Architect Guillaume Cochin's family residence hides its modernity from its traditional Parisian neighbors
Judy Fayard -- Interior Design, 3/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
French architect Guillaume Cochin lives with his wife, Peri, and their four sons on a quiet street in Paris's Faubourg Saint-Germain—not the old bohemian quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Près but its haute-bourgeois extension, stretching westward toward the Invalides. It's a largely residential neighborhood of 18th- and 19th-century buildings, many now housing government ministries and foreign embassies.
Such diplomatic enclaves were familiar to Cochin when he moved his family into the seventh arrondissement last year. In 1995 the native Parisian won a competition to redesign and renovate the French embassy compound in Hanoi, Vietnam. The assignment brought him much work in Asia over the next few years, including four projects for the upscale Victoria Hotels & Resorts, but now he is firmly back in Paris, with his offices housed in an older building adjoining his new house.
Chez Cochin's traditional street-front carriage doors look right at home in their distinguished surroundings. Hidden behind them, however, is the first of many theatrical surprises: a 30-foot-long, white-walled, red-carpeted corridor that leads across a narrow gangplank to the family residence, an 8,600-square-foot, two-story glass-and-concrete structure with multiple skylights and tall window walls.
Light was always the first consideration in designing the house, according to the 48-year-old beaux arts–trained architect, who also spent a graduate year at UCLA—"most of it at the beach," he admits. When Cochin bought the property in 2000, it was a dark, abandoned auto-repair garage. It took nine months to secure a building permit; demolition, excavation, and construction took another year and a half. "I must have visited the site 20 times just to verify the solar orientation," he says. "Then I realized I had to cut a hole right in the middle."
The resulting house comprises three glass-walled wings built around a courtyard with a lap pool at its center. The courtyard's fourth wall is a ' luxuriant "vertical garden" designed by botanist Patrick Blanc. Secluded from the outside world, the house is almost entirely transparent.
The creation of uninterrupted visual perspectives was another driving design principle. The double-height open-plan sitting area looks straight across the courtyard at five fully glazed bedrooms in the symmetrical wing opposite. Serving as an outdoor living space in summer and illuminated at night in winter, the garden and pool are an integral part of household life throughout the year.
Interior spaces are equally fluid. The large living, dining, and kitchen areas flow into one another, with a snug television-watching alcove tucked into one corner, a compact children's dining room in another. The only elements separating the living and dining spaces are a pair of thick rectangular pillars from the original garage and a small sunken garden planted with a grove of 2-foot-tall ficus trees. On the second floor, the master bedroom is contiguous with the master bath; both have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the courtyard.
"Everything is open, because that's the way we like it," says Cochin. "I wouldn't build something like this for everyone." The fact that hotel design has been a mainstay of the architect's practice may account for the confidence with which he manipulates large, multifunctional spaces. It also lends the house the glamour of a five-star resort. Not only is the residence eminently livable, it's also ideal for entertaining—something for which the Cochins are well-known. (Peri Cochin, a trained architect, is also a French television personality.)
Interior walls are shiny white-painted plaster; floors are beech parquet stained oxblood red. Furnishings are a diverse mix, ranging from flea-market finds and Persian rugs to Cochin's own sleek white Corian tables, Philippe Starck's transparent La Marie chairs, and Francesco Binfaré's curvy white-leather Flap sofa; Cochin's collection of contemporary artwork is equally eclectic.
"Too many architects focus on architecture uniquely as the art of creation," says Cochin, who describes himself as "a real generalist" with "an ability to analyze and prescribe." But the drama displayed in his house suggests that his practicality is infused with a healthy dose of creative imagination, a characteristic visible in the architect's other artistic outlet: writing. He published his first novel, Un Nuage Posé par Terre (A Cloud Set Down on Earth), in 2001; his next is due out later this year. Behind Cochin's classical facade beats the heart of a romantic.