If "Paris garret" makes you think "cliché," VMCF Atelier's edgy duplex might make you think again.
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 6/1/2011 4:28:00 PM
Valerio Maria Cinzia Ferrari's first memory of Paris dates to 1986. Back then, long before founding VMCF Atelier, he was subsidizing his architecture studies at the Politecnico di Milano by working as an assistant to opera director and set designer Piero Faggioni. In Paris for a production of Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte, Ferrari stayed in a flat on the Île Saint-Louis, and his most vivid recollection of the experience could hardly be more postcard-ready. "The lights of the Bateaux-Mouches punctuated the night as they went by on the Seine," he says.
Also "slightly touristy," he says, is the location of the duplex he shares with his architecture-professor wife, Cinzia Mazzone, and their daughter. By that, he means the views of the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the roof of the Musée de Louvre, and of course the Tour Eiffel. For good measure, the Université Paris-Sorbonne is just down the street, too. The corner apartment building, constructed in about 1850, is furthermore noteworthy in itself: It's featured, in an old engraving, in a reference book he owns. Supposedly, the architect was concerned about possible hazards posed by a newfangled transport system being planned-the metro. "The owner was terrified that the building would collapse, so the architect constructed it with steel reinforcements," Ferrari recounts. Today, the facade looks practically unchanged except for the art-house movie theater at street level.
Ferrari and Mazzone originally bought a sixth-floor apartment, plus three of the 10 former maid's rooms in the attic directly above. The real-estate developer who cut the deal led the couple to believe it would be easy to acquire the remaining seven, for a total of 1,700 square feet. However, Ferrari relates, "The further the deal progressed, the higher the prices became." It took two years and some rather intense negotiations to purchase all the units, which could then be united by acquiring the private usage of the top flight of the building's common stairs. Today, two bedroom suites are on the lower level. Above are the public spaces and two home offices.
The renovation was something of an adventure. One of the most curious discoveries was the rubble heaped between a dropped ceiling and the slab above; removal required overcoming neighbors' fears that the rubble was somehow magically keeping the building erect. "They thought it had been put there for a reason," Ferrari says. "I think it was probably just to avoid having to dispose of it." He also truncated part of the rear-facing roof to create a terrace and, in the process, uncovered several limestone walls encrusted with fossils.
He initially intended to open up the entire attic, loft-style, but several chimney flues made that unfeasible. He did, however, expose as much of the building's unusual steel structure as possible and keep dividers partial-height. One of these dividers juts out in such a way that, to pass through the gap between the central kitchen and an area beneath the sloping ceiling, you need to swerve and duck. "We created difficulty, so you don't take things for granted," he explains. Various doorways around the kitchen create a kind of traffic circle, interrupted now and then by a brightly colored door.
Avant-garde furnishings include the living area's seating by Gerrit Rietveld, Gaetano Pesce, and Zaha Hadid. There are also numerous mid-century Scandinavian designs, such as a cocktail table in teak and pendant fixtures with bent-plywood shades. The French 18th-century dinner plates on the kitchen walls once belonged to Ferrari's grandmother. He acquired a passion for African artifacts from Chilean painter Roberto Matta when the two were collaborating on a museum project in the '90's, hence the wooden backs of thrones from the Ivory Coast and the spiky-looking iron objects that turn out to be a form of Ghanaian money. Scattered around are artworks by friends, with the most intriguing piece being a multimedia sculpture that resembles a bizarre circuit board as dreamed up by Rube Goldberg.
Lightheartedness likewise characterizes the spaces ocupied by Ferrari and Mazzone's 10-year-old daughter. On a ledge in her playroom is a selection of dolls her father brought back from his trips around the globe. Downstairs, her bedroom connects to the master suite via a doorway just over 5 feet high. "It's a kind of secret passageway," he explains. Will it be raised as she grows? Apparently not. "She'll just have to bend down," he replies. "Like everybody else."
Photography by Eric Laignel.
alessandro cattaneo: vmcf atelier. qualiconsult: structural engineer. fratelli vazzoler: woodwork. cogeba: general contractor.
GALLERIA NICOLA QUADRI: TABLE (LIVING AREA), PENDANT FIXTURES (LIVING AREA, ENTRY, DINING AREA, VESTIBULE), SIDEBOARD (DINING AREA).
CASSINA: CHAIRS (LIVING AREA), LOUNGE CHAIR (OFFICE).
M.C. GILL CORPORATION: SHELVING MATERIAL (ENTRY).
STOKKE: ROCKING SEAT (OFFICE).
LIT NATIONAL: SOFA.
TUNDS: PENDANT FIXTURES.