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Expect the Unexpected

A mix of old and new. The vintage Persians rugs, bought on eBay, add colour. New steel stairs lead to bedrooms and bathrooms while the hanging lamp was part of the original factory.

This old factory on the edge of Paris is full of surprises: it’s a dream in a magazine that became a reality, a domestic home that is also a busy workplace, an industrial space full of charm and intimacy.

Expect the Unexpected

Appearances can be deceptive. The outside of this former boiler making factory in Montreuil, on the outskirts of Paris, gives away little about its interior. Within the rehabilitated industrial building and one-time art studio lies 300m2 of residential and work space. It’s a wonderful surprise.

Cécile Halley des Fontaines had a crush on this house 10 years ago. It began as she was flicking through an interiors magazine that featured the work of then owner, artist Claire Basler.

“We loved the façade,” recalls Halley des Fontaines. “We did not absolutely know where it was. Later, we were looking to buy a house in Paris and one day an estate agent presented it to us.”

Being an architect, she needed a space that would both welcome her design agency’s collaborators and be a home for her family of six. “We found an extraordinary light and a magnificent, rich garden.”

The artist studio, which had a seven-metre-high ceiling, was transformed into a family home by redesigning the existing space and playing with contrasting volumes. The ceiling was lowered in the open-plan kitchen to make it a more intimate layout. Remodelling the space was not without its challenges. “The industrial spirit could not be removed without losing the soul of the place,” says Halley des Fontaines. “On the other hand, the existing architecture was poor.

We kept elements such as the passageway, which we divided in two and moved to create a circulation space on the first floor.”

On the ground floor, the vast living area of 180m2 adjoins the agency, which takes on projects varying from interior architectural design to corporate identity and product packaging.

“I have a space dedicated to my work,” says Halley des Fontaines. “It has allowed me to develop my business.”

The rest of the building serves a dual purpose. “It is a mixed place. During the day, I receive my customers and organise meetings on the big table, and in the evening, we eat or gather here with my husband and our four children.” She feels privileged to have this large living room, she says. In contrast, the five bedrooms upstairs are of more modest sizes, from 8 to 15m2 each.

“My husband wanted to live in a family home. That’s why I introduced materials of character, which would appear as though they had been here from the original building – antique doors with Haussmann locks,for example.

“The floor tiles were also bought second hand: they look as if they were there when we arrived. These materials brought the charm and warmth, which were lacking,” Halley des Fontaines says. The colour scheme is dominated by greys, which vary according to the time of day.

“I looked for a soft, enveloping tint that would play with the daylight in the house,” she explains.

Bright furniture and fabrics liven up the monochrome, bringing a cozy element to the spaces which – downstairs at least – are still on an industrial scale. “It is not easy to furnish such a room,” admits Halley des Fontaines. “Even an XXL 4 x 3 metre rug seems lost. I like this bareness, though, it is restful.

“To live in 300m2 changes everything and gives an immense sensation of freedom of life and movement. It’s a little bit as if we are on holiday all year.”

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