A classic Parisian apartment with a modern design
In the fall of 2019, architect and designer Sophie Dries, 35, and her companion, sculptor Marc Leschelier, 37, moved into a two-bedroom Haussmann apartment in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, not far from the historic Place des Vosges. For several months, they lived almost entirely without furniture or home comforts except for a mattress on the bedroom floor – which also served as a meeting place and home office – and two dinner plates. They had no interest in buying temporary items and wanted to take the time to familiarize themselves with the space before making it their own. “We would avoid the living room altogether, though,” Dries says. “It was so empty, it had an echo.”
But the couple didn’t exactly start from scratch. The 1,450 square foot second floor apartment is an archetypal 19th century Parisian home, with all the trappings of the fine and decorative architecture of the time. The 10-foot-high ceilings have ornate botanical-themed moldings; the walls are paneled; and the floors retain their original two-tone geometric marquetry. At the west end of the 376 square foot living room, there is an ornately carved marble fireplace inscribed with the year of its creation, 1853, and on the adjacent wall a row of floor-to-ceiling French doors open on a balcony overlooking the wide, tree-lined boulevard below. In other words, the house was designed to be a lavish backdrop for the gilded chests of drawers and carved-leg wing chairs of its time. But Dries and Leschelier – who met shortly after graduating in architecture from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris – had a totally different take on it. “We wanted to create a clash between this typical Haussmann bourgeois house and contemporary furniture and ideas,” explains Dries. “We live on the old continent and we love its sense of history, but we’re young – it’s important to have that paradox.”
SINCE FOUNDING HIS eponymous architecture and design studio in 2014, Dries has built a portfolio of residential projects in Paris – including a minimalist penthouse on rue Saint-Honoré for a pair of art collectors and a two-bedroom elegantly stripped down near the Canal Saint-Martin for a young couple who work in fashion and technology – each of which serves as a skillful portrait of their residents while reflecting Dries’ own interests in combining clean lines with rich textures and materials unusual. With his large-scale, raw sculptures – often pavilion-like concrete forms – Leschelier also seeks to introduce a sense of spontaneity and experimentation into the architectural process. This shared sensibility, which rejects hierarchies of old and new, form and function, is evident throughout the couple’s home. From December 2019 they slowly furnished the apartment, which has a traditional circular layout – a living room and dining room lead to an entrance, and the more private rooms including the bedroom and a nursery for the 3-month-old of the couple and his daughter, Daria, go on from there – over a period of two years, mixing pieces from designers such as Philippe Starck and Ettore Sottsass (acquired mainly through Parisian gallerists, including Paul Bourdet and Yves and Victor Gastou) with Dries own pieces artisanal creations.
The arrangements were often informed by affinities Dries or Leschelier noticed between seemingly unrelated elements. In the living room, for example, the couple paired a dining table with an oval wavy-edged oak top and rusty steel tube legs by Dries with a set of 80s steel Von Vogelsang chairs by Starck for Driade. A 10 foot by 6 1/2 foot framed print by Ryan McGinley of three nude figures reclining on a sand dune covers almost the entire south wall. Dries shared images of the room with British designer Max Lamb, who then created a rubber slab coffee table for the space in a complementary shade of peanut butter brown. The piece now sits next to a crescent moon sectional sofa, designed by Dries and upholstered in deep aubergine velvet, which, like the floor, is oak but in a more contemporary burl veneer.
Leschelier also contributed custom work to the living room: two console tables made of stacked cinder blocks covered in steel sealed with overflowing mortar that rest on either side of one of the French windows. Dries, too, often elevates raw and humble elements in her practice and counts among her references the post-war Italian Arte Povera movement, which championed everyday materials, and the minimalism of the interior designer. French modernist Jean-Michel Frank. “Frank was a punk in his day, and I often wonder what he would do today,” she says. For the couple’s bedroom, a warm but understated retreat defined by earth tones and natural textures, she used a paintbrush to apply a rugged, organic white plaster finish to the large built-in closets, and she had linen curtains coarsely woven jute, a fabric typically used in upholstery. The sun-drenched dining room, adjacent to the living room, houses one of his brass Glow chandeliers, designed for lighting company Kaia, whose egg-shaped glass globes are topped with papier-mâché cases mussel. And for the small galley kitchen at the far end of the apartment, she chose a blue-grey polished concrete to cover the counters and floor, a refreshing departure from the beige and white palette her clients so often request.
Dries and Leschelier share an appreciation for the works with a sense of humor. They’re fans, for example, of Italian designer Gaetano Pesce’s expressive approach, and one of his anthropomorphic, colorful chairs in hand-cast resin Nobody’s Perfect sits – next to a purple and green tufted wool rug plush by Dries for Nilufar Gallery that evokes otherworldly animal skin – in the corner of the apartment’s vestibule, a hushed space shaped like a jewelry box where the couple’s eclectic tastes are on full display. To amp up the intimate feel of the room, Dries lined the walls with jade-green Japanese straw. Then, drawing inspiration from the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia – in which Old Masters and personal curiosities amassed over the decades by early 20th-century collector Albert C. Barnes are displayed side by side – she hung some of the works of art on a smaller scale of the couple. styling through them. A religious engraving by German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer, inherited from Leschelier’s maternal grandmother, appears not far from a photograph of an English breakfast by British photographer Martin Parr; a landscape etched by Dries and Leschelier’s close friend, French conceptual artist Laurent Grasso, counterbalances a floral still life by young Azerbaijani painter Niyaz Najafov. “The room doesn’t have a function, but it’s our favorite,” Dries says. “We wanted to find an absurd way to put things together without any thought of value.”
Now that the living room no longer has an echo, the couple take full advantage of it by welcoming friends for aperitifs. Although neither claims to be a great cook, they both like to share a bottle of Chablis – or, when the occasion calls for it, a gin and tonic or two – with their loved ones, and it is in this also part that they spend the most time with their daughter. But for Dries, the family home is also a kind of professional manifesto, a way of illustrating that a more idiosyncratic living space can have great appeal. “My clients may be too scared to do most things here,” she says. “But if they see them in the context of a traditional apartment, they might change their minds.”
Photo assistant: Lilly Merck