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A Paris apartment by Hardel et Le Bihan Architectes suits the needs of life, work, and contemporary art
Christine Schwartz Hartley -- Interior Design, 8/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
A thick portfolio is all very well. Sometimes, though, it just helps to have similar taste. In the case of Hardel et Le Bihan Architectes, a firm less than two years old, an affinity for contemporary art helped land the renovation of a Paris apartment owned by a financial consultant who's also a major collector of contemporary art by the likes of Louise Lawler, Paul McCarthy, Jason Rhoades, and Thomas Ruff.
Introduced to the client by a mutual friend, principals Mathurin Hardel and Cyrille Le Bihan were hired after the first meeting—during which they barely discussed the project. "That's how we came to understand one another," says Hardel. "More through art than architecture." By meeting number two, however, the brief had been declared: Create a sleek, smart, versatile environment for living, working, displaying blue-chip art, and hosting sophisticated soirees as well as his two teenage children, who visit regularly.
Located off the Champs-Elysées, the 1,800-square-foot space came with spectacular ninth-floor views of Sacré Coeur and the Palais-Royal on one side, the Eiffel Tower on the other. But the interior was a hodgepodge of randomly assembled rooms, decorative moldings, and ornamental marble mantels—the legacy of its previous existence as two small separate spaces, then as a single large office. Most offensive of all, someone had added a cheap aluminum enclosure to the terrace, and the eyesore's meager windows allowed only glimpses of the northeast view. "We removed this parasitic ' extension, so the whole apartment could benefit," explains Hardel.
Ugly aluminum has now given way to a glass-enclosed 40-foot-long "veranda" supported by slim squared-off columns of polished stainless steel. The new structure runs along the back of the sparsely furnished living area and office, and the architects raised the floor to make it level with the adjacent terrace. To increase unity and "stretch the space," says Le Bihan, they also chose white materials for both floor and terrace: polished Caliza Capri limestone from Spain.
Gone, too, are the decorative elements and most of the interior walls. In their stead is a massive floor-to-ceiling storage unit of white-lacquered MDF. Situated at the heart of the apartment, it acts as a partition between the living area and office, and every square inch is divided into drawers and cabinets precisely calibrated to the needs of the surrounding spaces. For example, the side that extends from office to master bedroom holds bookcases, filing cabinets, and audiovisual equipment in addition to jackets, ties, and shoes. The side facing the living area features a wine refrigerator, a wet bar, and drawers for dinnerware.
The unit also supports three sets of sliding and pocket doors, which define the living area, office, master bedroom, and kitchen. "The most difficult part was figuring out what had to pivot, rotate, and slide," says Le Bihan. "It represented many technical challenges."
Close a set or two, and the kitchen and master bedroom disappear, limiting visitors, 'social or professional, to the living area and office. (The children's two bedrooms, bath, and galley kitchen are hidden away, down an ipé-floored corridor.) Slide back all the doors, on the other hand, and traffic is virtually uninterrupted—the apartment takes on the look of a gallery.
The white-on-white environment is equally unobstructed by furniture. In the living area, there's little more than Valérie Dementhon's pair of slablike sofas covered in leather the color of pale foie gras. The office features a razor-sharp Jean Nouvel conference table and graceful Riccardo Blumer chairs.
At night, video art by Isabelle Levenez and Charles Sandison is projected onto the apartment's smooth white surfaces, and they also serve as an ideal reflective canvas for the four-color fluorescent glow emanating from three ceiling fixtures. Installed in the living area and office, the fixtures can be adjusted for color and intensity according to the time of day or the client's mood. Speaking of his mood, by the way—he couldn't be happier.
At the entrance of a Paris apartment by Hardel et Le Bihan Architectes, Louise Lawler's Cibachrome Ink, Paint and Pencil hangs kitty-corner from Janaina Tschape's photograph After the Rain–Livia V. Between them are Jason Rhoades neon on acrylic Mecca Tuna series sculptures.
One of the living area's leather-covered Ice sofas by Valérie Dementhon backs up to lacquered MDF cabinetry.
Ahead, a central floor-to-ceiling storage unit is equipped with sliding and pocket doors, allowing the interior to assume numerous configurations.
Rhoades sculptures are the sole light source in the children's corridor.
Stéphane Ducatteau designed the living area's oxidized-steel cocktail table. Polished stainless-steel columns support the new glassed-in "veranda," affording views of Sacré Coeur. The floor is polished Caliza Capri limestone.
In the office, Mathurin Hardel and Cyrille Le Bihan's built-in Corian desk contains the computer's hard drive. Artwork includes Patrick Toscani's photograph and Pucci de Rossi's polished-aluminum wall trophy.
A lacquered MDF door slides out to offer privacy to the office's conference area, furnished with Jean Nouvel's lacquered sheet-metal Less table and Riccardo Blumer's maple Laleggera chairs.
Hardel and Le Bihan installed two fluorescent light fixtures in the ceiling of the living area.
A photograph from Paul McCarthy's 2003 Vault series hangs near the kitchen island, topped in stainless steel.
Hardel and Le Bihan paved the remaining sliver of terrace with polished Caliza Capri limestone.
A sliding door separates the office's conference area from the master suite. The Thomas Ruff laser chrome above the bed is from the photographer's Nudes series.