Milan Highlights: Refuge Tonneau by Charlotte Perriand.

Charlotte Perriand is best known for her elegant modernist tubular steel furniture of the 1920s and 1930s, but it was her architecture that stole the show at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.

An exhibition of her Refuge Tonneau showcased the kind of prefabricated aluminum buildings and interiors Perriand designed in the 1930s. Inspired by a children’s fairground ride in Croatia, Perriand had the idea for a mobile mountain refuge in 1936. Two years later, working with Pierre Jeanneret, she developed this dodecahedron structure, consisting of a metal frame, central pole and umbrella-like top with 12 spokes. It was initially envisioned for the steep terrain of the Alps, but one can easily see this “space shuttle–mountain shelter” taking off in the aeronautic world.

S0506050The interior is made from pinewood, giving the minimal structure a welcoming feel. The heater is inside the central steel pillar and warms the entire interior while occupying as little space as possible. 


S0466046The kitchen consists of a steel washbasin where snow can be melted, a shelf for a camping stove, and containers for food.

S0476047It looks like a refuge for one but it actually sleeps eight, with two double beds on the mezzanine and four single beds on the ground floor. Using leather straps inspired by train sleeper cars, the single beds can be folded away and transformed into seating during the day.


This authentic reconstruction of Perriand's Refuge Tonneau is the work of Cassina, the company that produces the licensed works of Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. Cassina worked closely with Perriand's sketches and notes, as well as with her daughter Pernette Perriand-Barsac, to create this exhibition, allowing people to come inside this visionary structure for the first time.