A young French-American design firm brings a fresh vision of luxury to a grand 19th-century apartment in Paris, infusing it with light and air, and just enough gilded glamour
Three years ago, a leader in the French art scene and his life partner, who works in the fragrance industry, decided it was time to move out of their Paris townhouse rental and buy their own place. They came across a 2,600-square-foot Haussmanian apartment in Nouvelle Athènes—or "New Athens"—a section in the north of the city named for its interesting architecture, constructed in the early 19th century. Back then, Nouvelle Athènes was the epicenter of Paris culture—among its residents were Victor Hugo, Camille Pissarro, George Sand, Frédéric Chopin, and Paul Gauguin. The owner liked that idea as much as the flat, which was on the second floor and retained its original herringbone oak parquet and soaring 11-foot-high ceilings. But he wanted a second opinion. He rang the designer duo , who had just left Tino Zervudachi to start their own firm. They liked it too, and had loads of ideas on how to refashion it. He agreed, bought the place, and became their first client.
The Jean-Michel Frank-style armchairs in the living room were purchased at the Clignancourt flea market, the rugs were custom made in Belgium, and the drawing is a 2005 untitiled work by Richard Serra; the original paneling was restored and painting in Farrow & Ball Estate Emulsion in Skimming Stone.
The strength of the Champeau-Wilde partnership is their bicultural point of view: Wilde is a Seattle-born American who arrived in Paris in 1987 as a student and worked in art galleries before joining Zervudachi's renowned firm; Champeau is a born-and-raised Parisian who studied at L'Institut Supérieur des Arts Appliqués. This New World–Old World mix comes through in their work, and particularly shines in the Nouvelle Athènes flat.
A 2006 mixed-media work by Anselm Reyle hangs in the entrance hall; the stone floor is bordered in marble.
The apartment's major charm was the double séjour, two salons connected by French doors. One originally may have served as a music room; the ornate plaster moldings include shapes of musical instruments. The designers decided to restore these two gems, redoing the wiring and repairing the moldings. The parquet, however, was in such bad shape they stained it gunmetal gray to create a modern feel and hide its flaws.
Patrick Hill's sculpture Mirror Mirror (2008) in the living room.
In the dining room, an Olafur Eliasson sculpture sits on a table by Hervé Van der Straeten, the chandelier is by Robert Lemariey, and the photo work is by Gilbert & George; the lamp is by Porta Romana, and the rug is by Parsua.
The rest of the apartment needed a total overhaul. "They entertain a lot and wanted guests to be able to flow easily from room to room," says Wilde. To make that work, the designers moved the kitchen from the far end of the apartment—the traditional location back when there were staff and servant stairwells—to the front, next to the public rooms, in what was a "dumpy old bedroom," says Wilde. They added a jib door to connect it to the entrance hall so caterers could slip in and out discreetly, then reconfigured the old kitchen, which faced the courtyard, into a quiet guest room suite. They removed all the moldings in the entrance, dining room, and bedrooms, and painted the walls neutral tones, such as Farrow & Ball's Skimming Stone, to make spare surfaces for the couple's contemporary art collection.
A photograph by Hedi Slimane hangs on a dining room wall painted in Farrow & Ball Estate Emulsion in Skimming Stone.
A papier-mâché mirror by Les Farfelus Farfadets hangs above a console by Nicolas Aubagnac, the sculpture is by Xavier Veilhan, and the painting is by Mark Hagen.
For furnishings, they started nearly from scratch: The residence had been, as Wilde put it, "stuck in the early 1990s," clean and sharp with white walls and black floors, and furnishings to match. "We wanted to be subtle and calm, to have some depth but not be in your face," she says. Champeau adds: "We felt they needed something more sophisticated and wanted to bring them to colors gently."
The desk and chairs in the office are by Christian Liaigre, and the print is by Guyton/Walker.
The table and velvet-upholstered chairs in the kitchen are from Knoll, the photograph is by Jeff Wall, and the Louis XVI–style side chair from Onsite Antiques is covered in a Lizzo velvet; the existing herringbone parquet was stained in a custom color.
The palette leans to soft grays, punctuated with purple and gold. A 1950s curved sofa from the Porte de Clignancourt flea market was re-covered in a dove-gray mohair-cotton, topped off with purple satin pillows. To complement it, they chose a Mattia Bonetti oval table and, as luck would have it, when they called Bonetti's representative in Paris, Galerie Kreo, the only one in stock was purple.
The circa-1950 Danish sofa is covered in mohair-cotton, the cocktail table is by Mattia Bonetti, and the chairs are circa 1970; the wall sculpture is by Katja Strunz, and the floor lamp is by Porta Romana.
To make the salons more socially engaging, Champeau designed a second, low-slung sofa, which he and Wilde bookended with 1930s glass-and-bronze tables bought at the Drouot auction house, and a pair of lamps commissioned from Los Angeles ceramic artist Peter Lane. They added Jean-Michel Frank–style chairs from Clignancourt to round out the modernist feel of the room.
In the living room, the daybed by Armand-Albert Rateau is upholstered in a Lelievre velvet, the side table is by Donghia, and the 1930s cocktail table was found at the Drouot auction house; the sconces are by Gilles & Boissier, and the gilt-wood mirror and marble fireplace are original to the apartment.
The kitchen was designed to highlight two major artworks by Vincent Beaurin and Jeff Wall—"museum-quality pieces," says Champeau. The designers chose walnut paneling, which acts like frames for the artworks and creates a warm atmosphere. The kitchen has since become "the heart of the apartment," Wilde says, where the owners "spend their time talking and cooking."
The walnut-veneer kitchen island and cabinetry are custom made, the stools are by Mater Design, and the pendant lights are by Tom Dixon; the ovens and refrigerator are by Gaggenau, and the sink fittings are by Franke.
The master bedroom and new adjoining bath—which was built in the old butler's pantry—are light and airy, with plenty of windows and doors, which give the suite a "greater sensation of space," Wilde explains.
The headboard in the master bedroom is custom made, the linen rug is based on a David Hicks design, and the drawing is by Shirazeh Houshiary.
The side tables and bench in the master bedroom are by Robert Lemariey, and the photo graph is by Wolfgang Tillmans.
The result is contemporary with a slightly 1930s air. "If you look at design today, you can see that it is rooted in the '30s," says Champeau. "During that period, designers went from curved to straight lines, less froufrou and more function." Wilde concurs: "It was an era of really brilliant design." One that has been beautifully reinterpreted.
The master bath's custom-made sink and cabinet are of Carrara marble, and the collage is by Aaron Curry.