In Paris, a Straight Street to the Previous

In Paris, a Straight Road to the Past

This article is part of our latest design special report on creative people finding new ways to interpret ideas from the past.

PARIS – When Napoleon III. commissioned urban planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann to modernize the dense, disjointed, and ruinous jumble of Paris in the mid-19th century, his instructions were summarized in three verbs: aérer, unifier, and embellir. Make it airy, connected and beautiful.

Today an apartment in a Haussmann-style building in Paris – a limestone row house from the 1890s with wrought-iron balconies and oak parquet – distills the essence of the magnificently converted metropolis. Renovated by the Parisian company Jouin Manku as a pied-à-terre for the real estate developer Georges Bousleiman, 56, the corner house in the opulent 16th is made of cream and glistening brass and decorated with upholstered walls and custom-made furniture.

“The simplicity of plaster and wood is the basis that runs through everything,” said architect Sanjit Manku, who led the project with designer Patrick Jouin. “But there is also individuality. You use different rooms at different times of the day and in different scenarios. Some are more social; some are more introverted. "

Mr Jouin and Mr Manku have redesigned the apartment, which was previously divided into several units, so that it can serve as a workplace for Mr Bousleiman and his wife Bettina and at the same time allow their two teenagers to hang out and watch films.

At the bow of the corner building is a family room with a large custom-made fireplace, 3.50 m high ceilings and two gleaming offices. A formal living room follows through French doors; then the dining room. In addition, there are three bedrooms with silk-covered walls and made-to-measure beds with integrated lighting. (Jouin Manku designed all the fixtures in the house and much of the moveable furniture.) Across the hall are two white marble bathrooms. (The American enthusiasm for the en-suite bathroom does not seem to have reached this point.)

The small kitchen is at the far end of the unit, a few steps – some Americans would call it miles – from the dining room. There the family sits at a peninsula table for casual meals.

If you look out of the apartment's oak-paneled windows (the grain of which is unconventionally unpainted to satisfy the modern hunger for tactility, said Mr Jouin) and enjoy the streetscape with its regimented, mansard-roofed beauty, you could only be in Paris. But the apartment also conjures up other places that are close to Mr. Bousleiman's heart: Strasbourg, the Alsatian city where he lives, and the mountain village near Beirut in Lebanon where he grew up.

Those leather-covered walls in the entrance hall, where there is a horse head sculpture? They pay homage to Les Haras, a grand hotel in Strasbourg converted from 18th century royal stables and an earlier collaboration between Mr Bousleiman and Jouin Manku. (The company is known for modernizing rooms in grand old buildings like La Mamounia, the traditional hotel in Marrakech, Morocco.)

The mural that covers all four dining room walls? It is a hand-painted, semi-fantastic panorama of the buildings and landscapes that Mr. Bousleiman inhabited in his youth. This is his family home, a 17th-century grandfather's house. The artist, François Houtin, traveled to Lebanon with Mr. Bousleiman to see it all for himself and returned to the dining room with a tiny brush.

"I thought about a week, two weeks, a month," Bousleiman said of the time he expected for the project. After two weeks, Mr. Houtin had painted "less than half a square meter," said Mr. Bousleiman, or about five square feet. The mural, which sprawls across the sliding doors of a wall-mounted bar cabinet, ended up taking six months. But the artist was reluctant to give up and continued into the hallway, where he represented Mr. Bousleiman's University amid lush Lebanese leaves.

It doesn't take long before you notice that this stately home often falls into the wilderness. When designing the fireplace in the family room, Mr. Jouin and Mr. Manku used traditional materials such as cast iron and stone on an enlarged scale. But the iron appears outside, not inside the chimney; and the stone is a carved slab that is used for the mantelpiece and weighs a ton and a half. Their version of the mirror, which is typically mounted over a fireplace, not only reflects the view from the opposite window, but also doubles as a television screen.

"We're terrible because we take every opportunity to invent something or do something that isn't easy," said Jouin.

Down the hall, the living room is decorated with casts of classic statues from the Louvre and large photographs by Jean-Christophe Ballot of abstracted white marble torsos and limbs. Set amid light oak and cream colors, a door at the end of the main corridor opens to a terrifying black marble toilet.

For Mr. Jouin, the difference between designing hotels and private homes is creating a living, breathing environment that evolves with the residents, rather than a static backdrop like a stage set.

Or as Mr Manku put it: “If you don't start with the idea of ​​a collage, how do the people living there start adding their own things? You'd have to think like the person who designed it, and then it'll never be theirs. "

However, designers have not always been ready to give up their aesthetic authority. When Mr. Bousleiman asked that the sofa in the living room be facing the front door instead of the window so that he could see the guests entering ("I am an Oriental," he explained this kind of hospitality), "Patrick," he recalled, " Said no. " It would block the light.


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