How to introduce a full-size stair that’s both unobtrusive and artful? Presented with two floors in an 1830s Paris building that needed to be knit together, architects Hélène Pinaud and Julien Schwartzmann of Heju came up with the idea of elevating the steps above the kitchen—with a counter that extends out to become the stair landing.
The spaces called for such derring-do: each floor is 50 square meters (538 square feet) and there was a lot to fit in. The downstairs had always been used as living quarters and was last updated in the 1970s; the upstairs remained an unfinished garret, once a carpentry workshop, accessed by the building’s communal stair—scroll to the end for a glimpse of what was.
Heju was tasked with updating both levels for a newly married couple in their fifties. The transformation required “a huge amount of structural work,” say the architects, whose playful take on minimalism we’ve been following just about since they graduated from the National School of Architecture in Strasbourg in 2015 (Heju is a combination of their two names). Join us for a look at the craftsmanship and cohesion they introduced both upstairs and down.
Photography courtesy of
Heju. Lower Level: The Living Quarters Above: Located in a five-story building on Rue Faubourg du Saint-Antoine, the apartment has an open-plan first floor (see floor plans below). The built-in shelves are composed of plasterboard finished with limewash: “we wanted them to look like a wall, as if they’ve always been there,” says Hélène. The sling chair is Ferm Living’s Desert Lounge and the circular side table is from India Mahdavi’s collection for Monoprix.
The metal-framed windows are new additions that look like the originals but are high performing. The radiator cover is tinted ash, a material that reappears as the stair railing, and the floor is polished concrete.
Above: The archways create niches for displaying art and objects. The lower cabinets are made of Baltic birch, which the designers used for storage on both levels. Note the carved recessed handles; they’re applied vertically here and horizontally in the kitchen.
The white limewash on the walls throughout is Papier Washi from the
Heju Collection for French paint company Ressource.
Above: A first look at the ingenious stair solution—the pale pink lower steps are made of wood coated with waxed concrete. The Mags sofa is from Hay and the coffee table is by artist Baptiste Lanne. Above: The kitchen has an Ethnicraft table and vintage Danish moderne Niels Otto Moller Model 75 chairs. The hanging light is from Dutch interiors line HK Living.
The lacquered wood cabinets in the back conceal the fridge and pantry and serve as a divider—behind them is the entryway, closet, and powder room, with room to circulate on both sides.
Above: A brass sink is inset into the aforementioned hardworking counter of quartz: learn about the material in Remodeling 101: 7 Things to Know About Engineered Quartz Countertops. Above: The elevated staircase has an enclosure of white powder-coated steel. “We tried a lot of organizations, but placing the stair on top of the kitchen was the optimal one in terms of the sense of space,” says Hélène. “It was really hard to execute. We wanted the stairs to look like a folded sheet of paper, so they don’t feel heavy and they appear as a separate element from the kitchen.” Above: The kitchen counter and cabinets extend all the way to the end finished with an under-the-stair cupboard. “Yes, it’s okay to walk on quartz,” Hélène assures—it’s out of the way of the food prep and not slippery. Above: The architects had planned to include a railing but the owners of the apartment opted to leave the landing open—”there’s plenty of space, so our clients didn’t think it was dangerous. Their children are adults and we can always add a railing if they want.”
The long-armed light over the sofa is a Charlotte Perriand design from Nemo Lighting.
The Attic: Bedrooms and Baths Above: The top floor had previously been used for storage—”there was nothing in there, not even a real floor,” Hélène tells us. “We just kept the old beams.” The challenge was to fit two bedrooms—one for the couple, the other for the husband’s daughter—plus two bathrooms and a home office on the floor. Above: The main bedroom has a bank of Baltic birch storage cabinets and a multi-tasking fluted headboard. Above: “The headboard is the center of the room, so we wanted it to be special,” says Hélène. “It becomes a chest of drawers on the back and there are niches on the sides for storing phones and books.” The skylights on the floor took the place of the existing small windows. Above: The sink vanity is a companion piece to the headboard. The brass faucets are from Cascade in Paris. Above: The curved walls are waxed concrete, a material Hélène describes as “pure and soft, but you have to be really careful when you apply it.” The clients, she explains, “wanted to have a bathroom like the one you can when you’re on vacation.” Above: The second bedroom has its own custom headboard, plus an en suite Riluxa bathtub and Alape sink tucked under an eave. Above: The architects also managed to include a built-in work area. Planes of pale wood, they point out, “surround the whole room, from the headboard to the desk.” Niels Otto Moller’s Model 75 chairs used around the dining table reappear here as a desk chair. Before Above: The tiled living area had a brick fireplace built by the previous owner in the 1970s. Above: The apartment had a compact kitchen and a curious shower. Above: The unfinished attic was once used as a carpentry workshop. Above: The attic was accessed by the building’s communal stair and over the decades had barely been touched. Floor Plans Above: The kitchen flows into the living area. Above: The architects managed to make full use of every inch of the attic. The chambre secondiare has its own sink and tub, and also has access to the main bathroom.
More projects by Heju: