When American socialite New York City home to live in Palm Beach, he found he was missing what she calls “a metropolitan experience.” While on holiday in France, he said, “We love Paris. Why don’t we just buy an apartment there?”and her husband, Damon Mezzacappa, gave up their
Bryan in her living room.
Bryan, a psychologist who honed a sharp eye for architectural gems while working for Sotheby’s real estate in New York, set off to the Left Bank and found a dilapidated 18th-century, first-floor apartment that had once been a part of an hôtel particulier. It was steps from the Musée Rodin and bathed in light, and Bryan could see the potential.
“I wasn’t sure Damon would agree,” she recalls. “But he said, ‘If that’s the one you want, get it.’ ” During her three marriages — to writer George Gurley, financier and telecommunications executive Shelby Bryan and her longtime friend, the widowed Mezzacappa — Bryan moved “many times,” she said, and she became so adept at decorating homes, usually with the aid of , that she occasionally guided friends with their places.
For the Left Bank flat, however, she knew she needed help. She had read about Studio Peregalli, the Milan-based design team of Roberto Peregalli and Laura Sartori Rimini, who were known for Renzo Mongiardino – inspired decor and top-to-bottom renovations of grand homes, and thought they might be the perfect fit.
In the entry hall, the armoire with silver-plated metal decorations and the silver-plated bronze chandelier are both 19th-century French, the Flemish chair, upholstered in horsehair, is antique, the handpainted wallpaper is in a design by Studio Peregalli and the wainscoting was painted to resemble marble.
“I knew I didn’t want to be minimalistic in that apartment,” she says. “I felt it should be the way it already was — but better.” With its soaring twelve-and-a-half-foot ceilings, original plaster moldings, and a floor plan that flows easily from one room to the next, Rimini says, “The apartment’s bones were really nice.”But it needed some renovation and rearranging: Rimini and Peregalli replaced the worn parquet with antique oak flooring from Italy; created a formal dining room in what had been a gallery, adding a gentle vaulted ceiling to make it enveloping; and converted a smaller bedroom into a sumptuous library.
In the library, the sofa is upholstered in a cotton damask, the armchair is covered in a silk velvet and the slipper chair is based on a ; the desk is Louis XV, the chandelier is Louis XIV and the 19th century rug is Persian.
For the decor, Peregalli says, “We wanted to do our idea of France — something 18th century, poetic.” That meant, naturally, loads of gold. But not Versailles-style bling, which, Peregalli notes, “is very strong and shiny.” Instead, they chose a “more subtle and soft” gold, like one finds in Italy, he explains. “It’s not real gold leaf; it’s painted. That’s the difference. It’s not a grand and imposing atmosphere; it’s more cozy and intimate.”
The kitchen chairs are 17th-century French, the chandelier is , and the backsplash is lined in 18th-century Portuguese tile; the fireplace is original to the apartment, the custom French oak boiseries and cabinets are in the style of the 18th century and the flooring is antique oak.
In the kitchen, they retained the original cabinetry but repositioned and extended it to line the entire space. The 18th-century Portuguese tile on the backsplash is similar to what Rimini has in her own kitchen.
The guest bedroom’s custom Turquerie-style sofa bed and canopy are covered in a hand-printed cotton that was also used on the walls.
For the guest-room walls, Peregalli and Rimini chose panels of 19th-century, Genoese mezzaro fabric and had their artisans produce similarly hand-printed linen to connect it all together.
In the dining room, the 19th-century furnishings include a French table of walnut and rosewood, a set of Flemish dining chairs and a gilded-bronze chandelier; the walls are clad in antiqued mirrors hand-painted in a floral design.
In the dining room, they enlisted artists to paint floral vines in muted tones on antiqued mirrors, to give the room a “Flemish flavor of the 16th or 17th century,” Peregalli says. The mirrors also serve as an optical device: “They enlarge the room,” Rimini explains, “and the candles create a gentle, flickering light at night.” Bryan traveled regularly to Paris to check in on the renovation and was charmed by her designers.
The dressing room, which is designed to resemble a military tent, has a custom brass ladder, a 19th-century bronze-sandglass pendant light and walls covered in French cotton with gilded trim.
“They spar a lot with each other, but it’s amusing,” she says. “It’s just the way they are. She is the organizer, and he is the inventor-artist type. They have wonderful taste, and they work together wonderfully.” Once the construction was complete, Peregalli and Rimini took Bryan shopping for furniture and art in the Paris flea markets and visited the antiques dealers in the Carré Rive Gauche, the gallery-laden neighborhood between the and rue de l’Université.
The bed in the master bedroom is 19th-century Italian, the Louis XVI armchair and 18th-century dresser are French, the rug is based on adrawing, and the wallcovering was painted by hand.
At Fremontier, on the quay, they found a roulette table that now serves as the dining table. The biggest surprise for Bryan was when the designers chose a pine-green paisley carpet based on a Madeleine Castaing drawing for the bedroom. “I would have used sea grass!” Bryan admits. “So the idea of putting that design on the floor was sort of a shock to me. But I love it. They had to push me sometimes, because I’m a creature of habit. It’s much more elaborate than anything I’ve lived in before.”
In the master bath, the circa-1760 rosewood-and-bronze writing desk and 18th-century gilded wood stool are French, the pendant light is made from a 19th-century lantern, the shower doors are steel and the walls are sheathed in striped plaster.
Sadly, Mezzacappa, her husband of four years, passed away in 2015, before the home was complete. But Bryan still uses it as her pied-à-terre for long stretches each spring and fall, and she hopes to welcome her three sons and their families there soon, too. “When Katherine arrives, all she needs is a bunch of flowers, and that’s it,” Rimini says. “It’s really her Paris home."
This story was originally published in the June 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.