Black, White, and Red All Over
Paris architecture firm Intra Muros flies its own version of the tricolor
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 10/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Laurent Croissandeau has a very strict dress code: He almost always wears black, white, and beige. And while he will actually allow other colors into his architectural projects, he rarely uses more than three shades at a time. One of them is likely to be a vibrant red.
"Red is my favorite. It reminds me of the poppy fields of my childhood in the Loire Valley," says Croissandeau, who founded the Paris firm Intra Muros in 1994. At his new premises in the Grands Boulevards district, he lacquered the doors a vermilion as intense as any nail polish. Matte red paint distinguishes the lower half of the walls in the managing director's private office as well as the partitions between workstations in a four-person common office.
Croissandeau's ideas about corridors are equally distinct. He simply can't abide them, and he was quick to eliminate the long one threading its way through the existing Intra Muros space—originally an apartment in a rather ornate 1853 building.
The corridor wasn't the only problem with the 1,950-square-foot space, which had been empty for two years. Besides installing parquet of dark-stained solid oak, Croissandeau restored the moldings and polished the marble mantelpieces. The double doors between his own office and the common office he replaced with fixed glazing, a move that improved visual communication while eliminating another pet peeve: doors that remain open all the time, therefore serving no purpose.
Multipurpose thinking particularly informed the common office's red-painted partitions, 7-foot-tall MDF ' structures that conceal electrical and data wiring and offer storage—in addition to acting as both visual and sound screens. As Croissandeau points out, architecture is a profession that requires both great concentration, for instance to work on floor plans, and also a significant amount of telephone contact, to negotiate estimates or coordinate schedules. "When you're trying to work, and people around you are on the phone, it can get pretty difficult," he says. "These screens were necessary to create a refuge for each employee."
Less necessary but equally dramatic is the common office's one black-painted wall, on which Croissandeau assembled a collection of 19th-century architectural engravings depicting such monuments as the Pantheon in Rome. The wall also frames a marble mantel—Croissandeau's particular favorite, Empire-style with sculpted lion's feet. Nearby, he grouped linen-covered lounge seating to form a small "salon" with the "domestic feel" that first attracted him to the space, he says.
Most of the office's furniture is more hard-edged, with black task chairs pulled up to desks composed of white MDF panels set on iron trestles. A number of pieces by Michele De Lucchi and Antonio Citterio appear throughout the space. For his own office, Croissandeau designed a desk and cabinet in chrome-trimmed blackened oak.
It's in this austere environment that he directs his team of 13 in the design of showroom and retail concepts, notably duty-free shops, and residences, be they retreats in Burgundy or a town house in London. All are treated to his rigorous signature style. As he explains, "I often have clients who say, 'I'd like a room with lots of different colors.' To which I reply, 'But the color is you.'" Generally, he reports, that solves the problem.