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95 Steps to the Sky

Inside the rare hôtel particulier that’s actually a private home.

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Photographs by Jean-François Jaussaud



Graphic by Jason Lee  

There are many fantasies of the Parisian life. A garret from which to recite Rimbaud across the rooftops. An apartment overlooking the gardens of the Palais Royal. A houseboat. But few people have the audacity or, more important, the euros to imagine an entire hôtel particulier to themselves. And even fewer would let their architect approach the place with such expansive imagination.

Hôtels particuliers are not, of course, hotels, though some are now occupied by them. A housing type that had its heyday in the mid-seventeenth century, when noblemen erected them as urban retreats with spacious inner courtyards and ample back gardens, they are now primarily museums, institutes, or embassies. This one was last occupied by a bank, which had chopped up its space into many little offices. The couple who bought it were, says their architect, Pierre Yovanovitch, “fearless,” and so began a very dramatic renovation of 10,763 square feet. Most dramatic of all was the installation of the grand central spiral staircase, which Yovanovitch, who got his start as a menswear designer at Pierre Cardin, envisioned as a floating ribbon winding its way up through space. This feat of engineering took a year to produce, and the metal foundation of the staircase was lowered by a giant crane in two pieces through the roof before it was finished in velvety stucco plaster—looking as pure as poured milk. Other bold touches in the apartment include a curved steel passageway—inspired by the terminals at Charles de Gaulle airport—that links the master bedroom to the bath, and the roof itself, to which Yovanovitch affixed a glass top over the atrium. When you’re standing beneath it, at the very top of the stairs, you can look straight down and see the mosaic of tiles in the shallow reflecting pool. Nearby is a proper swimming pool, for laps—an in-home luxury even the noblemen of pre-revolutionary France probably never imagined.


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