Converted Prado Apartment Becomes Liveable Family Home in Marseille

Just steps from the Prado beaches of Marseille in France, Architect Maurice Padovani created a livable and stylish home for a young family. The renovated space is light, airy and comfortable, with plenty of high-design touches. The home was actually a small unit next to a stable that the family had refashioned in three phases.

Opening up the ceiling makes the space feel larger.
Opening up the ceiling makes the space feel larger.

In the early nineties, the family — with two young children — established the living are on the first floor, which meant the children had to temporarily share a bedroom. In doing this, Padovani removed all the walls and drop ceilings in the space, opening up the area and revealing a complex and attractive framework of beams and pitched ceiling.

The decor in the neutral-hued space is the artful chandelier, which is Zettel’z 5 by Ingo Maurer. It is made of stainless steel and heat-resistant satin-frosted glass. The “shades” are actually 40 printed and 40 blank sheets of Japanese paper. It’s a highly creative fixture for the owners, as the blank sheets of paper are meant for personal messages and drawings. All of the furnishings are clean-lined to help keep the space open. Floor to ceiling shelving provides plenty of storage and display space.

A minimum of accessories keeps the look clean and modern.View in gallery
A minimum of accessories keeps the look clean and modern.

The main wall’s top is entirely open and a staircase made from a folded length of galvanized steel dominates the end of the room. The white beams and soaring trusses draw the eye upward, visually expanding the space and magnifying the natural light. Its creates a bright and relaxing space for the family.

A neutral color palette creates a serene atmosphere.
A neutral color palette creates a serene atmosphere.
The dark metal of the stairs makes them stand out in the light, neutral room.
The dark metal of the stairs makes them stand out in the light, neutral room.

A counterpoint to the dark stairs is the Pipistrello table lamp designed by Gae Aulenti for Martineli Luce in 1965. The lamp has a conical stainless steel base that telescopes for adjustable height. The fixture is also comprised of methacrylate, formed with a novel technique for the era in which it was created.

Low profile furnishings help maintain an open feeling.
Low profile furnishings help maintain an open feeling.

The stairway is firmly fixed to a structure hidden within the wall. The wainscoting was whitened and sanded too yield a special  “céruse” look that involves a special bleaching technique. The same finish is used on the living room’s bookcase, the wardrobes in the children’s rooms and for the furniture in the master bedroom. The wooden chairs in the room are a celebrated design by Charles and Ray Eames called LCW from their Plywood Group. Made from molded ash plywood, they are as popular today as they were in the heyday of their design in 1945.

The stairs offer a design opportunity with the two wall finishes.View in gallery
The stairs offer a design opportunity with the two wall finishes.

In the next phase a few years later, the family purchased the semi basement as well as an outbuilding on the property. In this space, the design again opens up the main walls and ceiling area, allowing light to flow through. Instead of masonry walls, this floor uses steel. The main living area of the home is moved to the ground floor, allowing the family to make the most use of the adjoining garden area. The paper chandelier was also relocated to the ground floor.

Large sliding doors make the most of the sun and warmth of southern France.
Large sliding doors make the most of the sun and warmth of southern France.
Furnishings with a low profile are again used in the new living space.
Furnishings with a low profile are again used in the new living space.

The same neutral palette from the upper floor is repeated in the new family space. Antique freight pallets were given metal legs and converted into coffee tables, which sit in front of a Greg couch by Zanotta. The modular sofa has polished aluminum alloy feet and  a removable cover that can be made in fabric or leather. A metal frame holds elastic suspension strips. The room also features two black RAR chairs by Charles & Ray Eames for Vitra. These armchairs are updated versions of the iconic fiberglass originals, now made of polypropylene and aluminum. The piece is known for its role in design history as the first industrially produced plastic chair. A version without armrests is also available, and both could be used outdoors as well.

Iconic pieces mixed with modern items make for an eclectic and stylish room.
Iconic pieces mixed with modern items make for an eclectic and stylish room.
A mix of natural materials creates an earthy, grounded space.
A mix of natural materials creates an earthy, grounded space.

The living room includes another iconic design piece: Airborne’s AA seat in a version made from leather and steel version. The durable leather seat was designed by French designer Charles Bernard in 1951 and endures as a classic piece to this day. The warm leather is a good match for the other natural materials in the room. The upcycled tables are highlighted by a pair of  meticulously restored industrial workshop lamps that enhance the rugged feel of the coffee tables.

