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In Paris, a straight path to the past

 | News Today

In Paris, a straight path to the past

| News Today | Fox News

This article is part of our latest special report on design, on creative people finding new ways to interpret ideas from the past.


PARIS – When Napoleon III instructed town planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann to modernize the dense, disjointed and pestilential disorder that was Paris in the mid-19th century, his instructions were summed up in three verbs: to ventilate, unify and embellish. Make it airy, interconnected and beautiful.

Today, an apartment in a Haussmannian building in Paris – a limestone terraced house from the 1890s with wrought-iron balconies and oak floors – distills the essence of the vastly remodeled metropolis. Renovated by the Parisian firm Jouin Manku as a pied-à-terre for Georges Bousleiman, 56, real estate developer, the house, which is located in a corner of the opulent 16th arrondissement, is ventilated with bay windows, unified in shades of cream and reflections of brass and embellished with carpeted walls and custom-made furniture.

“The simplicity of plaster and wood is the basic line that runs through everything,” said architect Sanjit Manku, who led the project with designer Patrick Jouin. “But there is also individuality. You use different rooms at different times of the day and in different scenarios. Some are more social; some are more introverted.

Mr. Jouin and Mr. Manku reconfigured the apartment, which was previously divided into several units, so that it could serve as a working place for Mr. Bousleiman and his wife, Bettina, while allowing their two teenagers to go out and watch movies.

At the bow of the corner building is a family room with a large custom-made fireplace, 10.5-foot ceilings, and a pair of radiant desks. A formal living room follows through French doors; then the dining room. Beyond are three bedrooms with silk-covered walls and custom-made beds with built-in lighting. (Jouin Manku designed all the built-in elements of the house and plenty of movable furniture.) A pair of white marble bathrooms is across the hallway. (The American enthusiasm for the en-suite bathroom doesn’t seem to have found its way here.)

The small kitchen is at the back of the unit, a few steps – some Americans would consider them miles away – from the dining room. There, a peninsula table welcomes the family for casual meals.

Looking at the apartment’s oak-trimmed windows (the grain of which is not conventionally painted to appease the modern thirst for tactility, said Jouin), drinking in the streetscape with its regulated, attic beauty, you could only be in Paris. But the apartment also summons other places dear to Mr. Bousleiman: Strasbourg, the Alsatian city where he is based, and the mountain village near Beirut, in Lebanon, where he grew up.

Those leather-covered walls in the entrance hall where a horse head sculpture sits enthroned? They are a tribute to the Haras, a large Strasbourg hotel converted from the 18th century royal stables which was a previous collaboration between Mr. Bousleiman and Jouin Manku. (The company is known for modernizing spaces in beautiful old buildings, like La Mamounia, the multi-story hotel in Marrakech, Morocco.)

The mural that covers the four walls of the dining room? This is a hand-painted semi-fantastic panorama of the buildings and landscape that Mr. Bousleiman occupied in his youth. Here are made his family home, a grandfather’s house dating from the 17th century, picturesque ruins, even animal trees. Artist François Houtin traveled with Mr. Bousleiman to Lebanon to see it all for himself and returned to the dining room with a small paintbrush.

“I was thinking of something like a week, two weeks, a month,” Bousleiman said of how long he expected the project to take. After two weeks, Mr. Houtin had painted “less than half a square meter,” Bousleiman said, or about five square feet. The mural, which spans the sliding doors of a bar cabinet attached to the wall, finally took six months. But the artist hesitated to give it up and continued down the hallway, where he depicted Mr. Bousleiman’s university among lush Lebanese foliage.

It doesn’t take long to realize that this stately apartment often turns wild. In designing the fireplace for the family room, Mr. Jouin and Mr. Manku used, on a large scale, traditional materials such as cast iron and stone. But the iron appears on the outside, not on the inside, the fireplace; and the stone is a carved slab used for the mantle which weighs a ton and a half. Their version of the mirror which is usually mounted above a fireplace not only reflects the view from the opposite window, but also serves as a television screen.

“We are terrible because we take every opportunity to invent something or do something that is not easy,” Jouin said.

At the end of the corridor, the living room is decorated with casts of classic Louvre statues and large photographs by Jean-Christophe Ballot of abstract torsos and limbs in white marble. Amid all the pale oak and cream, a door at the end of the main hallway opens into a surprisingly black marble powder room.

For Mr. Jouin, the difference between designing hotels and private homes is to create a living and breathing environment that will evolve with the residents rather than a static setting, such as a stage set.

Or as Mr. Manku put it, “If you don’t start with the idea of ​​a little collage, then how do the people who live there start adding their own things?” They should think like the person who designed it, and then it’s never theirs.

Designers were not always ready to give up their aesthetic authority, however. When Mr. Bousleiman requested that the living room sofa face the front door rather than the window, so that he could see the guests as they entered (“I am an oriental”, he said explained about this mode of reception), “Patrick”, he recalled, “said no”. It would block the light.

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