10 Modern Renovations to Unique Homes in France

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo / Published by Dwell
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Known for its art de vivre and joie de vivre, France is a country with a rich cultural past.

Home to fantastic food, wine, and many historic residences, the nation respects and embraces tradition. Because of this strong connection to its history, modern renovations can present a range of challenges for architects. Take a look at these 10 modern renovations that have breathed new life into classic structures that each have their own stories to tell.


1. A Seemingly Hopeless Mill in France

In 1981, Londoners Anthony and Gillian Blee purchased the ultimate fixer-upper in southwestern France. Built in 1822, the old mill was idyllic, but had fallen into terrible disrepair. "We really wanted to capture the ruinous quality of this old building rather than do something overtly new," Blee said about the renovation.

"We really wanted to capture the ruinous quality of this old building rather than do something overtly new," Blee says. Before construction could begin, however, he and Halligan had to patch the remaining walls using stones found in the nearby river. Wherever a wall had collapsed, the designers inserted framing to create windows and doors. For the roof, they turned to the original tiles. "My father's terrible at throwing things away," Blee says. "We took the tiles off 30 years ago, as it was too dangerous to have them up there. They've been sitting in the fields ever since, and this was out last chance to use them."

"We really wanted to capture the ruinous quality of this old building rather than do something overtly new," Blee says. Before construction could begin, however, he and Halligan had to patch the remaining walls using stones found in the nearby river. Wherever a wall had collapsed, the designers inserted framing to create windows and doors. For the roof, they turned to the original tiles. "My father's terrible at throwing things away," Blee says. "We took the tiles off 30 years ago, as it was too dangerous to have them up there. They've been sitting in the fields ever since, and this was out last chance to use them."

2. Retro Paris Apartment

When architect Camille Hermand transformed this two-bedroom in the center of Paris into a weekend pied-à-terre for a family of four, the vintage-inspired remodel focused on opening up the space by using interior steel-and-glass windows in the bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom— maximizing light and visibility in what had been a quiet, dark apartment. Hermand left the original floors, ceiling moldings, and fireplaces were left intact in an attempt to retain the apartment’s classic charm. 

The addition of custom steel-and-glass windows significantly opened up the apartment, adding visibility and light between spaces in this family-centric environment. Muted blues and grays in pastel tones keep the space feeling soft, cool, and relaxed, while the Conran Pembury sofa, La Redoute tables, and Petite Friture pendants add a distinctly contemporary air.

The addition of custom steel-and-glass windows significantly opened up the apartment, adding visibility and light between spaces in this family-centric environment. Muted blues and grays in pastel tones keep the space feeling soft, cool, and relaxed, while the Conran Pembury sofa, La Redoute tables, and Petite Friture pendants add a distinctly contemporary air.

3. Apartment G in Royan

In the renovation of a 1950s building in Royan, France, interior designer Florence Deau (of the influential blog, Flodeau) channeled the midcentury heritage of Royan, France to transform the former city planning office, a prominent modernist building built by architect Yves Salier in 1952. Deau retained certain original elements in the 1,300-square-foot space, like the minimalist wood doors—made of sapelli, a reddish African wood popular in1950s France—and the linear limestone fireplace, while gutting others, like the linoleum flooring. She also opened up the space and improved circulation by removing a wall separating the kitchen from the living area. 

In the renovation of a 1950s building in Royan, France, interior designer Florence Deau selected a fleet of vintage and new furnishings.

In the renovation of a 1950s building in Royan, France, interior designer Florence Deau selected a fleet of vintage and new furnishings.

4. 300-Year-Old Barn

When Russell Pinch and Oona Bannon, the two British designers behind London-based furniture team Pinch, embarked upon the renovations for their vacation retreat in Charente-Maritime, France, they kept many of the architectural details of the 300-year-old cow barn, including its terra-cotta roof tiles. The interior now features an open living, dining, and kitchen area in addition to a vaulted wood ceiling and limestone walls. The couple also laid some 20,000 pieces of reclaimed oak to create the floor’s herringbone pattern.

By the Saey fireplace, a wicker chair from Malawi echoes the lines of Pinch’s Willo table. Matching other pieces to their line "is not an exact science," Oona says, "just an innate reaction to things we love."

By the Saey fireplace, a wicker chair from Malawi echoes the lines of Pinch’s Willo table. Matching other pieces to their line "is not an exact science," Oona says, "just an innate reaction to things we love."

