The 18th-Century Paris Apartment That Elegantly Blends Past and Future

WHEN OLIVIER MARTY and Karl Fournier of the Paris-based architecture firm Studio KO were asked by an Australian entrepreneur to create a pied-à-terre on the city’s Place des Victoires, the pair reveled in the strange layers of history they uncovered. The apartment, on the third floor of one of the square’s grand four-story mansions, needed to be completely gutted — time had not been kind to the walls or the floors — but the client, who has built a retail empire known for its daring, bespoke store design, didn’t want to merely recreate its original charm. Living in Paris had been his dream since he was a young adult in Melbourne, so he insisted that the flat reflect his minimalist taste as well as the city’s storied surroundings: In a place of Rococo construction, destruction and architectural resurrection stretching over centuries, there may be no better illustration of how venerable sites never stop evolving than the Place des Victoires — and how the most elaborate facades often conceal something unexpected.

Built in the late 17th century by François d’Aubusson de La Feuillade, a marshal of France under Louis XIV, as the first circular public square in Paris, the Place des Victoires has been remarkably transformed through the ages. Dividing the First and Second Arrondissements, it was conceived as a homage to the Sun King’s military triumphs; La Feuillade hired the sculptor Martin Desjardins to create a statue of the monarch and enlisted the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who was at the time building Versailles’s Grand Trianon, to plan a ring of virtually identical adjoined houses to surround it.

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The statue was finished before some of the houses were completed, so La Feuillade, eager to please his patron, had the unfinished buildings covered in enormous canvases with trompe l’oeil paintings of the facades — a sort of ancien régime green screen. One morning in 1686, the courtier unveiled, in front of the surrounding homes (both real and fake), the gilded bronze sculpture of the king lording over four chained captives who represented the neighboring European countries that he’d defeated. The remaining facades, including the one fronting the apartment that Studio KO redesigned, were completed several years later by the architect Jean-Baptiste Prédot. “The story of the Place des Victoires is a good lesson on illusion, on how things are sometimes not what they seem,” Marty says, “which is what we love. You can make it into something more interesting.”

THE ENTREPRENEUR was seeking for his getaway “an architecture of silence” — not the typical effect sought in an 18th-century Parisian apartment. Leaning back on the low-slung sofa on a late fall afternoon in the space, which was softly lit by beeswax candles, he explained his desire for harmony among the byzantine neighborhood, his own Greek heritage and the Asian-inspired Modernism that informs his products and personal aesthetic.

The 1,600-square-foot dwelling, which has 13-foot ceilings, is sun-splashed during the day, with a front row of 10-foot windows overlooking the square. The master bedroom in the back, furnished with little more than a bronze-and-leather bed by the Milan-based architect Vincenzo De Cotiis, is oddly but appealingly shaped, with angled walls and casement glass that offers views of the Basilica Nôtre-Dame des Victoires across the street. “The light is very graphic, especially in the morning,” says the owner. “I feel very still and very healthy here.” When the weather permits, he flings open every window, letting in the crisp morning air and the sounds of the awakening city.

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