A Paris Apartment Masters Cozy Minimalism

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of ELLE DECOR. For more stories from our archive, subscribe to ELLE DECOR All Access.

French interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch couldn’t imagine a living room without a fireplace. “For me, it’s the heart of an apartment, even if it’s not used very often,” he says. “I always make them an important focal point in my projects.” They are rarely in a traditional vein. A prime example is the one he created in collaboration with ceramist Armelle Benoit for this apartment in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. Sharply faceted and colored blue, the fireplace slopes to one side and looks like a chunk of ice that has detached itself from a glacier.

corridor with oatmeal rug and large blue painting on the wall to the left with two small chairs in blue and brown beneath it and a small console to the left

A photograph by Elger Esser and ceramic benches by Hun-Chung Lee in the entry; the vintage floor lamp is by Paavo Tynell, the chest is by George Nakashima, the sconces are by Pierre Chareau, and the hemp rug is by Holland & Sherry.

Jean-François Jaussaud/Lux Productions

Yovanovitch knows the owner—a perfumer with two young boys—and her family well. He is also working on projects for her mother and brother in both the French capital and Tel Aviv, Israel. “What I love about Pierre’s work is the clarity and simplicity,” she says. “For me, it exudes happiness.”

Her three-bedroom apartment, which was formerly the offices of a law firm, is located in a typical Haussmannian-style building—one she is extremely familiar with. Her parents have lived in the unit above since she was four, and she grew up there surrounded by great design (her parents were early collectors of furniture by Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, and Mathieu Matégot). “For her, it’s perfectly normal to live with incredible things,” says Yovanovitch.

Incredible is not a term that could be applied to the 3,500-square-foot space before he set to work on it. When asked what it used to look like, the owner lets out a very French “ooh là là!” Yovanovitch is more direct: “It was ugly, with terrible acoustic ceilings. We had to reinvent everything more or less from scratch.” About the only thing he kept was the parquet in the living room, with its graphic square pattern, because, he says, “it still looks so contemporary.”

As with all his projects, Yovanovitch took an architectural approach here, and his rooms feature strong geometry. “For me, the layout, volumes, and proportions are much more important than the decoration,” he says. In the past, he has created dramatic spiral staircases and ceilings that recall clouds. Here, he chose a more orderly, rectilinear look. Initially, he was perturbed by the fact that the front door was not aligned with the center of the entrance hall. His solution? To conceal it by integrating the door into a wall clad with patinated-steel rectangles.

“For me, the layout, volumes, and proportions are much more important than the decoration.”

He then counterbalanced all that precision and rigor by introducing sensual forms in the furniture, such as the kidney-shaped sofa and a vintage cocktail table by Julius Ralph Davidson in the living room. “The basis of all my work,” he explains, “is a tension between straight lines and curves.”

spare dining room with two blocky dining table on at an angle and similar chairs pulled up to it and at the very end on the wall a large circular artwork that looks like a small universe at center

Circa-1935 chairs by Kaare Klint surround the custom-made dining table, the chandelier by Frederik Molenschot is from the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, and the vintage floor lamp was bought at the Saint-Ouen flea market; the painting is by Marc Quinn, and the doors and floor are oak.

Jean-François Jaussaud/Lux Productions

The hub of the apartment is the capacious kitchen-cum–dining room—a specific request from the client, who likes to host large lunches and dinners on the weekends. Other requirements included the use of her favorite hues, blue and orange, furniture by George Nakashima (“I love the purity, and its Japanese spirit,” she says), and the graphic Brèche de Médicis marble in the master bath. The marble, Yovanovitch admits, is a little too opulent for his own tastes. “I might have chosen something simpler,” he says.

Indeed, he describes his personal aesthetic as “monklike but comfortable.” Warmth and depth are brought to his rooms through rich textures and natural materials. Here, there are rugs made from hemp and jute and a profusion of oak, from doors to headboards and the patchworklike paneling in the entrance to the primary suite.

detail of room with rough hewn bench and small stool and a cream and wood armchairs and two shelves with books on the wall

A circa-1930 stool by Axel Einar Hjorth, a 1940s chair by Martin Olsen, and a cocktail table by George Nakashima in the living room; the 1950s floor lamp is by Paavo Tynell, the shelving is custom, and the curtains are of a fabric by MM Design.

Jean-François Jaussaud/Lux Productions

His love of 20th-century Scandinavian furnish­ings is also evident. He has a fondness for rustic yet sophisticated pine pieces by Swedish designer Axel Einar Hjorth. There are lamps by Paavo Tynell and dining chairs by Kaare Klint; there is a sheepskin-upholstered armchair by Martin Olsen.

spare bedroom with platform bed in a pale wood and matching wall headboard and cream ribbed rug and suede blanket

In the primary bedroom, the custom-made bed is covered in a cotton by Rogers & Goffigon, the pillows are made of Glant fabrics, the painting is by Jason Martin, and the jute rug is by Holland & Sherry.

Jean-François Jaussaud/Lux Productions

Despite the choice furnishings, Yovanovitch strove to keep the interiors uncluttered. “I didn’t want it to be like a museum,” he says. “It’s a family apartment, and it has to be easy for them to live in.” The boys, it seems, concur. “I’ve discovered that when I’m out, they play soccer against the steel wall in the entrance hall,” the homeowner says with a grin. “For them, it makes the perfect goal.”

Such sporting activities are not without risk. Her sons have already damaged one of the Pierre Chareau alabaster sconces. The wall itself, however, remains unscathed. “They assure me they won’t dent it,” she adds. “The ball’s made of foam!”

september 2015 cover elle decor

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE


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