Sculptural plywood walls weave new life into a 19th-century Parisian apartment while preserving its historic Haussmannien features.
When a young French couple with a child on the way reached out to architect Gabrielle Toledano to renovate their recently purchased apartment in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, the timing was fortuitous.
Toledano had just returned to work from maternity leave, and she was eager to flex her design prowess in reshaping the old apartment into a contemporary abode—without breaking the couple’s relatively modest budget.
The apartment was built in the late 1800s, and it’s filled with Haussmann-style elements—including elaborate moldings and herringbone hardwood floors—that the clients and architect wanted to highlight.
"The challenge was preserving these layers of history while creating a strong contemporary identity," explains Toledano. "I wanted something young, playful, but still chic…a contemporary architecture that would preserve all the historical elements and confer a strong character to the place while unveiling new uses and a new appreciation of space, suited to its 21st-century inhabitants."
The design solution became clear after Toledano contemplated tearing out the original partition walls—in their place, she inserted two "wooden ribbons." These sculptural plywood walls hold built-in storage, and they’re designed to make the clients feel as though "they were living in an art piece."
Informed by the clients’ programmatic needs, the curved walls were prefabricated in a carpenter’s workshop from laser-cut plywood sheets and then bent with custom molds. The panels were assembled on-site within a day.
Flanking the entrance corridor, the two wooden ribbons delineate the master suite and dressing room on one end of the apartment, while carving out space for a large nursery, a full bathroom, and a powder room on the other. A spacious light-filled living room and an eat-in kitchen take up the remainder of the 1,400-square-foot apartment.
"I wanted to create something abstract—not just regular partition walls and closets," explains Toledano. "Not an addition of elements, but one big concept that solves all the problems."
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"I like how the ribbons mimic the movements of the waves," says Toledano. "They create a tension in the entrance, and open up to the wide living room and dining room, and the big windows."
"From there, you can see the city of Paris, with a beautiful light even when the weather is gray, which is quite common in Paris. So it’s like this ribbon accompanies you and takes you to admire the city. You are in a completely different world, but also still in Paris, in this Haussmannien building and apartment."