Was this the first minimalist interior? Quite possibly.
This striking house, known as “La Maison de La Celle-Saint-Cloud,” was the work of French artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud. After tiring of his boring conventional home, he spent five years, working alone, painstakingly covering the entire inside of his house with 15cm X 15cm white ceramic tiles. (This is exactly the kind of thing I do when I take my younger sister’s ADHD pills.) He opened it to the public as an art installation in 1974, and it was an immediate sensation.
The walls, floors, ceilings, and even the furniture were all tiled, creating the impression of being in a Tron-era computer simulation. More importantly, though it was intended as an art installation, it prefigured the minimalist interiors of the Eighties, as seen in the clean lines and all white interiors of Miami coke dealers and Patrick Bateman-style Wall Street yuppies. From there, you can draw a straight line to the present vogue for minimalism, as seen in the photos my parents sent me last week of their new monochrome kitchen with flat-panel concealed cupboards. (And these are people who still have dial-up internet; that’s how popular minimalism is now.)
Minimalism has usually come into vogue in the wake of especially turbulent periods; the first iteration came post-WW2, the second after the heady Seventies, and the third and present flowering comes in the wake of the Aughties’ irritating (I say that now but I was wearing Cosby sweaters along with everyone else) and thankfully waning spell of Eighties nostalgia. (You could also argue that today’s minimalism is a recycled version of the Y2K aesthetic of iMacs and boy band futurism.) But where did minimalism come from originally? Well, minimalism as an aesthetic philosophy originated, depending on who you ask, either in the confrontationally color-blocky paintings of 1960s artists like Barnett Newman (fond memories of ripping him off when I had paintings due in college; I could bang out a semester’s worth of work in half an hour), or in the “less is more” designs of modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. As a classically school European artist, Raynaud, the creator of the grid house, was surely familiar with both. He just took the aesthetic and applied it to something new: the interior of a home. In doing so, he created something that’s surely more functional, and possibly more lasting, than any color block abstract painting or Mies van der Rohe urban monolith.
So let’s say this house was the first minimalist interior, making it a cultural landmark, not to mention one of the coolest houses in the world. How much would you pay for it? A million? Five million? A hundred million? Trick question! For unknown “I’m an eccentric French artist” reasons, Raynaud tore the house down in 1993. (By then, it had been transformed into a camouflage-painted, barbed wire-encircled bunker, also for unknown “I’m an eccentric French artist” reasons.) Some of the rubble was saved and is now exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux, but as to the house – it’s gone forever. I will say, though, that if you supply the coffee and Adderall, I’ll help meticulously tile the interior of your house. My only condition is that in true Jean-Pierre Raynaud style, we have to do every square foot, including furniture.
BY FRANKLIN SCHNEIDER