When it comes to aesthetics, says the Paris-based architect and interior designer Maxime Bousquet, 35, “what’s considered good taste is not always interesting.” Since starting his own firm in 2019 — after stints working for the fashion brand Kenzo, the architect Joseph Dirand and the architecture office Studio KO — he has made a subtly iconoclastic approach and an obsession with detail hallmarks of his practice. He’s opened up the roof of a triplex in Paris’s Eighth Arrondissement to create a dramatic terrace and entirely reconfigured a narrow, jewel-box-like house in the city’s Invalides area. It helps that most of his clients are creative 30-something Parisians who, while well-versed in traditional European design, are seeking something more offbeat.
Bousquet’s latest project is a one-bedroom pied-à-terre on the Left Bank full of surprising juxtapositions that take their lead from the eclectic contemporary art collection of its owner — a young Parisian gallerist. The 1,200-square-foot home sits on the ground and first floors of a grand 17th-century building attributed to the classical French architect François Mansart and was formed through the merger of an existing duplex with an adjoining studio apartment; the result is an unusual layout in which no room feels quite like the next. The moody, dimly lit ground floor features a minimalist stainless steel-clad kitchen and a sunken dining room with a mezzanine just big enough to accommodate a guest bed. Off the kitchen, a small courtyard, planted by the Paris-based landscape gardener Swandy Wenker, is bursting with glossy Japanese aralia, tree and bird’s nest ferns and fragrant jasmine. And up a narrow staircase — its risers covered in the British designer Max Lamb’s graphic Marmoreal composite marble — is a light-filled living room with exposed wood ceiling beams, a chunky Art Deco-style Nero Marquina marble fireplace and double casement windows that look out over the Seine. A cozy blue-ceilinged bedroom and connecting bathroom are tucked away at the back. The effect is as though a rebellious young woman has moved into her grandmother’s apartment and made it her own.
Bousquet designed the home with entertaining — and amusement — in mind. “The owner hosts a lot of dinner parties,” he says. In each room, unexpected flourishes refresh the home’s more bourgeois elements, infusing them with a sense of humor. While the bedroom walls are lined in subdued oak-edged panels of gold-flecked beige linen, the built-in wardrobes have bespoke ceramic handles, made by the French studio Superpoly in the shapes of octopus tentacles and outstretched snails. A nook to the right of the imposing living room fireplace is occupied by a sculpture of sprouting fungal spores by the London-based artist Hamish Pearch. And then there’s the coffee table, which at first glance resembles a hulking block of terra cotta. It is, in fact, formed of Merdacotta, a ceramic-like product developed by an Italian farmer as a way to repurpose his cows’ excrement, which is mixed with Tuscan clay, straw and other agricultural waste, then baked. “These kinds of apartments are sometimes quite serious,” says Bousquet. “But this is fun.”
That’s not to say he’s entirely uninterested in more traditional materials. He chose oak floorboards for the living room, staining them with black ink on one side then laying them with that side face down so that the dark residue, just discernible in the cracks, gives them a timeworn look. And for the bathroom, he selected cherry red tiles handmade in a workshop in southeast France to complement the burgundy Rouge de France marble he’d picked out for the shower stall and sink. This precise approach extended to the kitchen, where Bousquet had craftspeople pour a concrete floor into which he and his client carefully embedded white Carrara marble chips, before it was polished to become terrazzo. Later, he had the fronts of the stainless-steel kitchen cabinets oxidized to appear as if they’d been there for decades.
Despite the owner’s wide-ranging tastes, the apartment is also defined by subtle references to Paris, where she was born and raised, and where she runs her gallery as a counterpoint to the city’s more traditional institutions. One wall in the living room is painted a dark bottle green, a nod to the distinctive hue of the booksellers’ stalls — just visible from the living room windows — that have lined the Seine for centuries. The tangerine accents on a steel beam in the same room and the oxidized metal bookcase that borders the staircase are homages to the brightly colored columns and towering shelves of La Maison de Verre, the 1932 Modernist house designed by the architect Pierre Chareau in the neighboring Seventh Arrondissement. The vaulted ceiling of the below-street-level dining room echoes the Gothic roof of Notre Dame, just across the river.
But rather than decorating the apartment with the marble-topped dressers and gilded bergères that fill so many homes along this stretch of the Seine, the owner and Bousquet furnished it with a lively mix of flea market finds, bespoke contemporary furniture and idiosyncratic artworks. In the dining room, the crypt-like atmosphere is heightened by a Brutalist-style table and chairs and a silk-screen print of a medieval fool by the Canadian artist Marc Hundley — and offset by two bright yellow rubber-coated polystyrene chairs by Max Lamb. Upstairs, a 1970s-era drinks cabinet covered in lacquered goatskin parchment competes for attention with the swirling oil painting above it, a work by the Danish artist Tanja Nis-Hansen. And while one corner of the kitchen is home to a classic undulating Pierre Paulin ABCD sofa, above it hangs a painting by the emerging German artist Robert Brambora that’s shaped like a head in profile.
No object in the home, though, provides more entertainment than the karaoke machine hidden behind one of the living room’s 1960s-era mohair sofas. The owner’s parties tend to begin with a candlelit meal in the dining room, then almost always incorporate some element of musical performance. “We go down for dinner, then we go up,” says Bousquet, who is a frequent guest. “It’s a progression, a scenario. I love theater.”