Equal parts flamboyance and function, perfectly preserved detailing and fabulous contemporary flair, this newly restored city apartment, originally built in 1897, has been carefully considered and custom-designed from the ceilings down.
Photography by Gaelle Le Boulicaut
Originally built in 1897 in Switzerland’s biggest city, Zürich, this 200m2 duplex represents a Cinderella-like transformation of what used to be two office spaces. And like many things Swiss, a fine timepiece for example, the imaginative and inspirational home is both stylish and perfectly functional, with the greatest of attention having been given to the smallest of details.
When owners Purvi and Frédéric were browsing for an architect, their attention was hooked by the portfolio of Atelier Zürich. With a byline that reads ‘Never Forget How To Kiss’, the firm has a solid reputation for quality and individuality. The couple was drawn to what they describe as Atelier Zürich’s ‘stilsicherheit’, which literally translates to “confidence in style”. A unique result was important to them. A couple of emails later, a meeting was arranged onsite. Atelier Zürich principle Claudia Silberschmidt describes that first meeting as a ‘Wow!’ kind of moment.
At its conclusion, Purviand Frédéric passed her the keys and confidently asked if she would take care of everything – from architecture and design right down to the furnishing and decoration. “It’s so very unusual to get such trust from a client from the very beginning,” says Silberschmidt. “But I loved it.”
And so began the detailed process of getting to know Purviand Frédéric’s taste; modern or classic? Light or dark? Pattern or monochrome? Their favourite materials and colours? It’s been said before, but the job of a good architect lies somewhere between engineering and psychoanalysis. “The more we know, the better we can proceed with the planning and the better and more personal, more customised, the result gets,” says Silberschmidt.
Purvi, a Los Angeles native, has worked with the iconic jewellery house, Tiffany & Co, while Frédéric worked in the watch industry. Luxury is this couple’s milieux. High-end, original style, functionality and a strong identity were all priorities. Made to measure was the only solution.
In concrete terms, the two separate office spaces on two separate levels had to be joined and fitted out as a home for the couple, dog Raja, and any eventual guests. The two levels were identical in their layout, both consisting of a small veranda on the street side at the front of the apartment, and 30m2 adjoining rooms that led back to a small bamboo garden and terrace at the apartment’s rear.
The existing kitchen elements in black stone were recent additions, and its layout functioned well, so the clients saw no reason to change it. Nevertheless, Atelier Zürich transformed it into a veritable talking point by blanketing the walls and ceiling surfaces in an elaborately rich pattern by House of Hackney. Subsequently, the burgundy colour scheme evokes the pleasure obtained from good food and wine – a cave of gourmandise, you might say. The resulting ambience feels more like an intimate club than a kitchen.
A home office was required, as was an exceptional bathroom space, a dressing room, a guest bedroom, a formal dining room, and an informal breakfast lounge. The list of requirements was long but the result displays a fine ability to not only find a place for everything, but to also achieve an impeccable balance in pure and original style, using a diverse palette of materials, patterns, textiles and colours.
The original building plans from 1897 clearly indicated where an internal staircase had been planned, but never built. More than 100 years later, Atelier Zürich made it happen, uniting the two floors into a generous duplex. The customised decor in made to measure proportions, with careful consideration given to each element, gives the space a unique ambience.
Surprising, but never jarring, opulent, old world materials like velvet, leather and marble take on a contemporary twist. Many of the apartment’s original features were preserved. The ceiling mouldings, the radiators and even the doors with their glass and wood partitioning evoke the subtle look of another era, at the same time as having been modernised and integrated into the new scheme with flair.
The opulent patterned creations of House of Hackney’s wall prints dominate the more public parts of the apartment, but that intensity finds a counterpoint in its private spaces, which make use of lighter hues, while still subtly echoing some of the more outré colours found in the other rooms.
The home office is a departure from the rest of the home in a number of senses – a masculine treatment based on Frédéric’s preference for blue tones, interpreted by Atelier Zürich with the use of lavender blue and cognac brown.
Finally, in line with both the client brief and the designer’s style manifesto, most elements of this living composition are custom-designed by Atelier Zürich. Rich materials like rose-veined white marble, European walnut and cognac-tinted leather have been transformed into unique creations using expert Swiss craftsmanship by companies who for over a century have specialised in made-to-order commissions.