The most renowned of all French designers from the first half of the 20th Century, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann was born, lived and worked his entire life in Paris. His family owned a housepainting business and contracting firm at which the young Ruhlmann worked for much of his early life. Upon his father’s passing in 1907, E-J Ruhlmann took over the operation.
The contacts he had made while working for his father, including architect Charles Plumet, couturier Jacques Doucet, Frantz Jourdain, and Tony Selmersheim encouraged the young man’s interests and by 1911 he showed his work for the first time. In 1913 he showed at Le Salon de Automne and became recognized as France’s leading proponent of luxurious furniture. By 1919 he had founded, with Pierre Laurent, a separate full-service interior design studio.
Ruhlmann’s Hotel du Collectionneur at the pivotal L'Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris blended traditional classical luxury with Parisian Modernism. He designed the tearoom of the 1926 luxury oceanliner Ile-de-France, French government commissions including interiors for the Palais de l’Elysee (the French White House), numerous private residences, including the palace of the Maharaja of Indore.
Ruhlmann was not a woodworker himself. His furniture was fabricated by other cabinet shops until 1923 when he created his own cabinetmaking atelier. By 1927 he employed 27 master cabinetmakers (ebenistes), four finishers, 12 upholsterers, many apprentices and 25 draftsmen. He claimed never to have made a profit on his finely executed furniture, using the family’s traditional business to underwite the losses. Upon his death in 1933, as per his previous instructions, in-house orders were completed and the firm was then dissolved.