Mar 12, 2023

A Paris Apartment Masters Cozy Minimalism

"What I love about Pierre's work is the clarity and simplicity," the client says. "For me, it exudes happiness."

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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!"

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

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