During our trip to Paris we were fortunate to visit Maison de Verre, a former 18th century townhouse turned into a modern dwelling by Pierre Chareau in 1928. There was no precedent for how he created this house considering that Chareau could not touch the top floor of the existing building. An “old lady” was living there who could not be moved. So he left the top floor intact and replaced the exterior of the lower levels with translucent glass bricks, completely re-imagined the interior space, installed remotely controlled swiveling windows, and divided the interior with perforated metal screens that either rotate or slide. There are no plastered walls in this amazing glass box.
We thought we had the wrong address for the visit because from the street the house is invisible. It is an amazing juxtaposition to cross a typical cobble stone courtyard and approach its glass facade. This was the home of Dr. Jean and Annie Dalsace. It served both as their residence and the doctor’s office. The doctor occupied the ground floor with his office, waiting room, examination room and laboratory. The two upper floors were family functional and entertaining spaces. Like the first floor, the rest of the house uses contemporary materials including black lacquer built in cupboards, perforated screens, rubber floor tiles and terrazzo. The upper floors are a fabulous open living space with sky high tall bookcases and furniture designed by Chareau, a small salon for Mrs. Dalsace, bedrooms, and baths.
Our exceptional docent/curator, Mary Johnson, fully understood the subtleties, intricacies and transformative architecture in the house. There are many secrets, from the telephone booth used primarily by the doctor to the surprise unfolding of the space itself viewed from the bottom of the main staircase. Exposed structural columns with rivets and bolts, a lack of “decoration” and integration of ergonomics, the house easily accommodated a pioneering young doctor, the art of family life and the entertaining of friends.
This is a bold house. Its interior spaces can expand or shrink at will. The furnishings used fabrics from lemon-yellow upholstery tapestries to dark blue carpets. This was the house of an owner with a great imagination and determination and an architect who was willing to innovate and create imaginative solutions.