The Elite and Fire: JM Frank’s Short-lived Llao-Llao Furniture

The year is 1938. A monstrous hotel, in size and ambition, opens its doors in Bariloche, Patagonia. The Llao-Llao caters to Argentina’s richest – those enjoying form the in-between wars economic boom – and their international friends.

Long stays in Paris are not at all uncommon for the local aristocracy, and soon exclusive shops open up in the southern capital of Buenos Aires showcasing the best of European furniture. Jean Michel Frank, iconic designer and decorator, has a special place in Comte, the renowned enterprise of brothers Ignacio and Ricardo Pirovano.

Iconic leather seat. “Throw out and keep throwing out. Elegance means elimination.” JM Frank
Iconic leather seat. “Throw out and keep throwing out. Elegance means elimination.” JM Frank

Jean Michel’s pieces are revolutionary. Lineal proportions from the late 18th century meet the strip perception of the 20th century. Details are vanished in an attempt to showcase the essence of the object (or the essence of modernism!). With some help from the Pirovano brothers and supported by Eugenia Errázuriz, Chilean patron of modernism, Frank soon becomes the elite’s favorite.

It doesn’t take long for the owners of Comte to win the open competition for one of the most ambitious projects of the time: The Llao-Llao hotel, in the beautiful Nahuel Huapi National Park. They know exactly who they want to call.

In great part thanks to the Llao-Llao project, Frank starts a new trend, one that extends until present days. Classic rustic modernism, he calls it. His pieces, clean interpretations of comfortable rural furniture, are made with local wood and leather but tagged as “Made in France, Chnanux & Co“. The elite is ecstatic.

The Llao-Llao was Frank’s vision, a marvel of architecture and design. But unfortunately, his glorious creation was short-lived. On 26th October 1939, one year after the inauguration, the hotel was destroyed by a fire, and all of Frank’s furniture and designs were turned into ashes. Escaping the war, Frank arrived in Argentina to help with the reconstruction. It only took 15 months for the hotel to open again, but the quality of the new pieces was far from his original ones.

Frank’s oak and doe-hide armchair
Frank’s oak and doe-hide armchair

Frank continued to work as Artistic Director for Comte in emblematic projects that to this day define Argentina’s architecture and design (the Born mansion, the Kavanagh building and several luxurious homes), as well as international enterprises that brought him fame and glory. But sometimes those two words mean very little. In 1941, his sensitivity cost him his life. Frank jumped from a New York window, just like his father had done before. He never made it to his home in Buenos Aires.

Little is known about the man’s private life, but Frank’s legacy will continue to live on. Fortunately for us, his Llao-Llao work was not completely lost. Here are some photos of the inauguration and those initial days before the fire.

(Mixed sources, mainly from here)

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