André Sornay (1902-2000) attended the École des beaux-arts (fine art school) in Lyon before taking over the family business following his father’s death in 1919. He completely revolutionised the company’s production line, moving away from period furniture to create resolutely modern pieces.
Influenced by Bauhaus and by the Stijl movement, which were both marked by the desire to synthesize art and architecture, Sornay belonged to a new generation of architects, artists and decorators who wanted to create new forms that were suited to modern life. The UAM (Union of Modern Artists) counted a number of avant-garde artists among its members, including Pierre Chareau, Francis Jourdain, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, all eager to break away from tradition and to democratise art.
André Sornay’s creations are characterised by pure geometric lines, harmonious proportions and great practicality. The materials he used reflect the traditional and the modern; they include precious woods, permatex, rubber, Duco lacquer and metal. The clarity of his vision regarding the use of space prompted him to become an interior designer for a number of his local clients.
André Sornay registered his first patent in 1932 during the depression. This concerned a new assembly technique he had developed:cloutage. This process involved attaching veneered panels onto a structure using small nails (clous). The alignment of these nails became both an element of decoration and a trademark. This patent led to the manufacture of limited series of furniture that remained financially accessible.
Other patents followed after World War II, including a patent for the Sornay rod (tigette), a ‘combinable and removable part for the furniture and construction trades’, in 1953.
André Sornay mainly exhibited his work at the autumn art fairs in Lyon although he did take part in two Parisian exhibitions. In 1925, at theExposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs Industriels et Moderneshis work was not fully understood. Many visitors were still drawn to more traditional artists such as Ruhlmann, Jallot, Sûe and Mare. Twelve years later, however, he was awarded the bronze medal for his personal study at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne.
Both form and technique became increasingly normalised in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period André Sornay often worked for local authorities, and his children gradually took control of the business.