Cover A Paola Lenti rug adds a cosy touch to the terrace

The former Parisian home of a famed French stage actor is reinvented by French interior designer Émilie Bonaventure as a modern abode that nurtures creative and intellectual contemplation

When French interior designer Émilie Bonaventure was tasked to work on a project right in her own backyard, she was immediately drawn to it. The brief from the homeowners was to renovate a hôtel particulier located in the artistic New Athens neighbourhood in Paris; this French townhouse once belonged to 18th-century actor François-Joseph Talma.

“I live in this area, which is very dear to my heart, so everything was instinctive. The area is so rich in creative history that this unique feeling had to be maintained inside this home,” says Bonaventure, who holds a degree in art history from the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and founded her interior design studio, Be-attitude, in 2005.

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This district flourished particularly in the 19th century, when the intellectual and artistic elite of Paris such as writers, musicians and painters settled there and had large houses built, she explains.

“My approach to design is that it must always make sense within its location and environment. One of my main aims was to uphold the location’s theatrical heritage and also to commemorate the vibrant setting of the house’s surroundings. My clients are very cultured, so I wanted the space to represent that, but without being too showy. We were all in agreement that we would make the space a ‘countryside in Paris’, and reintroduce the spirit of New Athens.”

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To update the townhouse for modern needs, Bonaventure’s team completely redesigned the layout of the 1,614 sq ft abode. Since the space was empty and there were no partitions, the rooms were sized and furnished according to the new functions of the home, which had been discussed with the current owners.

“The main challenge when reconstructing the interior space was turning the initially cold atmosphere into a more modern and warmer environment while still paying homage to its classical legacy,” she says.

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To achieve this while evoking a sense of place at the same time, she chose to maintain some traditional elements of the building, such as using classic textures of wood and marble and subtle earthy shades throughout the interior. 

As the home was to serve as a sanctuary its owners could retreat to for inspiration, Bonaventure made it a point to carve out plenty of spaces for relaxation and creation. For instance, the living room, which adjoins the dining room, sports a plush vintage sofa to create another cosy haven for intimate tête-à-têtes. 

The designer also created a media room clad in dark hues and furnished with comfortable seating for private screenings. And for moments of quiet contemplation, the owners may retreat to a peaceful library that looks out to lush views of the garden.

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For authenticity, vintage panelling from the 1970s was specially sourced for the kitchen partitions, which form an understated yet impactful backdrop in the dining room and complement the apartment’s wooden flooring.

“We used only pure and sombre materials; nothing ostentatious. It was of utmost importance to use raw materials such as wood, linen, marble and stone, with an acute attention to detail,” she explains.

In addition, furnishings from design studios Garnier & Linker and Apparatus were commissioned to enhance the bespoke look of the abode. The interior spaces feature a tasteful mix of contemporary and vintage pieces hand-picked by the designer and her team. 

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The living room opens out to the spacious 3,767 sq ft terrace and garden to create a seamless indoor-outdoor social environment that is highly sought after today. The paved garden has been thoughtfully fitted out with charming vignettes such as outdoor chairs and garden benches, where the owners or their guests can escape to for a quiet drink or simply to be immersed in the healing beauty of nature.

On warm summer days, the outdoor dining terrace becomes the focal point of the townhouse when guests gather to break bread and indulge in good company. It is, in many ways, a continuation of the creative flourishing that characterises the vibrant district.

“We wanted this unique essence to be maintained inside the home. At the same time, I wanted to create a simple and comfortable space that is easy to live in and have a connection to the outdoors,” says Bonaventure.

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