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Interiors: Industrial heritage with lofty ambitions

Repurposed former industrial buildings in Paris are ideal canvases for modern design, says Caroline Clifton-Mogg

New York will always be associated with lofts and giant warehouses, from which spacious contemporary apartments that revel in the industrial skeleton of the buildings, have been carved.

However, Paris has always been a city of small industries, with craftsmen such as gold- and silversmiths, printers and, of course, workers in those speciality skills associated with couture and haute couture – in the 19th century these included such rare birds as plume makers, sequin sewers, and corsage makers.

Through the nature of their occupations, these craftsmen tended to work in smaller-scale ateliers and workshops, some of which were built on an almost quasi-domestic scale, and were scattered through the city and the then surrounding villages. Many of these buildings, often well built and designed, are now being converted with relative ease into domestic dwellings of striking appearance.

Industrial structures, of course, make perfect living spaces– at least, they do when they are converted with care and a certain sensitivity, as well as an imaginative architect’s eye. Large, obviously, and with good proportions, the bare bones should be a designer’s dream; the area is, after all, a bare canvas, a freewheeling space in which to extend the imagination and creativity, and somewhere to take advantage of the light.

That is what has happened with the interiors featured here: far from being brutalist, they are creative conversions that highlight existing architectural features: metal-framed windows, girders, and beams, load-bearing pillars and often interesting wooden, tiled, or stone floors.

Frequently open plan, or at any rate with flexible living areas, very few are divided into traditional closed rooms with specific roles. When it comes to domesticating the spaces, simple contemporary furniture works well, but so – interestingly – do pieces from other periods, designed for other places and ways of life.

The only proviso is that enough space should be allowed around each piece, and that each piece should be large enough in scale – dainty delicate furniture is easily overpowered, and where there are no molded panels or ornate cornices, furniture must be bold enough to stand on its own without help. So, too, should be the choice of art and ornament; the space, the volume, allows for large works of art, paintings, and sculptures as well as oversized lighting, and the colour palette can be broad.

Anything goes, particularly since in almost all the better conversions the choice of wall colour is remarkably unanimous: always white or neutral, perhaps referencing the building’s origins.


Behind an elegant façade on the avenue de Breteuil, this very private place is hidden behind a heavy porte cochere and concealed within an inner courtyard. Nothing at first sight proclaims the existence of an old industrial building – it is perfectly invisible.

Hidden on the street frontage by a row of discreet hôtels particuliers, this edifice of glass and brick, blessed with an enormous terrace and circled with a private garden, immediately enchanted the present owners.

Calm and peace, space and greenery: everything on their wish list in the search for the perfect house. And its industrial heritage meant that they could have all the space they needed in an area of Paris that they wished to live in.

Converted into housing in the 1950s, the former printing works had undergone several transformations before the present one. When the current owners saw it, the original space had been divided up awkwardly, meaning that the rooms were small and the original configuration hidden. They asked the architect Leo Berellini to help rediscover the feeling of the original, as well as the sense of its industrial past.

Leo Berellini has looked at the project as one would a modern loft conversion, reuniting the dining room, living room and kitchen into one fluid space, filled with daylight. He has also unified the floors by using a subtle melange of resin and gray powdered cement throughout.

The striking ceiling is the original industrial brick, carefully cleaned and the pointing repaired. Finally, he restored the original metal beams and structural metal pillars, finishing them in rough, brushed steel to add a contemporary touch. In keeping with this industrial finish the many windows are now framed in metal.

The one contemporary architectural addition was the staircase, so cleverly designed that it hangs as if suspended in space, allowing access to the bedrooms above and the broad, sunny terrace, and acting as a new link between the lower reception spaces and the upper private rooms.

Against this cool and elegant backdrop of architecture and design, all tinted in shades of gray and pale oak, the decorative elements have been entirely the choice of the owner. The possible temptation of opting for a very minimal look to tie in with the industrial heritage of the building was rejected as too isolated and too typecast.

So this departure from the generic obvious has meant that the décor now reflects the true character of the inhabitants. Souvenirs of their travels and their collections of paintings and furniture weave together the strands of the family’s lives and taste.

Piles of books colonise the tables and the shelves, the dog stretches out on the leather seat of the Mies van der Rohe sofa, the children’s drawings hang alongside grander pieces, a bouquet of roses sits on the table – all of these, placed with intuition and delicacy, make the finished work an enviable conversion of a once workaday space.

Buy the book
This is an extract from Hidden Paris by Caroline Clifton-Mogg, published by Gibbs Smith.

The book is available at


Blend wooden or pop-art flourishes and industrial chic in your own home with these purchases from French retailers. Prices and availability correct at time of going to press.

Chêne reaction

Combat stripped back walls and ceilings with cosy furnishings. This 160cm long rectangular Sonoma kitchen table provides relaxed comfort and is great value at just €289.60.

Tam tam turnaround

Recreate iconic pop art chic in your kitchen with this plastic reworking of Henri Massenet’s 1968 design classic, the Tam Tam Tabouret (stool). €25.30, in a range of colours.

Leather loafing

A buttoned, black leather Barcelona sofa – a Ludwig Mies van der Rohe icon from 1929 – contrasts wildly with both the beige fabric sofa and colour splashes around the living room, but it works. This reproduction take on the three-seater is €1,400.

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