French architect and designer Charles Zana is an avid collector. He started acquiring art books from secondhand dealers in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood as a teenager and bought his first objet d’art at 25—a piece of 1950s blue Venini glassware. Today, three decades later, he has accumulated some 300 vases, as well as a wealth of other objects and furniture, mainly by Italian masters like Ettore Sottsass and Andrea Branzi. Over the years Zana has also made a specialty of creating homes for fellow collectors. A house in the chic Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine is a perfect case in point.
Belonging to a fashion-industry couple with four grown children, the property contains an assortment of blue-chip contemporary artworks. Inside the front gate, two Antony Gormley statues stand guard. A concave scarlet wall sculpture by Anish Kapoor makes a striking impression in the entrance hall. “It’s a kind of welcome sign,” enthuses Zana. “It really draws you in.” Takashi Murakami’s Oval Buddha Silver oversees the double living room, and a paint-stick drawing by Richard Serra hangs on a landing. Elsewhere are works by Christopher Wool and Allan McCollum, among others.
The original three-story dwelling dates from the ’50s and had been modified in a rather discordant way since then. “There was no sense of harmony,” Zana notes. “Our task was to create the ideal house that should have been there.”
Inspiration came from the modernist buildings of Robert Mallet-Stevens, famous for his unornamented geometric façades. For the front, Zana commissioned a stained-glass window and door reminiscent of the work of Louis Barillet. The rear now features rhythmic rectangular windows and a series of stepped terraces. An extra story was added to provide a study for the wife.
Much of the furniture was made specifically for the residence, too. There are several bespoke pieces by Christophe Côme (the owners became fans after spotting one of his credenzas in a Chanel boutique).
The Eric Schmitt console in the entrance hall was sized to fit perfectly under the space’s large Richard Prince text painting, and the dining room’s Martin Szekely table was equipped with a brass base to echo the golden tones of a Gabriel Orozco canvas on one wall.
Yet such precise correspondences are exceptions in Zana’s world. “I don’t think you should necessarily look for direct links between the artworks and furniture,” he says. “The common thread should be more a question of quality.”
In revamping the interiors, he opted for a sober and streamlined approach, with strong axes, a largely black-and-white palette, and a smattering of 20th-century design icons like Michel Boyer’s Brasilia table lamps and a Jean Prouvé Visiteur fauteuil. As in many of Zana’s projects, there are also elegant references to classic French architecture, such as the stylized black boiserie in the dining room and the parquet de Versailles in a guest room.
Another constant is the designer’s desire to con- jure environments where the art can evolve. To this end he installed spot lighting that can swivel and move to accommodate new pieces and avoided pan- eling the living room walls so as not to restrict what could be hung there.
Some works, however, are unlikely to ever be displaced. One is the outdoor Thomas Houseago sculpture, which the homeown- ers had originally intended to mount on one of the house’s façades. “Then we thought, That’ll be great for the neighbors, but we won’t have much opportu- nity to admire it,” recalls the wife.
So they fixed it instead to a brick wall in the Peter Wirtz–designed garden in the back, where they can see it from the living room windows. There is also a giant string of glass beads by Jean-Michel Othoniel that dangles 30 feet down the middle of the house’s spiral staircase. And an extremely heavy Jannis Kounellis sculpture in the top-floor study is now attached to an L-shaped stand anchored to the floor.
The study has a decidedly laid-back vibe, with exposed beams and a wood ceiling. The owners wanted it to feel like a studio and, at one point, even envisaged putting in a ballet barre.
The room ended up being dominated by a huge boomerang-shaped oak-and-stone desk by Byung Hoon Choi and has an area for the couple’s grandchildren to pursue artistic activities (under a Pierre Charpin chandelier, no less). A Cindy Sherman photo of a slightly unkempt woman with dreadlocks supervises the scene.
“Every time I look at it, the Charles Aznavour song ‘Tu t’laisses aller’ [“You’re letting yourself go”] comes into my head,” says the wife, laughing. “I stand there and think, You’ve really got to keep yourself together!”