All together now
A Matali Crasset interior unifies two centuries-old buildings and countless friends and relatives in the Savoie region of France
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 1/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Visit this house on the shore of the Lac d'Annecy, in France's eastern Savoie region, and you'll probably find 20 kids in the indoor swimming pool and even more adults in the kitchen, where two oak tables seat 18. And sometimes even that's not enough—multiple sittings have to be organized. "It's like a guest house," says designer Matali Crasset. "People are constantly coming and going."
How appropriate, then, that part of the house—once two freestanding buildings—started life as a hotel. It was a small 19th-century establishment, what the French call a hôtel de charme. Precious little charm remained, however, by the time the current owner bought not only the hotel but also an adjacent 17th-century barn, bringing in an architect friend to help join and renovate them.
A glassed-in passageway accomplished the first task. As for the second, the owner's vision was clear. The barn would house a swimming pool below and an office above. The hotel's three upper levels would become private quarters: bedrooms, a living room, and a playroom for his two children, aged 11 and 9. The ground level was to be a gigantic, 650-square-foot kitchen—the hub of activity for a man who spends the winter months running a high-altitude restaurant in the ski resort of Val d'Isère.
Because the owner works in the restaurant business, he had very precise demands for the kitchen. He insisted, for instance, on a range, shelving, and warming drawers in stainless steel in addition to a pair of "American-size" fridges, which Crasset tucked away behind oak panels. Her most stunning intervention is a run of three steel cupboards shaped to spell eat. (They were fabricated by an auto-body shop.)
Equally witty are the wardrobes that Crasset designed for the bedrooms. The guest room's, in birch plywood, looks like four garment bags hanging from a rail. In a child's room, the armoire takes its shape from a pile of old-fashioned trunks. "The owner likes clean, contemporary Belgian design, yet he was conscious that it can also be rather rigid and cold," Crasset explains of her child-friendly approach.
She really went to town with the colors in the children's rooms, but vibrant tones are employed with brio throughout. In the floor and walls of the corridor leading to the bedrooms, inserts of turquoise, acid green, orange, and pink plastic laminate are placed to mimic the fall of light through open doorways. The office's steel cupboards, riveted like an airplane fuselage, sport bright red epoxy-based paint. The shower next to the pool is tiled in pink, crimson, and sky blue.
The pool surround, by contrast, is a wood similar to ipe, and the barn's 17th-century fieldstone walls remain exposed. "I left it quite rustic—a little bit of the language of chalets," says Crasset. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows slide up to open the pool to the lime-shaded courtyard. Crasset also updated traditional details in the hotel part of the house. The twisting staircase, for example, lost an ornate wooden banister and gained a stainless-steel one.
Entirely up-to-date is the lighting system, with dimmers everywhere. In the glazed new passageway, recessed floor fixtures up-light an internal partition. The office's communal desk stands ready for guests and their laptops as well as the owner himself.
Work and family hours over, he can retire to the relatively subdued master bedroom. Crasset originally suggested paneling the walls here in two colors of plastic laminate, but he opted for contrasting mahogany and sycamore instead. Now he's thinking of implementing Crasset's first idea. "He was afraid of color at the beginning," she explains. "Now he's completely used to it."