5. Corbusier-Inspired Parisian Home

Inspired by an apartment created in the 1930s by Le Corbusier, architect Micheal Herrman renovated this 18th-century Parisian flat into a bright and airy home for himself and his family. "At Rue Vignon, I wanted to distort reality in order to create intriguing visions," he explained. 

Herrman, his wife, Cécile, and their young daughter, Rose, play on the Pont table by Ligne Roset. The Carmo sofa is by Anders Nørgaard for BoConcept.

Herrman, his wife, Cécile, and their young daughter, Rose, play on the Pont table by Ligne Roset. The Carmo sofa is by Anders Nørgaard for BoConcept.

6. 17th-Century Parisian Treasure Trove

Daniel Rozensztroch, the former creative director of Marie Claire Maison, and current artistic director of Merci (the trendsetting Parisian shop he helped create) was smitten when he came across this rare gem in the Marais district of Paris, which had housed a toy factory owned by Gustave Eiffel in the 19th century. It took three years to cut through all the bureaucratic red tape due to the building’s rich history and historic landmark status, but the results were well worth it. The loft-like 1,000-square-foot space had double-height ceilings and a long wall of windows, but no dividing walls. So Rozensztroch, working with architect Valérie Mazerat, the designer of Merci, created three separate, distinct spaces.

In the living area of Daniel Rozensztroch’s Paris apartment, an Eames La Chaise and a butterfly chair complement a Moroccan Berber rug.

In the living area of Daniel Rozensztroch’s Paris apartment, an Eames La Chaise and a butterfly chair complement a Moroccan Berber rug.

7. 1930s Apartment For a Family of Five

Needing more space to accommodate their growing family and loving their existing flat overlooking the Bois de Boulogne park, a fortunate Parisian family acted on a rare opportunity to snap up two adjacent residences which were for sale in their 1930’s art deco building and connect all the spaces together. "Connecting three apartments on two levels in an old Parisian building with numerous structural constraints is not an easy task," said architect Eitan Hammer says, whose namesake firm and business partner Ulli Heckmann were up to the challenge. 

"The upper floor includes the entry, cloakroom, guest bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, and terrace," Hammer says. "In contrast to the lower floor and its separated rooms, the living area is composed as an open space with no walls." Nerd Chairs by David Geckeler for Muuto surround a handcrafted nutwood table in the dining room.

"The upper floor includes the entry, cloakroom, guest bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, and terrace," Hammer says. "In contrast to the lower floor and its separated rooms, the living area is composed as an open space with no walls." Nerd Chairs by David Geckeler for Muuto surround a handcrafted nutwood table in the dining room.

8. Doubling the Square Footage in Les Lilas

Caroline Djuric, cofounder of Djuric Tardio Architectes—a Paris-based firm that specializes in sneaking cutting-edge, eco-friendly ideas into the city’s existing urban framework—took on a challenge in a town renowned for ironclad zoning restrictions and a strong sense of tradition. For this renovation in Les Lilas, a suburb on the eastern fringe of Paris, they "chopped off the head of the house, and created a new top floor made of pine." The result is a stunning modern profile.

The back of the house was designed as a contemporary counterpoint to the more traditional front facade. The sliding doors and windows are by Technal. An asymmetrical wooden stairway leads down to the garden.

The back of the house was designed as a contemporary counterpoint to the more traditional front facade. The sliding doors and windows are by Technal. An asymmetrical wooden stairway leads down to the garden.

9. California-Inspired Group Home in Paris

Architect Damien Brambilla transformed this run-down Paris apartment building with an overgrown garden in the Belleville section of northeastern Paris. Gutting the foundation, he added an extension that doubled the original square footage. Indoors, Brambilla referenced the revolutionary Californian midcentury Case Study Houses—emphasizing structural lightness and a continuity between the interiors and the outdoor space. 

Architect Damien Brambilla turned a run-down Paris apartment building into an open, bright adolescent group home with a landscaped garden.

Architect Damien Brambilla turned a run-down Paris apartment building into an open, bright adolescent group home with a landscaped garden.

10. Renovated Modernist Oasis in the French Riviera

This historic villa overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and was once home to the modernist architect Barry Dierks. The renovation of this classic home on the French Riviera removed the walls on the ground floor to make space for a contemporary open plan. 

One of the biggest parts of the remodel was removing walls on the ground floor to make space for more of an open plan. The hanging steel Gyrofocus Fireplace by Focus gives the living room a unique character. It's flanked by a Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen.

One of the biggest parts of the remodel was removing walls on the ground floor to make space for more of an open plan. The hanging steel Gyrofocus Fireplace by Focus gives the living room a unique character. It's flanked by a Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen.