Tucked between the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the waters of the Seine, this grand property was built the year that Louis XIV, the Sun King, died. Standing proud for over three centuries, it is an unmovable monument to the past.
It was in its ground-floor garden apartment that André Malraux penned his famous 1933 novel La Condition Humaine (published under the title Man’s Fate in the UK). The plane tree outside his studio window, planted during the French Revolution, would have watched over him as he weaved the tale of a failed communist insurrection in Shanghai.
Today, it offers shade to a little boy doing his homework. Seven years old, he is the third of the four children who live here with their parents and the family dog, Maurice. Their father Lionel, a lawyer and collector of vintage cars, and mother Julie, partner of a technological marketing firm, are the latest creative talents behind this home’s modern transformation.
When the family first moved in, this historic home had already been stripped of its period features. A new narrative had to be created – one that would both honour this property’s past and prepare it for the future. For Julie and Lionel, this meant a home that is both comfortable and easy to live in. ‘A house that has to leave room for people and objects to express their soul,’ explains Julie. ‘The main task,’ she adds, ‘was to break up the hard rigidity of the space and make it more welcoming, using organic shapes, soft materials and relaxing light.’
To this end, the couple have created passageways without doors that allow uninterrupted daylight, and filled rooms with cocooning, curvaceous furniture. The palette is largely neutral, but with one notable exception: the dining area. ‘Its design was the most delicate challenge,’ says Julie. ‘I thought of painting a modern, unstructured fresco, which played with the right angles of the room to temper its hardness. I was inspired by Calder.’ She defined the shapes and colours, then entrusted the project to Ottavia Moschini, who specialises in classical frescoes.
An Alexander Calder mobile, real this time, is placed on the mantelpiece in the living room. Above it hangs a picture of the Pont Neuf, dramatically wrapped in fabric by conceptual artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1985. ‘My love for art comes from my father, who often dragged me to visit museums,’ explains Julie, whose passion is helping to continue this home’s creative legacy.
‘Art for me is not a pastime, it is a therapy,’ she adds. ‘It calms me when I’m anxious, invites me to reflect on the world, broadens my perspectives, stimulates me and surprises me.’
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration March 2020
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