Design & Architecture

Designs of the Times

Designs of the Times

A love of 20th-century design has prompted Guillaume Cuiry to become a pioneer in the UAE

Words by Sandra Lane in Design & Architecture · Mar 27th, 2014

It takes a special kind of dedication to spend six years tracking down two chairs in order to complete a set. But these aren't just any chairs - and that level of dedication is the normal modus operandi for Guillaume Cuiry. 

Cuiry is in love with 20th-century design and, once he falls for a piece, will take as long as it needs in order to get it. And it's all to the benefit of those of us in the Middle East who share his enthusiasm for such pieces: having bought, collected and re-sold design in Paris for a couple of decades, last year he opened the UAE's first gallery dedicated to the field, La Galerie Nationale.

In pride of place sit those chairs - a very rare set designed by Warren Platner for Knoll and produced in 1965. By the time you read this, they may have gone - snapped up by a canny collector. Cuiry found the first chair in a flea market in 2005, another in Italy a couple of years later, the third in Paris and, finally, the fourth one plus the table in the USA. Then came restoration: it took almost a year to track down some of the original fabric used by Knoll (Cuiry found it in Sweden) and six more months to do the work. True to form, Cuiry had found a tradesman who worked for Knoll in the 1970s.

Other treasures in the gallery range from a sunburst-framed mirror (its contemporary appeal belies its 19th-century origins) and limited-edition pieces by the Italian architect-designer Piero Alessandri (from 2012) to a set of glamorous 1940s lighting sconces designed by Raymond Subes.

Tastes are evolving quickly in this region as people become more knowledgeable, says Cuiry. "Part of my responsibility is to help with education as the market matures - I'm not here only to sell things. The two go to- gether."

Cuiry's own design education began in the early 1980s with his best friend, Jean Lacoste, who had a stall in St Ouen flea market. Cuiry caught the bug and eventually asked Lacoste if he could work for him. "Jean said "No, you must buy things on your own account. You have to lose money a few times to understand'."

One lesson still guides all of Cuiry's decisions: if he feels strongly about a piece he should buy it; if not, leave it be. "It's impossible to showcase an item I don't love. I am not a dealer - I'm a collector who sells things."

Cuiry says that clients, too, should also be guided by the emotional impact of an object - and if buying from a reputable dealer, value will be a given. Twentieth-century design has, though, become a good investment, says Cuiry: "From 2008-2010 the index for modern design went up by almost 15 per cent, whereas for art it dropped by about 30 per cent."

Why design in Dubai? And why now? "It's still early days but I think this region is ready. And being first here, I will be the first to win - or to lose. Either way, I feel that I should be here."

La Galerie Nationale, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai; 04 380 46 52