With an arts center for little Parisians, Matali Crasset makes effervescence effortless
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 10/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
From 1873 until the 1990's, a cluster of redbrick buildings in gritty Montmartre was the epicenter of death in Paris. Today, the municipal mortuary, renovated by Atelier Novembre, is among Europe's biggest artists-in-residence complexes, christened 104 Cent Quatre after its location at 104 Rue d'Aubervilliers. Studios and workshops for hundreds of painters, sculptors, musicians, and dancers as well as industrial designers now occupy former coffin-making shops, stables for horse-drawn funeral carriages, and garages for later hearses. Art openings and hip-hop parties bring plenty of life to lofty skylit halls once devoted to the departed.
The action is no longer adults-only with the addition of the Maison des Petits, or House of the Little Ones. Established for children of both the center's creative denizens and the residents of one of the city's poorest and most ethnically diverse arrondissements, this isn't a day-care center. Parents or babysitters must accompany the under-6 clientele. Originators conceived of a welcome center where children learn by playing together in the Montessori style, with an eye toward discovery. Young and old alike are exposed to the creative process as mothers and fathers socialize on the sidelines, and new moms are encouraged to come in for nothing more than to change diapers and talk to fellow grown-ups. Resident artists and designers have an open invitation to create toys and games, though there is no formal programming.
Filled with the sounds of children playing and adults chatting, the 1,500-square-foot space is the work of Matali Crasset Productions. Known for whimsical, colorful interiors and furniture as well as her signature Joan of Arc bowl cut, the prolific Matali Crasset envisioned the Maison des Petits as a surrealist garden with organic forms flourishing inside a hard-edged perimeter: a glass storefront system in front, original steel-framed industrial windows in back, and white built-ins along the sides. Upper cabinet doors swing sideways to reveal cubbies. Underneath, identical-looking doors angle downward to become padded seats, perches for adults keeping an eye on children. On top of the built-ins, acoustical panels with rows of lozenge-shape cutouts create a "shell of possibilities," Crasset says. She organized the space within according to children's ages, rendering different zones in distinct bold colors.
Pea green is for the youngest visitors. In the middle of the floor, they enjoy what she calls the "navel," its soft, sunken center ringed by a low-to-the-ground plastic-laminate surface. Infants crawl around inside, supervised by adults sitting on squishy green ottomans. When the playpen is not in use, four wedges clad in matching green laminate fill in the center to create a large round table.
Blue comes in three shades. Above the "navel" hangs a circular canopy constructed by stretching midnight-blue fabric over the spokes of a frame, umbrellalike. The same fabric wraps the tops of four sky-blue "activity mushrooms," as Crasset calls them. Surrounding the infant zone, they indeed look like enchanted toadstools from a cartoon fairy tale, and children aged roughly 2 to 6 use the shelves around these freestanding finned structures to play games, make crafts, or finger-paint. A turquoise archway near the entrance of the Maison suggests the outline of an actual house. Inside the ghosted structure is a make-believe kitchen where the children can pretend to cook. "They respond immediately to objects that have imaginary potential," Crasset says.
A working kitchen is wrapped in bright orange walls. Crasset chose similar lively shades for padding on a bench and the fold-down seats and for plastic stools that resemble jolly orange gas cans, complete with handles. The stools store not fuel, however, but books and art supplies.
These stools line the lower end of a worktable with a yellow top that zigzags down from 28 to 15 inches in height—children and adults always get equal billing at the Maison des Petits. Right outside the standard restroom, there's even a pair of pint-size potties.
MARCO SALGADO; FRANCIS FICHOT: MATALI CRASSET PRODUCTIONS. TOMORROW ARCHITECTS: ARCHITECT OF RECORD. MORAND ELECTRICITÉ GÉNÉRALE: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. POINT D'ORGUE ACOUSTIQUE: ACOUSTICAL ENGINEER. BATI-MATOS: PLASTERWORK. BONNARDEL: WOODWORK.
THROUGHOUT MOUSTACHE: TRESTLE CHAIRS. FERRARI: PLAYPEN UPHOLSTERY, BENCH UPHOLSTERY. POLYREY: SURFACING. EUROSYNTEC: FLOORING.