Inspired by his apartment's previous life as a school for acrobats, French fashion designer Yvan Mispelaere takes a leap into the surreal
French fashion designer was looking for something different in Paris. He had lived in his share of late-19th-century Haussmannian flats, with their wedding-cake moldings and stout marble fireplaces, and he says, "I longed for a loft."
He thought of looking around the Gare de l'Est in northeast Paris, a quartier in transition that had served for more than a century as the city's epicenter for artisan workshops. Mispelaere, who has worked for some of fashion's most influential companies, including Valentino, Prada, Chloé, and, most recently, Diane von Furstenberg, had discovered the area in the early 1990s while searching for leather craftsmen to work on animal skins for the designer Claude Montana. When he revisited the area a few years ago, he was charmed by how it had evolved. "It's a little corner of creativity," he says. "Authentic. A lot of locals. Simple folk."
The living room of fashion designer Yvan Mispelaere's Paris apartment, which he designed with architect , the sofas are by , the 1970s light fixtures were found in Florence and costomized with brass accents, the Art Deco mirror screen came from a paris flea market, the brass-and-glass cocktail tables are vintage, and the marble sculpture by was purchased at the Hong Kong International Art Fair.
He came across an airy 1,700-square-foot space with 18-foot-high ceilings that had once served as a circus school; there was still a trapeze hanging from a beam. Mispelaere was seduced by the design possibilities of the place. He bought it in 2006, and with the help of architect , turned it into a nearly wall-less home made up of modular nooks. "I wanted a big space but at the same time not a huge open loft where you see everything," Mispelaere explains. Instead, he and Ghestem came up with a series of "secret zones," as he calls them, "that you discover bit by bit, with volumes that play against one another."
The kitchen is hidden behind a black-walled, three-sided cube, and chairs surround an Italian 1950s dining table expanded with Corian; the brass vases were made from unused World War I mortar shells.
That translated into a sunken living room inspired by Moorish homes and framed by floor-to-ceiling almond-green velvet curtains, an office corner, a somewhat open den/guest room, and a master bedroom and bath perched up on a mezzanine. Besides the front door, there is only one other: for the toilet. The kitchen "was the biggest issue," Mispelaere says. "I didn't want an American-style open kitchen, but I also didn't want to put it in the back, walled in." He came up with the idea of a three-sided, roofless cube with a diamond-pointed, black semigloss exterior. The cube, he says, "breaks the flow and complicates things," while leaving the dramatic rafters above exposed.
The staircase is painted concrete, the glassware collection is vintage, and the brass chair is from the 1960s; Mispelaere designed both the Brancusi-inspired hand-carved stacked stools and the trompe l'oeil "tile" wood-and-cork inspiration board in the office beyond.
Mispelaere chose to paint everything else chalk white, "like in Greece," he says—a country he adores and where he is building a second home. The stark white palette is also a nod to 1930s architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and his famous modernist works, such as the Villa Noailles in Hyères and the Villa Poiret, couturier Paul Poiret's home in Mézy-sur-Seine. Mispelaere is drawn to the pre–World War II period of design—Le Corbusier, Eileen Gray, with splashes of Surrealism—and he used this period for the basis of his decor. "I adore the geometric rigor and purity of line of that epoch," he says. "The architecture and the art of the Dadaists and Surrealists speak to me."
To break up the white, he played with textures, such as slices of tree trunks, which he also painted white and then glued to the bedroom closet doors to create a flat, bubbles-like design. The guest room cabinet doors with their black arches are inspired by the work of the Greek-born Italian artist , who in the early 20th century founded the Scuola Metafisica movement that was one of the roots of Surrealism.
The guest room's custom-made cabinetry was inspired by Giorgio de Chirico, a 1970s plaster speaker adds another Surrealist element, and the wall is painted in a blue by .
Other touches came from Mispelaere's varied travels. There are many pieces from Bali, where he vacations often, including colorful pottery and Brancusi-like geometric wooden stools. The living room lighting is inspired by the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. "I love how the chandeliers drop down to make a sort of false ceiling, and the low lighting creates a more intimate space," he explains. The bathroom door is decorated with Renaissance-like rivets, a reference to Mispelaere's years in Florence, where he worked as an assistant designer for Gucci. The white tile bathroom—an homage to the French contemporary artist Jean Pierre Raynaud—is punctuated with tiles called Peep Show, painted with eyes, from a collection Mispelaere designed for Paris-based Ugly Edition. On the walls hang medicine cabinets he picked up on trips, including one from Serbia.
The tilework in the master bath is a mix of standard white squares and Mispelaere's Peep Show tiles.
Being a designer, Mispelaere wanted to create a few pieces himself, too. He found the living room chandeliers in Florence and reworked them, adding small brass plates to make them look more 1930s. For the dining area, he wanted a big oval table, preferably something midcentury. After months of searching without any luck, he took a small Italian 1950s walnut oval table that he found in Brussels and enlarged its top with an oval frame of white Corian.
Mispelaere is pleased with how it all turned out. "Of all the places I have lived, this apartment most resembles me," he says. "I travel a lot and when I return, I feel serene, safe, and at ease as soon as I open the front door."
Mispelaere designed the bedcover in the master bedroom, the floor is paved with custom-made painted wood tiles, and a two-way mirror on the back wall offers a view of the dining area below.