French touch: Pierre Gonalons’ home in Paris
It all started with a dog. Several years ago, the designer Pierre Gonalons’ mother decided to buy a plot of land in a village close to Meaux, about an hour’s drive to the east of Paris. The reason? Simply to have somewhere to exercise her pet griffon, Fantin. “Once or twice each summer, I’d go with her and we’d have a picnic,” Gonalons recalls.
Each time, a house near the entrance to the village caught his attention. Centred around a courtyard garden, it tantalizingly turned its back to the street. “It was both mysterious and extravagant in style. I really wanted to go inside and find out what it was like.”Now 42, Gonalons studied at Paris’s prestigious design school École Camondo, whose alumni include Pierre Paulin and Philippe Starck, before setting up his own company straight after graduation in 2004. Today, he undertakes interior design projects, produces his own furniture designs through his Ascète label, and works as the creative director of the legendary Italian furniture brand Paradisoterrestre.
He formerly lived in Paris, close to the Canal Saint-Martin, in the same building as the shoe designer Pierre Hardy. After 15 years in the French capital, he decided it was time to find a country retreat and initially looked at historic properties in the region around Lyon. Then, on a trip to the village with his mother, he spotted a “For Sale” sign on the house that had always intrigued him and immediately arranged a visit. It was very much a case of love at first sight. Dating from 1892, the structure was built for a sugar industrialist and designed in a slightly fantastical Anglo-Norman style.
What particularly attracted Gonalons was not only the fact that the historical décor was almost entirely intact, but also its bewitchingly eclectic nature. The dining room is in a 17th-century Flemish style and the sitting room is Louis XIII. Next to that is a small Chinese-style salon, created by one of the original owner’s sons, who pursued an army career in the Far East. The pièce de résistance, however, is the immense rocaille winter garden, which today serves as an oversized office. “There’s a sort of emotional progression through the house,” notes Gonalons. “It’s almost like an opera set.”
He chose to carry out very little structural work. He simply demolished a wall between the dining room and kitchen, and removed certain architectural elements, such as a series of stained-glass windows representing hunting scenes. For the colour palette, he took his inspiration not only from the surrounding forest, but also from the original period of the house. “In the late 19th century, Victorian decoration was in fashion and I chose to use typically English tones,” he says. As for the furnishings, he knew from the get-go that he wanted to mix pieces in different styles. A number of his own creations such as the Fuchsia chandelier and Studiolo cabinet converse with a huge Chinese Bottle vase by Christopher Dresser, a dining table created by Carlo Scarpa for Paradisoterrestre, and several 1980s designs by the Japanese architect Atsushi Kitagawara. Among the latter is a pair of sofas whose rippling aluminium backs mimic fabric blowing in the wind.
Several years ago, Kitagawara came to visit him in Paris and asked Gonalons to help him find an architectural commission in Europe. The quest has so far proved fruitless. “I’d have loved to ask him to extend this house, but then I guess it’s big enough already,” says Gonalons, who lives there with his dog Gino and cat Lupo. Plus, the renovation project has already taken more than five years and is still ongoing. “The house has been all-consuming,” he admits. “That’s been the case with all the homes I’ve had, but this one has taken things to a whole new level.”
Article published on the Summer issue of ICON DESIGN.