With the help of two mobile walls, Christian Biecher gives a penthouse loft a wealth of living options
Robert Colonna d'Istria -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Imagine a novelist agonizing over a blank page. Then imagine Christian Biecher when he was hired to renovate and furnish a Luxembourg penthouse loft overlooking the roofs of the city. His client talked generally about a "happy," adaptable apartment where he could entertain friends. The rest was up to the architect.
Rather than succumb to the three-dimensional equivalent of writer's block, Biecher embraced the complete lack of constraint—drawing on his diverse experience in architecture, interiors, industrial design, and exhibition installations. From the Lucien Pellat-Finet boutique in Paris, for example, he says he learned about the "subtleties of working with colors." Korova restaurant taught him the value of exacting but enthusiastic clients.
Biecher's firm, CBA had little experience with residential interiors, but he didn't hesitate in establishing the ground rules for the Luxembourg penthouse: Space would be modulated, meaning that cooking, dining, relaxing, sleeping, and working would each take place in a defined function zone. The volume as a whole, however, would flow largely uninterrupted—the complete opposite of a bourgeois apartment.
Viewed from the entry, a fully equipped galley kitchen opens onto a dining area that extends back to a living area. This, in turn, runs diagonally into the far righthand corner's bedroom, which in turn runs seamlessly into the study that occupies the far lefthand corner of the floor plate. Only the bathroom is walled off—and that by a clear glass door and panels that become opaque at the flip of a switch. In structuring the 1,400-square-foot ensemble, Biecher therefore relied on three visual elements, applied to achieve their greatest graphic potential.
The first, maple, he used to define the window surround in the living area as well as to build two mobile partitions. One swings on hinges at the far end of the living area, separating it from the study beyond. To the end of this partition, he attached another, which pivots through a 90-degree arc to screen the living area from the corner bedroom. A flat-screen TV, affixed to the top of the second partition, allows viewing from a lounge chair or the bed with equal comfort.
The second element, the most rhythmic of the three, is the focal wall that stretches from the bedroom through the bathroom. Lacquered in an alternating succession of black, beige, and white, the full-height panels hide storage and mechanicals. "The pattern has the look of a bar code," Biecher explains of the treatment, one of his graphic trademarks. "It's simple but always daring."
Glass mosaic tile, the third element that he deployed in realizing his vision, appears in two slightly modified applications. Uniformly red squares form a grid on the walls of the galley kitchen, revealed when a set of white-painted panels slides back. Meanwhile, a composition of scintillating primary-colored square tiles brings freshness to the bathroom, recalling the stained-glass church windows that dazzled the young narrator in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.
To balance these distinguishing elements, Biecher installed floor tile of sober gray slate throughout. Furnishings—with the exception of the dining area's Vico Magistretti chairs and Michele De Lucchi pendant fixture—are all Biecher's. Many are production pieces; custom work includes the rectilinear bed and nightstand in chocolaty rosewood and a curved desk in blond maple with end panels lacquered red.
Biecher took color into account with the same intelligence and sophistication he exercised with regard to proportions and materials. Against the earth-toned backdrop established by the wood, varying shades of violet and red burst onto the scene. Consider the lounge chairs' contrasting or complementary fabric side panels and even the bell peppers artfully displayed in one of Biecher's four-legged ceramic bowls.
His client, true to form, forbore from meddling with the carefully calibrated color palette. When moving day arrived, he simply added several examples from his contemporary-photography collection, all of them black and white.
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