood off into small pieces of even, thin slats for detail work, and he would often highlight the beautiful end grains of exotic species.
Wabbes’ preference for solid wood contributed mightily to his definitive aesthetic. Some of his best-known pieces include his series of Slatted Tables (exhibited at the 1957 XI Milan Triennial) and his end-grain table called “Bois de Bout” (French for “wood end”). Bulo’s re-issues begin in full force in October of this year, at which point we’ll all get a delicious eyeful of Wabbes’ work. Until then, we’ll content ourselves with a sneak peak of two pieces in the forthcoming collection: “Chair Louise” (1963), a colorful dining chair now available in a gorgeous palette of Kvadrat fabrics as well as leather, and “Tabouret Anna David Marber,” a handsome and sturdy stool of contrasting cherry and solid wenge, unified by a topping of timeless black leather upholstery.