Interior designer Alexandra de Garidel-Thoron discovered the 300-year-old white marble tub at an auction near Versailles and purchased it for €800. After restoration, she intended it for one of her projects in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland – but little did she realise what sort of trouble she was taking on.
Due to the tub’s 900kg weight, she soon discovered that the bathroom floor in the house had to be reinforced. But there was another crucial problem that needed to be solved. How were they supposed to get the tub upstairs? After a great deal of thought, they decided that there was only one way it would work: from the sky. The transport was timed so that the colossal piece would arrive in Gstaad just before the roof was to be added.
A few days before its arrival, Alexandra received word that the lorry had been detained in customs. Among her purchases from the trip had been an antique fireplace mantle from 1595, which needed to be inspected by a government ministry before it could be exported, as strict rules apply to the export of valuable cultural assets from France. Unable to identify a solution, she immediately hired a second carrier to get the tub to Gstaad on time.
On the day that the new roof was to be placed atop the house, the tub literally arrived at the final hour. A crane put it into position and, when the straps were finally released, it was four o’clock. Just an hour later, the roof was permanently sealed. "That experience almost stripped my nerves bare," recalls the spirited designer from her Thébaïde studio in Geneva.
The 3,000sqft house was for an existing client – Alexandra had previously expanded the premises for his private bank. The man preferred classical interior design, but she had been able to convince him that tradition and value could be incorporated into modern architecture through a bold visual language. The client liked the results of the first project so much that he hired her to do the extension on his holiday home in Gstaad. He had purchased the three-storey chalet from a local general contractor and resold the ground-floor apartment to another buyer, keeping the upper floors for himself. An underground parking garage and a spacious wellness area in the cellar are accessible to both parties.
Wanting to leave nothing to chance, Alexandra requested copies of all the plans; she then redesigned the upper floors. Upstairs, she created a living room with a kitchen, dining area and lounge area under the pitched roof. All of them inhabit a single large space but have been cleverly divided – with a long peninsula between the dining and kitchen areas, and a fireplace that now separates the dining area from the lounge area so it can be used from either side.
The client originally wanted antique marble for the walls, but Alexandra proposed a simple cube, clad in wood. To promote the concept, she had her staff come up with 3D visualisations that managed to win him over. The designer opted for three different species of hardwood: the walls, the built-ins and the doors are a rustic dark spruce; the white glazed boards between the rafters lend the room a sense of lightness; and the floors are crafted from antique wood, though they are light in tone and seem very contemporary.
Many existing pieces of furniture were integrated into the design, such as the wicker-back dining chairs. The dining table was made to measure and covered in a black patina by a local carpenter, while the dishes were custom-made for the client in Limoges, France. The chandelier was also specially made for this project by a local metalworker. The glass screens, from southeastern France, had been uncovered in a shop that makes cylinders that are black on the outside and shimmer with blue on the inside; when the lamp is lit, it exudes a delightful pattern. Serbian artist Marina Abramović watches over it all, captured on paper in a spellbinding way.
Across from two Promemoria sofas upholstered in grey velour is another artwork from the client’s collection: a square monochrome canvas with ornamental frame by Catalan artist Joan Hernández Pijuan, which was acquired in Geneva’s Galerie Rosa Turetsky. Around the corner is a work by Roman artist Pizzi Cannella. "I was able to find most of the works in my client’s storage space," says Alexandra.
The lower floor can be reached by stairs or by a lift. It functions as an independent unit and has three bedrooms and a living room with kitchenette; this is where the client’s daughter spends her holidays. As for the father’s space upstairs, the decorations mainly comprise modern art, antiques and items collected by the interior designer during her travels. "I don’t like soulless decorator’s objects," concludes Alexandra. "Things I find always have a history and a deeper meaning."
Photographer: Reto Guntli | Living Inside