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Publication Date: 2013-08-30

House Tours

​High-Wire Act: A French Fashion Designer Transforms A School For Acrobats Into A Luxe Loft

Dana Thomas visits French fashion designer Yvan Miseplaere in his surreal apartment whose design was inspired by the previous tenants—a school for acrobats.

French fashion designer Yvan Mispelaere was looking for something different in Paris. He had lived in his share of late-19th-century Haussmannian flats, with their wedding-cake moldings and stout marble fireplaces, and he says, “I longed for a loft.”

He thought of looking around the Gare de l’Est in northeast Paris, a quartier in transition that had served for more than a century as the city’s epicenter for artisan workshops. Mispelaere, who has worked for some of fashion’s most influential companies, including Valentino, Prada, Chloé, and, most recently, Diane von Furstenberg, had discovered the area in the early 1990s while searching for leather craftsmen to work on animal skins for the designer Claude Montana. When he revisited the area a few years ago, he was charmed by how it had evolved. “It’s a little corner of creativity,” he says. “Authentic. A lot of locals. Simple folk.”

He came across an airy 1,700-square-foot space with 18-foot-high ceilings that had once served as a circus school; there was still a trapeze hanging from a beam. Mispelaere was seduced by the design possibilities of the place. He bought it in 2006, and with the help of architect Stéphane Ghestem, turned it into a nearly wall-less home made up of modular nooks.

“I wanted a big space but at the same time not a huge open loft where you see everything,” Mispelaere explains. Instead, he and Ghestem came up with a series of “secret zones,” as he calls them, “that you discover bit by bit, with volumes that play against one another.”

That translated into a sunken living room inspired by Moorish homes and framed by floor-to-ceiling almond-green velvet curtains, an office corner, a somewhat open den/guest room, and a master bedroom and bath perched up on a mezzanine. Besides the front door, there is only one other: for the toilet. The kitchen “was the biggest issue,” Mispelaere says. “I didn’t want an American-style open kitchen, but I also didn’t want to put it in the back, walled in.” He came up with the idea of a three-sided, roofless cube with a diamond-pointed, black semigloss exterior. The cube, he says, “breaks the flow and complicates things,” while leaving the dramatic rafters above exposed.

Mispelaere chose to paint everything else chalk white, “like in Greece,” he says—a country he adores and where he is building a second home. The stark white palette is also a nod to 1930s architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and his famous modernist works, such as the Villa Noailles in Hyères and the Villa Poiret, couturier Paul Poiret’s home in Mézy-sur-Seine. Mispelaere is drawn to the pre–World War II period of design—Le Corbusier, Eileen Gray, with splashes of Surrealism—and he used this period for the basis of his decor. “I adore the geometric rigor and purity of line of that epoch,” he says. “The architecture and the art of the Dadaists and Surrealists speak to me.”

To break up the white, he played with textures, such as slices of tree trunks, which he also painted white and then glued to the bedroom closet doors to create a flat, bubbles-like design. The guest room cabinet doors with their black arches are inspired by the work of the Greek-born Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico, who in the early 20th century founded the Scuola Metafisica movement that was one of the roots of Surrealism.

Other touches came from Mispelaere’s varied travels. There are many pieces from Bali, where he vacations often, including colorful pottery and Brancusi-like geometric wooden stools. The living room lighting is inspired by the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. “I love how the chandeliers drop down to make a sort of false ceiling, and the low lighting creates a more intimate space,” he explains.

The bathroom door is decorated with Renaissance-like rivets, a reference to Mispelaere’s years in Florence, where he worked as an assistant designer for Gucci. The white tile bathroom—an homage to the French contemporary artist Jean Pierre Raynaud—is punctuated with tiles called Peep Show, painted with eyes, from a collection Mispelaere designed for Paris-based Ugly Edition. On the walls hang medicine cabinets he picked up on trips, including one from Serbia.

Being a designer, Mispelaere wanted to create a few pieces himself, too. He found the living room chandeliers in Florence and reworked them, adding small brass plates to make them look more 1930s. For the dining area, he wanted a big oval table, preferably something midcentury. After months of searching without any luck, he took a small Italian 1950s walnut oval table that he found in Brussels and enlarged its top with an oval frame of white Corian.

Mispelaere is pleased with how it all turned out. “Of all the places I have lived, this apartment most resembles me,” he says. “I travel a lot and when I return, I feel serene, safe, and at ease as soon as I open the front door.”

This article originally appeared in ELLE DÉCOR. Article by Dana Taylor. Photography by Matthieu Salvaing.


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