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Economies of Art and Life

The Hotel Martel lives as a fitting tribute to influential French architect and designer Robert Mallet-Stevens

Economies of Art and Life

architecture & interior

Having shared an enthusiastic vision for reinforced concrete as a modern material, it was sculpture and architecture that first brought Robert Mallet-Stevens and Jan and Joël Martel together. The pair collaborated at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes: Mallet-Stevens as French Pavilion architect; the Martel brothers providing the garden sculpture, four concrete “trees” (Arbres Cubists). Not long afterward, the twins engaged Mallet-Stevens to build them a two-family townhouse with a collaborative sculpture studio in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

 

Economies of Art and Life

Galerie 54 revitalizes the spaces with sculpture, painting, and mid-century furnishings. (Photo: Depasquale + Maffini, Living In) 

Completed in 1927, Hotel Martel was part of an overall residential plan by the architect in the Auteuil area where Mallet-Stevens had already completed several houses. The structure remained in the family until the 1990s and has since been restored and conserved by its current owner, art and antiquities dealer Eric Touchaleaume.

The corner lot imposes a strong influence on the building: the responding outer walls establish a cohesive cubic form, even with the “stepped array” that creates balconies and patios for upper-level living areas. One understands these setback areas as voids related to the whole, rather than as a consequence of offset-stacked blocks. This concept produces a central cylindrical stairwell that appears from the street, not as a separate silo, but as the revealed core. Although the geometries of the building are clearly stated (black lacquered steel doors and darkly gridded windows contrasted against white plaster, a zigzagged plinth), the “core” appears more organic. The idea feels appropriate for a house that held not only the Martel families but also an upper-level apartment for their father. It is not a surprise, then (although its sheer beauty does take one’s breath away), that inside is a spiral stairway with the carefully composed illusion (by mirrored extension) of an infinity whorl.

 

Economies of Art and Life

The designed environment of the original sculpture studio provides ambiance for today’s gallery. (Photo: Depasquale + Maffini, Living In)

Today, it represents the most impeccable example of Mallet-Stevens’ residential work. Touchaleaume’s Galerie 54 revives the original gesture of art and life by reintroducing sculpture and mid-century-modern furnishings into the former sculpture workshop and throughout the edifice in which he also lives. At the same time, Touchaleaume maintains Mallet-Stevens’ legacy through public events and scholarly publications.

Take a rare glimpse inside some of the most phenomenal homes through Living In. This story was originally featured in book collaboration with Openhouse.


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