The wall dividing the buildings is now a seamless part of the living space.
The wall dividing the buildings is now a seamless part of the living space.

The same wood used on the first floor of the home is again used throughout the lower level for continuity. The large wall that originally separated the house and the outbuilding, which are now attached, is covered in a sculpted mdf wainscoting to help mitigate moisture issues. The installation was done with a gap between the panel and the wall to create air flow to help suppress humidity and any adverse effects. The undulating surface design of the panel adds texture and plays the light in an interesting fashion.

The kitchen has two lacquered white counter units, both of which are not attached to the walls, making them more like pieces of furniture than typical integrated cabinet and counter components. The taller and larger unit is meant for storing tools, dishes and supplies. The lower island is a functional prep area with a sink for dish washing. The countertop is just a zinc sheet in an aluminum frame the has a slight gap to accentuates the feeling that it is suspended.

Above the island, two Diesel Rock lamps from Foscarini illuminate the countertop. The black shades have an irregularly faceted surface like volcanic rock that has broken open to reveal a jewel. Similarly, the outside of the lamp is dark, and the inside is bright like a diamond. It can also be purchased in white or gold finishes. At the other end of the island, the Elica Twin stainless hood supplies ventilation for the cooktop, as well as additional light from its integrated light unit.

The living area is a seamless, open plan space.
The living area is a seamless, open plan space.

The adjoining dining room features a modern and open hearth, that is composed of three gray, cast iron sheets that were custom molded for the space. The heart includes room to store extra wood, which serves as a design element when the fireplace is not being used.

A corner unit without the typical mantle is sleek and modern.
A corner unit without the typical mantle is sleek and modern.
The hearth is a focal point in the dining room.
The hearth is a focal point in the dining room.

A clean-lined, expanding table with Scandinavian sensibilities centers the dining room. Surrounding the table are the “la Leggera” dining chairs by Riccardo Blumer for Alias. The solid wood seats are filled with expanded polyurethane, making them strong and light — as well as stackable. The prize-winning design has been displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Centre George Pompidou in Paris and at the Milan Triennale. Available with or without arms, it’s a modern classic appropriate for any family dining space.

Sliding doors allow for a great view of the patio, and for good flow outdoors when entertaining.
Sliding doors allow for a great view of the patio, and for good flow outdoors when entertaining.

Instead of the traditional suspended chandelier of pendants above the dining table, the designer used a short version of Foscarini’s Twiggy floor lamp. It is known as a contemporary version of the original Arco lamp designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. Using a floor lamp to light a dining table is a novel and unexpected design choice.

Using a floor lamp keeps the upper lines of the space unobstructed.
Using a floor lamp keeps the upper lines of the space unobstructed.
Iconic chairs are classic and comfortable.
Iconic chairs are classic and comfortable.

At the side of the dining room, Imari’s free-standing chest of drawers serves as a sideboard. The solid oak piece blends all with the other design elements and is versatile enough to be moved to another room if necessary. It is also the perfect base for the Tolomeo table lamp from Artemede. The aluminum lamps can be used to highlight the minimalist artworks or repositioned to add light to the rest of the dining room. They are also a lovely decor element in and of themselves.

Modern art and lamps pair well with the rustic wood dresserView in gallery
Modern art and lamps pair well with the rustic wood dresser

Back on the first floor, the former kitchen space was transformed into two bathrooms, while a new bedroom was added under the  mezzanine for the second child. The bathroom also maintains an earthy feel with mosaic tile walls and an inlaid pebble floor that continues into the glass-walled shower. A wide washbasin sits atop the open vanity, which matched the open storage shelves. It’s clear that the open-plan format was very important in the homes design as it follows through into the bathroom as well.

An open plan space can still include plenty of storage space.
An open plan space can still include plenty of storage space.
Extra storage is hidden behind the mirrors.View in gallery
Extra storage is hidden behind the mirrors.
The shower is roomy and because the floor continues throughout, it does not need a door.View in gallery
The shower is roomy and because the floor continues throughout, it does not need a door.

The master bedroom area is tucked away in the loft area, which gives it a private but airy environment. Integrated storage and wardrobe areas, as well as a desk tucked away in the corner, make a functional and uncluttered bedroom space. The same wall treatment as the floor below covers the custom furniture and storage units.

Skylights bring in additional natural light to keep it from being too dark.
A bookshelf above the bed is perfect for nighttime reading material or family photos.
The view to the room below is seen through the old beams.