Photo © Michel Denancé

Hermès Rive Gauche

Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure

Paris, France

By Erich Theophile and Steven Yee

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Hermès’s newest emporium has an unassuming facade and a pair of store windows with displays of furniture and flowers that fit neatly into the bourgeois row of shop fronts on the rue de Sèvres in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. They little prepare the visitor for what lies inside: the dazzling renovation of an Art Deco space that once housed a swimming pool, the Piscine Lutetia, next to the fabled and still extant Hotel Lutetia.

The historical elements of the skylit Olympian-scale three-story atrium, with its rich mosaic tiling and balconies edged with elegant iron fretwork balustrades, vaguely recall the luxury and scale of grand department store interiors. The bold introduction of three 27-foot-tall huts — varied in size and made of an open lattice of organically shaped ash wood — suggests a contemporary museum space. This same wood elegantly flanks the new staircase structure that brings the visitor from street level down to the historic pool level — some 12 feet below.

In this adaptive reuse converting an indoor swimming pool into a store, Denis Montel, the architect and managing and artistic director of Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure (RDAI), which has designed a number of Hermès stores, created the undulating structures. These intimate yet permeable display pavilions are intended to “inhabit and divide the space” of the 16,000-square-foot main floor, Montel emphasizes, and establish a dialogue with the rectilinear lines of the 1935 pool interior originally designed by Lucien Béguet. The new biomorphic insertions also successfully mediate the scale between the atrium’s volume and the smaller display counters and merchandise.

Since the site is a registered “monument historique” but is not classified, the law allowed some stylistic leeway in its restoration. “It is rare for a listed building in France to be developed exclusively into a commercial retail space,” Montel notes. Mosaics composed of ceramic and glass tiles in different dimensions and colors constitute a key surviving historic feature of the interior. RDAI restored many of the mosaics and designed new ones for certain areas. Indeed, the floor laid on top of the pool is composed of new ceramic and glass tiles, as well as broken old ones. “The mosaic pattern covering the pool cavity was designed to evoke the movement of waves and shimmering water,” says Montel. “The random approach and use of graduated tones create effects of depth accentuated by the play of light,” he adds.

In the cavity itself the architects inserted steel framing on which the new mosaic floor was laid. The footprint of the former pool is evident from the shallow “gutters” around the perimeter of the main retail floor. The gutters, which are surfaced in these new tiles, were required to be preserved. In the event that Hermès or a future tenant wanted to reinstate the pool, the flooring and its underlying supports can be removed, and the historic gutter locations remain in place.

The small changing cabins, or vestiaires, on the two upper, balconied floors were removed before the site was registered in 2005; now the uninterrupted white walls behind these narrow balconies provide a handsome foil for the original black iron balustrades. But they do make the upper atrium floors appear mysteriously uninhabited, while elsewhere on the entrance level the café/tearoom, a florist, and a bookshop proclaim the new Hermès “experience” — programmatic elements that are hyperdistilled variations of those experiences offered by hip Paris boutiques and shops elsewhere.

This store, the company’s 334th, showcases a line of home furnishings, including most notably the company’s reissues of Jean-Michel Frank’s furniture designs for Hermès, as well as its signature scarves, ties, leather goods, and ready-to-wear clothing. The success of this two-year renovation and restoration project is consonant with the carefully managed Hermès brand itself — a mix of tradition, contemporary craftsmanship, and an ever-evolving definition of luxury.

Erich Theophile, trained as an architect, and Steven Yee are coprincipals of H. Theophile, a New York Architectural hardware company.

13 rue du Mail, Paris 75002
Tel: 33 (0) 1 42 60 04 82
Fax: 33 (0) 1 40 15 04 29

Location: 17 rue de Sèvres, Paris 75006 France

Completion Date: 18th November 2011

Gross square footage: 23,197 sq. ft.

February 2011
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