Off the Walls
The couple behind Paris fashion label Zadig & Voltaire carve out a family home in a 19th-century apartment full of cutting-edge art
Mornings are a bit hectic at the home of Thierry Gillier and Cécilia Bönström, as they would be in any household with four children and two working parents. Yet breakfast is served each day on a piece of furniture that collectors would pay through the nose for. A table is just a table, after all—even if it is by Charlotte Perriand. And did we mention the George Nakashima chairs?
Gillier and Bönström are the founder and creative director of Zadig & Voltaire, a French fashion line that puts a luxe, louche spin on rocker chic—low-slung pants, tissue-thin tees. (The Spring/Summer 2015 collection, featuring leather tank tops and slim-fitting tuxedo jackets, was inspired by Patti Smith.) “We love oppositions: clash and contrast, feminine and masculine,” says Bönström, a Swedish-born former model who moved to Paris more than two decades ago. It’s an aesthetic that translates easily from their label to their family home.
For years, Bönström would regularly admire a particular building in the 5th arrondissement. “I would drive by and look at the wisteria climbing up the balcony and twisting around on itself,” she says. Once owned by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Napoleon III’s master urban planner, the 19th-century residence served as his garçonnière, or bachelor’s quarters. “It was such a fantasy-like vision. And then, 24 years after I arrived in Paris, the place became mine.”
The five-bedroom apartment was remarkable not only for its expansiveness—“it’s not easy to find a place to live in Paris when you have four kids,” Bönström says—but for the historical elements that remained, including a music salon with an ornately coffered and frescoed ceiling featuring baroque-style angels named after Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. “It was brown and black and there were many more walls,” Bönström recalls of their home pre-renovation. “A lot of heavy, dark carved wood everywhere. And so we decided to take most of it away.”
The couple’s close collaborator was architect Isabelle Stanislas of the Paris-based firm So-An, who had previously worked with Gillier on Zadig & Voltaire’s retail spaces around the world. “The history of the apartment had to be acknowledged,” says Stanislas. “The idea was to keep as many original features as possible but give them new life by putting them into a contemporary context.” Much of the old woodwork was painted white—“a huge job,” as Stanislas acknowledges. The original windows, moldings, and floors were painstakingly restored; the frescoed ceiling was cleaned to bring out its true palette. A clear glass divider between the kitchen and main living areas brought light deep into the interior and added a loftlike contrast. “Every element of the apartment was revisited—it’s like it was redone, top to bottom. It was a job that fell somewhere between restoration and creation.”
The real challenge, however, was to turn the flat into a home for Gillier’s significant collection of contemporary art, which includes pieces by Cy Twombly, Dan Flavin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Damien Hirst. “We did an enormous amount of work to ensure the lighting would be right,” Stanislas says. Her solution: a custom-designed miniature lamp slightly more than an inch long that is integrated into the ceiling so it’s virtually invisible.
As for four kids coexisting with collector-worthy objects? “Living with art and a young family works really well—my three-year-old has never painted on a painting. There are footballs in the house, but one has never gone through a canvas,” says Bönström with a serenity most parents would envy. In her view, “it teaches kids to have awareness and respect. This isn’t a museum, you know what I mean?”
When asked about her most treasured piece of all, Bönström circles back to that Charlotte Perriand breakfast table. “It’s beautiful and practical—in many ways it reminds me of a Swedish table. We like things to be simple; we want to be able to place paintings and move them around. Sometimes they’re hung from the walls but other times they’re on the floor. It’s not art as decoration, but as a way of life.”