The Libertine and the Beauty Queen
Restored to grandeur by Jean-Pierre Hanki, the Paris premises of Boucheron now live up to the ancient régime building's storied past.
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 6/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Originally, the Boucheron boutique on Place Vendôme in Paris had marble flooring. Then, one day, a client who was trying on an emerald ring accidentally let it drop. When it hit the floor, the precious gem was smashed to smithereens. Not surprisingly, the space has been carpeted ever since.
Chocolate-brown carpet was in place when CEO Jean-Christophe Bédos took the helm in 2004, and the ceiling was a somber aubergine. "The space no longer had the desired magic to frame our collections or to attract a younger clientele," Bédos recalls. To define a new aesthetic direction, he commissioned a six-month study of Boucheron's identity as well as that of the 1720 landmarked building. Completed for the Marquis Charles de Nocé, who organized notoriously decadent parties there, the property was subsequently inhabited by an owner of the Compagnie des Indes and the Comtesse de Castiglione, a 19th-century beauty who became a recluse after her looks faded-stepping outside her all-black apartment only at night, wearing a veil. Boucheron arrived in 1893, initially occupying only the ground level but gradually taking over additional floors as the years went by.
The chief conclusion of Bédos's investigation was that, given the building's past, Boucheron's new look should be that of a home rather than a shop.
Making the 3,000-square-foot interior more welcoming became Cabinet Jean-Pierre Hanki's priority- starting with the off-putting double security door, once the sole way in. The firm's namesake principal replaced it with a single door and added a friendlier side entry. (Along with a few extra security guards.) To let in as much light as possible, Jean-Pierre Hanki replaced the windows' prune-painted solid screens with etched-glass shutters, transparent at the top and opaque at the bottom. He also brightened up the color palette, fitted ceilings with fiber-optic lights, and installed color-changing white, blue, red, and green LEDs in the display cases. "That way, you can adapt them according to the gems on show," he says.
Hanki designed Louis XV-style furniture in cerused oak and retained a large number of traditional elements. He stripped and refinished the oak paneling, for example, and restored the 1950's crystal chandelier in the main boutique. Set to one side is the landmarked Chinese salon, dating to 1893—its original red-lacquered walls decorated with landscapes, horsemen, and fishermen.
Boucheron memorabilia is now integrated into the decor, too. One corridor became a photo gallery of movie-star clients, from Marlene Dietrich to Liv Tyler. Almost everywhere, he hung framed drawings of pieces created for the Maharajah of Patiala, who turned up in 1928 with six chests overflowing with gems. The mezzanine library, once the Comtesse de Castiglione's apartment, features portraits of the Boucheron family.
The only major structural changes were carried out in what had been a warren of offices on the second level. In their place, Hanki created three connecting salons, laid out in the spirit of a hôtel particulier. At one end, he placed a sitting room; at the other is an 18-seat dining room; in the middle is a second library. "We needed another library to display archives that had been in the cellar," Hanki explains. These included part of Frédéric Boucheron's book collection, totaling an impressive 600 linear feet.
Hanki didn't touch the workshops that have resided on the sixth floor since 1956. It's here that around 100 pieces are made every year. A current creation-a necklace with nine Colombian emeralds-requires 700 hours of work.
But that's nothing compared to the five years it took to make a necklace with a 159-carat sapphire for an American client in the 19th century.