July 1, 2011

Special Guests: A Serene Parisian Guest Retreat By Fritz & Associés

The first time Elke Danet saw this Paris apartment, it was an empty shell, a long, narrow ground-level space that had been gutted, scraped down to the stained stone walls. Derelict appliances were abandoned in the kitchen, and there were no bathroom fixtures. On the plus side were handsome ceiling moldings, two working fireplaces, and four high windows looking onto a garden to one side. “An absolutely lovely garden—but you couldn’t have seen it if you were sitting on a sofa or lying in bed,” Danet says. Since building codes wouldn’t allow her architecture firm, Fritz & Associés, to lower the windows, she instead elevated the floor about 6 inches in well over half the 1,200-square-foot apartment, from the first garden-facing window through to the rear. “I thought of that before anything else,” she explains. “The garden had to be visible.”

Located in an 18th-century building in the chic Seventh Arrondissement, the apartment was intended for use by out-of-town guests visiting the owners, who have another place nearby. Their functional specifications were simple: two bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus ample storage. Aesthetically, the apartment was to be more contemporary than the owners’ personal residences, which are classic Louis XVI and 1930’s art moderne.

Because the garden windows start in the middle of a room, the large one in the center of the apartment, the floor platform starts there, too, its edge gently curved to make the division less abrupt. The raised part became the living area—with an undulating white sectional hugging a corner, scattered with floral throw pillows for contrast. From here, a small corridor leads to the rear, where the two rooms with windows on the garden side became bedrooms. First, in the smaller one, nature takes its course with a pendant fixture called the Dandelion and a leaf pattern on cabinet doors; across the corridor are a bathroom and a walk-in closet. The larger bedroom and its en suite bath occupy the entire width of the space at the far end. Having no garden windows, by contrast, the large central room’s front side did not need to be raised. It remains at the original floor level, as a small office area. Next to the desk, a pair of frosted-glass pocket doors slide back to reveal the eat-in kitchen’s simple walnut table and matching cabinets topped in black granite.

The apartment’s unifying factor is color. “I love color. I use it a lot,” Danet says. “Here, it was an important part of the story, to give personality.” The dominant color, a muted gray-green, appears on both the walls and the ceiling. “It’s very unusual,” she continues “In my view, it can work only in contrast with white. It needs white in order to exist.”

Turning French decorating tradition literally upside down, it’s mostly the floor and not the ceiling that’s white. The platform and the kitchen floor are finished in white engineered cement. Rugs in the living area and the bedrooms are white wool. In the larger one, cabinets are lacquered white, while the wallpaper features a stylized black-and-white dandelion print against a strong gray-green ground that’s a near match for the paint. Only the small bedroom and bathroom are exceptions to the reign of green, with a ceiling and walls painted a soft pale blue, a tone in the same spirit.

Another signature element is the treatment on the living area’s sliding cabinet panels, which hide the TV. The panels, of course lacquered gray-green, are printed with architectural sketches. After scanning the originals, Danet turned the scans over to a specialized printer and a cabinetmaker to complete the next step. “It’s a technique that’s not often used, because it’s very complicated. If there’s an error, you have to start all over again,” she says. “But I prefer to do the panels three times apiece if the result is something not seen elsewhere. It looks as if someone has drawn directly on the surface.” In a further complication, the technique doesn’t allow for the use of white, so white accents were painted onto the printed sketches by hand.

Because the apartment is intended for guests, the concept needed to have a broader appeal than usual. “We had to think about not one family but many different people,” Danet says. So far, they have included a university student, a single lady, and a bachelor playboy.


Nelly Cortot: Fritz & Associés. Joyce Pons de Vier: Drapery Workshop. Ader: General Contractor. 

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