June 1, 2012

Free as a Bird: White Bird Jewelry Store in Paris

Günter Domenig and Stéphanie Roger go back a long way. They met in 1979 when Roger went to visit a friend in the Austrian lakeside village where Domenig also grew up. “I never dreamed we would one day work together,” Domenig says. Life decided otherwise.

He moved to Paris and spent eight years at Ateliers Jean Nouvel before opening XLGD Architectures with Xavier Lagurgue. As for Roger, she was in marketing and distribution at?Cartier and Chaumet before becoming CEO of a smaller jeweler, Dinh Van. That was where she first commissioned Domenig—for a new generation of more pared-down stores. The friends hooked up again when Roger decided to open White Bird, a boutique representing a dozen-or-so independent jewelry designers.

Her designers share distant origins, as far away as Australia and California, and, generally, a preference for matte patinated gold, a style that stands apart from what’s carried at traditional jewelry houses. “The pieces embrace imperfections,” she explains. In keeping with that aesthetic, the boutique couldn’t be too sleek either. XLGD was instructed to avoid the atmosphere found at top jewelers on the Place Vendôme, a five-minute walk away, in favor of something more personal. She talked about “rawness, contrasts, repurposed objects, touches of the 1950’s.” For inspiration, she took Domenig and Lagurgue to local shops she admires: Astier de Villatte for white-glazed ceramics, Isabel Marant for hippie-chic women’s wear, etc. “They’re all places where you can feel the touch of the human hand,” she says. “There’s a sense the past has been left intact, which immediately creates warmth and ambience.”

About the same size as those shops, White Bird is 660 square feet divided into three zones. The central one, once an external passageway to a courtyard behind, was probably enclosed in the 1930’s and is now the sales floor, flanked by a lounge and a consultation area. When Domenig and Lagurgue first walked in, the zones were separated by plasterboard partitions that stopped right below the ceiling. XLGD opened up the space by stripping away the old plasterboard to reveal the timber frames inside, then enclosed only their bases in new plasterboard, for a bit of definition, and painted the exposed timbers white.

Screwed to the timbers, cubes in glass and white lacquer are among the display cases, which come in various forms. For the central zone, XLGD created a long rectangular vitrine by placing a custom top on the base of a dining table, and the rear wall is lined with shelving that currently holds papier-mâché sculptures—everything from a starfish to a chicken. Bare lightbulbs hang in the front windows, where handwoven wicker wraps the legs of the display tables.

Non-display furniture is exclusively vintage. A wooden cabinet with red and yellow doors came from a university dorm for which Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand famously designed furnishings. A leather-covered sofa is Scandinavian. There is also a 1950’s table—its most important attribute, for Roger, being roundness. “Tables are always rectangular in high-end jewelry stores, with set places for the salesperson and the customer,” she explains. “Here, people sit wherever they like.”

On the wall nearby, a Mark Rothko–esque mural in dark blue turns out to be Domenig’s handiwork. “I’d asked the painting contractor to make an artistic gesture, but he was hesitant,” the architect recalls. So he ended up climbing the stepladder himself.

Images courtesy of Eric Laignel.

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