Recoleta is the epicenter of Buenos Aires high society, like New York’s Upper East Side. Recoleta comes alive at night. It’s the sort of place where you might see a woman dressed in Chanel having tea at one in the morning on a Tuesday. The French settled in Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they were obsessed with re-creating Paris in South America, so Recoleta is filled with European-style apartment buildings.
The original marble mantel in the living room was specified by , which decorated the apartment in the 1930s. The circa-1940 chairs in the foreground, the console (left), and the side table (right) were designed by for the Argentine firm Comte. The 1930s settee is covered in a mohair, the chairs next to the fireplace are 18th-century Gustavian, the circa-1950 Sphere cocktail table and lamp are by , and the 1930s table (front left) and sconces are by .
My building is from 1926, and for most of its lifetime, this apartment belonged to the family of Victor Bigand, who owned an enormous working farm in Santa Fe, in the country’s northeast. Back then, wealthy Argentine families had country houses, or estancias, that functioned as their main residences, and they also had apartments in the city for when they came in to shop or visit the doctor. This apartment ended up being the residence of Victor’s two elderly, unmarried daughters.
When I bought the place in 2008, it was completely frozen in time — there were shadows on the walls from paintings that had hung there for decades. The apartment had originally been decorated in the 1930s by Maison Jansen. It was a massive undertaking to restore it. My business partner, Bruno Perez-Pintos, basically did the whole project, under my direction. For one thing, the rooms had to be made more modern: The last living Bigand daughter had refused to put in hot water. When she was in her 90s, she still had maids bringing her buckets of bathwater, just as they had when she was a little girl.
In the master bedroom, the bed is custom, the 19th- century settee is Gustavian, and the gilded bronze–and-leather side tables are by . The circa-1940 lamps by for Comte have custom parchment shades by , the 1920s glass pendant is Italian, the carpet is by , the artwork is 19th-century Swedish, and the room is in Perspective.
We didn’t touch the main configuration of the rooms. The apartment, which takes up the third of five floors in a Beaux Arts building, has beautiful circulation around a courtyard in the middle. It’s about 4,000 square feet, with five bedrooms and a string of very grand public rooms. You walk into an entry hall that’s the size of a ballroom.
In the breakfast room, a 17th-century Danish portrait of Crown Princess Louise of Britain overlooks a 1930s mahogany table by . The 17th-century chandelier is Swedish, the rug is an early-20th-century , the 19th-century sculpture is porcelain, and the walls are painted in Linen White.
I first came to Buenos Aires 15 years ago to research Jean-Michel Frank. He was born in France but had a licensing agreement to produce his furniture in Argentina. He eventually moved there and did commissions for the Llao Llao hotel in Patagonia and the Born house in Buenos Aires. My research fueled my love affair with the country, and it has helped me understand what Buenos Aires used to be. I love the idea of bringing back to life an apartment that mixes all of Argentina’s broken histories. I tried to re-create, in a lyrical way, what it would be like to step into a space where all of these histories are put together: 18th-century Swedish chairs, say, mixed with a Jean Royère table.
The study’s sofa, curtains, and wallcovering are all in silk velvets. The Swedish cabinet is from the 1920s, the 1940s side tables are by , and the 1940s desk, chair, and cocktail table are by for Comte. The vintage lamps are by , and the rug is an .
I have homes in Miami and Manhattan, too, and I’m currently working on what’s going to be my main residence, in Bellport, New York, on the south shore of Long Island — which, funnily enough, was also built in 1926. I’m so busy with my work that I am unable to travel to Buenos Aires for more than a few days at a time. When we photographed the apartment, I hadn’t been there in more than a year. But whenever I arrive, I’m blown away by the scale of the place. It’s magnificent. Sometimes, when I’m there alone, I just walk from room to room like a madman. I have a lot of friends in the city, and when I’m in town, we have dinner parties. The dining room has a beautiful window onto the street, and on a summer night, you hear music, people talking and laughing. I light a lot of candles, and there’s a French chandelier that’s lit just so, and we have these incredible meals, and the rooms are flooded with the smell of the night air.
This story was originally published in the November 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.