A Colombian in Paris
Juan Montoya lives out his Francophile fantasy in the perfect pied-à-terre
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 6/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Juan Montoya may have designed some palatial penthouses and baronial mansions in his time. Still, he declares, his job is all about creating space where there is none. "That," he says, "is my genius." It's certainly a talent that proved handy when he and his partner, Urban Karlsson, bought a pied-à-terre in Paris. Situated at the heart of the mythical Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, the fourth-floor walk-up measures no more than 600 square feet. Fitting everything in was not easy. "I really had to work with inches," Montoya says. "I didn't have the luxury of another foot here or there."
A love for the French capital is in Montoya's DNA. When he was a child in Colombia, his grandparents would often talk of trips there, and his father was later the first consul at the Colombian embassy. "Paris was part of our upbringing," the designer says. It's also where he got his first professional break. Fresh out of the Parsons School of Design in New York—even before he set himself up as Juan Montoya Design—he was hired to decorate an apartment for a Chinese diplomat and his French girlfriend. "A funny couple," Montoya recalls. "He was small, and she was very tall." More recently, he's been making numerous business trips to Paris. He frequently acquires furniture and objects from Parisian dealers and also uses the city as a base for projects elsewhere in Europe.
Proximity to antiques shops and art galleries was a major part of the apartment's appeal. The size was perfect, too. "It's almost like a hotel suite," he says. Further advantages were the light and the calm. "You can open the windows and see birds flying past," he enthuses. On a small balcony overlooking an inner courtyard, he's placed rose bushes, iron chairs, and a little marble-topped table.
The interior was initially rather unappealing. The parquet was in a bad way, the bathroom was in a state of disrepair, the bedroom had zero charm, and there was no closet space. So Montoya gutted everything. "I stripped it to the point where you could see people downstairs," he remembers. Luckily, his neighbor was a very tolerant American music student. "Don't worry!" he told Montoya. "You can cover everything up when you have a chance." Once he did, he went on to rework the bathroom, replacing the tub with a remarkably spacious shower and, next to it, a washer-dryer behind a mirrored door. The kitchen became a dressing room, and a storage room became a new, larger kitchen. While the bathroom and dressing room are now reached via the central hallway, the flanking kitchen and bedroom are not. You continue straight into the living-dining room, then turn left or right to find the doorways. To close off any one of the three, a full-height panel cleverly slides across.
Behind a wall in the living-dining room, Montoya discovered a disused flue and decided to install a fireplace with a surround of white-lacquered maple. To the left, he filled in a wide niche with cabinetry in the same materials. "I love books, and I love objects, but you have to have a larger space for them, visually," Montoya says. "Here, we felt like hiding everything and living with very little."
That said, the room is remarkably full of interesting furniture: a Louis XVI architect's desk, two Swedish 1930's cane-backed bergères, reeditions of dining chairs once owned by Auguste Rodin, a contemporary aluminum lounge chair with a surface contoured like a topographic map. An unexpected bargain was the oversize India Mahdavi sofa, bought on sale. Montoya designed the custom slate-topped cocktail table and sharkskin-clad cabinet. On top of the cabinet sits a slightly abstract bust by Jean Arp.
Although the living-dining room's subdued palette is restricted mainly to white and cream, coffee and chocolate browns dominate the bedroom. Montoya calls it "sort of a cocoon." Four small mirrors over the bed have frames made from vintage hat forms à la Elsa Schiaparelli. In the kitchen, another touch of whimsy comes from a blackboard wall. "I write everything I'm thinking on it," he says. For continuity between the separate spaces, salvaged oak floorboards run front to back.
Montoya visits the apartment at least three times a year. His first stop is inevitably an Italian restaurant, Casa Bini. He also likes to spend time food-shopping on the Rue de Buci and visiting the art and furniture galleries of his friends Jean-Jacques Dutko and Alexandre Biaggi. "Every time I'm in Paris, I feel like staying and maybe getting a bigger place," Montoya says. "But then I'd miss too many things in New York." Sounds like the best of both worlds.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
PROJECT TEAMPIERRE VAN DE WIEL ARCHITECTE D'INTÉRIEURE: ARCHITECT OF RECORD.
FROM FRONT INDIA MAHDAVI: SOFA (LIVING AREA). LELIÈVRE: CUSHION FABRIC, PANEL FABRIC (LIVING AREA), WALL COVERING, CURTAIN FABRIC (BEDROOM). BENGTSSON DESIGN THROUGH BARRY FRIEDMAN: LOUNGE CHAIR (LIVING AREA). DEDAR: CURTAIN FABRIC. ARTEMIDE: SCONCES (BATHROOM). THROUGH ALEXANDRE BIAGGI: CUSTOM LAMPS (BEDROOM). LE CRIN: HEADBOARD UPHOLSTERY. THROUGHOUT FARROW & BALL: PAINT.