The Paris showroom of Kvadrat anchors a multilevel renovation by Philippe Chiambaretta
Judy Fayard -- Interior Design, 5/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
The first time Philippe Chiambaretta saw the two derelict buildings, hidden away in a Left Bank courtyard, he decided not to take on the renovation job. "I could see it was going to be too difficult, too complicated, and too long," says the architect, who was then working full-time for Paris-based Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill. One structure had been built in the 18th century as a residence, the other was a 19th-century Eiffel-style iron-frame factory, and the musty pair had long ago been joined to house a printing plant. The interior, Chiambaretta recalls, was a jumble of "two centuries' worth of accumulations": false floors, false ceilings, blocked skylights, boxy steps encasing the 18th-century staircase.
The buildings' owner, however, refused to take no for an answer. After a few weeks, Chiambaretta relented. His decision ultimately launched PCA Philippe Chiambaretta Architectes Associés—and 26 months fraught with surprises. It took eight months to procure a building permit for the complicated project, comprising residential, office, and commercial space. A total of 27 separate contractors, all lowest bidders, was involved. Then, when the original project manager proved to be unequal to the task, architect in charge Eric Perraudin, Chiambaretta's partner, had to take over that role as well. To top it all off, the architects removed the house's 18th-century parquet, which they'd hoped to preserve, only to discover that all three floors had rotted and would have to be demolished.
Now that work is complete, most of the 5,000-square-foot complex is taken up by the owner's five-bedroom apartment, which spans both buildings. The bedrooms and kitchen are in the 18th-century house, while the main living room and a studio for the owner's artist wife both bask in floor-through double exposure on two floors of the iron-frame factory. The two are connected by a bridge that opens onto a large terrace on one side and, on the other, looks down over the teak-and-glass-floored patio garden of Kvadrat's new Paris office and showroom.
A 34-year-old family-run Danish textile manufacturer, Kvadrat has forged a reputation for quality and creativity while developing a list of clients that include Knoll, Cassina, Cappellini, and architect Norman Foster. In Paris, the Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, and Kenzo boutiques all feature Kvadrat textiles, which also cover most of the benches at the Louvre. Recently, the company established a transatlantic distribution exchange with Maharam, an arrangement that led to a joint appearance at last year's NeoCon in Chicago and a small collection of fabrics based on 1940s Charles Eames drawings.
Kvadrat's new Paris premises occupy about one third of the total interior space in the buildings renovated by Chiambaretta, and it's obvious that the end result was worth his trouble. Installed on two floors in the factory building, in place of the old printing presses, Kvadrat is clean, spare, and flooded with natural light from a long, slanting section of glazed roof on one side and a glass wall overlooking the patio garden on the other.
"The showroom is meant to be like us: pure, minimalist, and innovative," says Jørgen Hansen, director of Kvadrat's French subsidiary. Open to the public as well as to the trade, the showroom had to be welcoming and unintimidating. To show off the wide range of colors and textures for which the company is known—the catalog boasts 2,500 selections—the space also had to be neutral. Furthermore, both client and architect agreed on the need to respect the original metal structure of the factory building.
On the ground level, graceful iron columns and beams are painted a soft gray. The floor is off-white waxed concrete and, at one end of the rectangular room, a white partition is covered with rows of shelves just wide enough to hold folded fabric samples in an artist's paint box of shades. The only other color in the room is provided by a gleaming sky-blue square table (kvadrat means "square" in Danish) designed by Finn Sködt and brand manager Ove Frandsen. The table's hard, glossy finish was achieved with automobile paint.
Ground-floor work zones are tucked out of sight. Administrative offices are behind the fabric-display wall; opposite, hanging curtain samples bordered by frosted-glass panels hide shipping offices and storage rooms. Heating coils were laid beneath the cement floors (which, incidentally, had to be poured between midnight and 4 AM, the only time that a cement truck was allowed to block the narrow Left Bank street).
The ground floor ends at a waist-high railing 10 feet short of the glazed roof, whose original metal frame is fitted with fireproof glass. The glass allows sunshine to pour into the basement, reached by a spiral metal staircase with oak parquet treads. On this lower level, fitted with a kitchen and a dining-work area, splendid white-painted iron framework supports a 16-foot ceiling, with the outermost beams forming arches against the exposed-stone walls. Opposite, daylight filters through the glass panels of the patio garden's floor. When Kvadrat opened, an exhibition of contemporary French seating was set up here. The downstairs is now home to Galerie Saints Pères, a dealer in classic Scandinavian furniture—most of it covered, of course, in Kvadrat fabrics.