Modernity’s matriarch opens her home for the first time—and it’s a buzzy blend of now and then
By Mitchell Owens
Maria Pergay has designed some of the most famous metal furnishings of the last century, from wavelike daybeds to a multipart cocktail table that resembles an archipelago. But the unstoppable matron of modernism—born in Romania, based in France, and now in her 88th year—lives with very few of her own creations, the most iconic being the Ring chair, which she created in 1968 after being inspired by the coiling shape left over from peeling an orange.
“It is the fruit, if you will, of my first artistic success,” Pergay says, smiling. Two of those supple, if penitential, seats welcome visitors in the entrance hall of her house in Béziers, a sun-kissed town in the South of France. They are made of stainless steel, her material of choice since the 1960s. “Copper is too fragile, aluminum too light, gold too symbolic, silver too weak; bronze is out of fashion and platinum inaccessible,” Pergay once explained. “Nothing is more beautiful than stainless steel.”
That being said, her residence is no machine for living. It is a stately 19th-century townhouse with a Proustian array of egg-and-dart moldings, marble mantels, and herringbone parquet. The formal architecture, though, embodies Pergay’s traditional roots: In the 1960s, working for Jansen, an august Paris decorating firm, she designed Empire-style bath fixtures for Tunisia’s new presidential palace.