At the Palais Garnier opera house, Bruno Moinard's truly Parisian gift shop takes a bow
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 4/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
No stranger to the giants of history, Bruno Moinard has designed a bookshop and an attic reading room at author George Sand's 18th-century château in central France and helped refurbish several galleries at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, part of the Palais du Louvre in Paris. For Moinard, however, few places have given rise to stronger emotions than the city's Palais Garnier, commissioned by Napoléon III, designed by Charles Garnier, and completed in 1875. Wonderfully ornate and breathtakingly grandiose, it was meant to impress, and it still does today as the home of the Opéra National de Paris and its affilated ballet company. "When you step inside," Moinard says, "you're dazzled by the architectural details, the atmosphere, the acoustics." But that certainly couldn't be said for the previous gift shop, a rather sad affair that he describes as "a 15-year-old kiosk where you had about three books." Since 4BI Bruno Moinard had successfully completed the luxury-designer floor at the flagship of Galeries Lafayette, the department-store chain called him back when it won the concession to refurbish the Palais Garnier gift shop—turning it into something a little more exciting and up-to-date.
The 3,800 square feet of the Galerie de l'Opéra de Paris is divided into three very distinct spaces. As a sort of prelude, a vestibule off the famous double staircase offers just a few items. To the right is the original ticket office, where music and dance recordings are currently sold. Straight ahead, in a long gallery that once served as office space, you'll find most of the merchandise: not only souvenirs and books but also furniture, lighting, clothing, costumes, and children's toys.
It was far from easy to "intervene in a landmark protected by both historical and cultural institutions," Moinard readily admits. "You're not allowed to hang anything or hide anything. You can't break through the floors. You can't even install chandeliers or sconces, because you're not allowed to run wires through the building." Instead, he relied on freestanding elements that would integrate discreetly into their surroundings. He compares the approach, fittingly, to that of a set designer.
Of course, the existing interior was sufficiently rich. He cites, for example, the media library's oversize wrought-iron candelabras, coiled like the bodies of dragons. He also marvels at the fact that each step of the main staircase was made from a single block of marble. "It's incredible," he says. "It's something you'd never find today." To offset the theatricality, he designed fixtures almost Cartesian in their rationality—but not entirely lacking in humor.
In two corners of the vestibule stand a pair of cabinets reminiscent of giant steamer trunks set on end. These swing open to display CDs, DVDs, and video screens showing opera and ballet performances as well as interior surfaces that are lacquered in a cheerful red reminiscent of the velvet that upholsters the seating in the theater. When the public arrives for performances, the cabinet doors swing shut again to foil any potential shoplifters in the crowd.
The gallery's white Corian-topped display tables stand on rectangles of patinated, blackened sheet metal, meant to look like each table's shadow projected on the floor. Perfectly in proportion with the gallery's lofty volume, tall bookcases are flanked by even taller folding screens. The latter are densely printed with the names of composers, choreographers, and dancers associated with the Palais Garnier.
Trickiest of all was the lighting. Moinard was permitted to add very few fixtures, and the existing setup was frankly lousy. (The result was a kind of dim haze, obviously not the perfect environment for selling product.) So he suspended round mirrors from the ceiling, where they could reflect light from iodine halogen spots hidden on top of the bookcases, and lit individual shelves with fluorescents. The combination produces a mysteriously poetic ambience, a ballet of brightness and shadow.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
SIÉGEL & STOCKMAN: CUSTOM MANNEQUINS (VESTIBULE).
ZADIG & VOLTAIRE: CLOTHING.
PAPIER À ÊTRES: BALLERINA LAMPS (GALLERY).
DUPONT: TABLETOP SOLID-SURFACING.
AÏTALI: SIDE CHAIR.
MIROIR ET ESPACE: MIRRORS.
L'EUROPÉENNE DE MARBRE: STONE SUPPLIER.