The Making of a Perfect Pied-a-terre: An interview with the celebrated designer, Gisela Trigano discusses the secret behind Elite Destination Homes’ gorgeous shared ownership properties in Paris.

Elite Destination Homes has always been synonymous with the most beautiful properties in the world’s best locations, counting a sumptuous New York pied-à-terre, an oceanfront penthouse in Los Cabos and a villa on the beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands amongst its portfolio of stunning properties.

But there’s something about Paris that demands more than just the usual luxury outfitting. The perfect Paris pied-à-terre requires design that pays homage to Paris’ history, decor that doesn’t sacrifice intimacy, elements that perfectly blend the modern and antique – all while keeping a healthy respect for the city’s rich architectural past in sight. To achieve just that, Elite tapped none other then Gisela Trigano, the celebrated designer of private residences and luxury hotels around the world. We recently sat down with Gisela to find out more about her, her tastes, the challenges to creating a sublime Paris pied-à-terre and her specific plans for Elite’s newest private, co-ownership offering on the exclusive rue de l’Université in the ultra-chic Saint-Germain neighborhood of the 7ème arrondissement.

You’ve been a designer for nearly thirty years. How did you get into this line of work? What about it keeps you going?

I started my career as a fashion model, which segued into a decade of clothing design. I had my first big decorating project in 1986, a Club Med Resort in Portugal. and expanded my work in interior decorating and design from there. Since then, most of my work is private homes, destination resorts, and luxury hotels.

Each project requires a unique balance – no two spaces are alike, and no two clients are alike – what makes a good design project a success is bringing bold and fresh vision while respecting the style and particular features of the property and its inhabitants.

How does your design approach achieve that?

For a truly successful project, you must acknowledge that its inhabitants are not living a static existence – as their lives progress their needs and desires for the space also evolve. The property needs to be able to grow and adapt without requiring a total redo as time passes. I want to create a well-designed property that is finished, but interchangeable –the pieces must be able to fit together in a variety of ways depending on the lifestyle of its inhabitants, so that each one can make it their “home”. I try to mix textures and materials, and explore new ideas with each property I work on. This freedom, this movement, allows each person to dream, and to feel like a true owner of the space. I particularly enjoy the challenge of modernizing old spaces – finding the right balance between accentuating the history and affording the modern amenities that are essential to comfortable living today.

Is that why you have done so many projects in Paris? That mix of the old and new?

It is not only why I like to work here, it is why I love living here. The buildings, the monuments, the history are what make Paris like no other place in the world. Everything spans centuries, with architecture built for royalty, aristocrats, the working man. Each type of building has its own interesting and unique character and features that can be modernized but must always be respected. I get excited about that with every project I accept here. Because I’m intimately acquainted with Paris, all my projects benefit from those that came before it – I know what to expect in these differing architectural styles, and I have extraordinary craftsmen and furnishing and materials resources that I’ve gathered over the past several decades.

How much of your own personal taste do you bring to your design and décor for clients?

My personal taste, not much. In my own home, I’m passionate about primitive art, which is not exactly the classic Paris pied-à-terre look. But I do like a wide mix of styles in my own life, and I try to bring that to my projects. I’ve traveled extensively and had the privilege to work with artistic and design talents from around the world. The key ingredient is to stay true to the style of a property, and to keep a focus on its purpose – who lives there or goes there, how long is the usual stay, what do you need to feel at home even when the “home” is for a short visit. If the client is a private individual or family, I look at their lifestyle and how best to make the property a comfortable extension of that. My taste then steers me to certain shops, brands, colors and combinations, but in keeping with the client’s style of living. A combination of modern and antique, and the right mix of wall colors, textures or building materials, brings that vision to life. How you bring it together is the key: everything can fit if it’s done right.

What projects are you working on today, and why?

I am fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose my clients, and I keep my workload to a minimum to work only on projects I think are truly interesting. Besides the Elite apartments, my two most recent projects were private homes: a 7000 m2 (75,000 square feet) home on the beach in Bali and a grand villa in Saudi Arabia. Both were incredibly luxurious, and I enjoyed a role not only as the interior designer but in laying out the spaces and designing the flow of the properties. Quite different from working within the walls of a Paris apartment!

Why did you take on the Elite apartments in Paris? What has made these interesting for you?

Elite’s concept of offering a vacation home to a small group of owners and a luxury rental property to non-owners creates a very particular challenge from a design perspective. As I said before, the property has to inherently be able to adapt itself to the changing needs of those who use it. For example, the Elite apartments need to work for a jet-set couple from London, a young family from Minnesota, a retired couple with eight grandchildren from Canada. Add to that a world of unknown renters looking for a luxury pied-à-terre experience in Paris, and the challenges become clear: luxury without being fragile, furnishings that can accommodate large numbers but that still feel like a good fit for only one guest or two. Each guest or owner needs to feel like the place belongs to him or her alone. You can’t suit everyone’s style and taste, so you must find the middle ground without being boring. These challenges really stimulate me.

Soon you will have three Elite apartments under your belt. Is it becoming cookie cutter?

Far from it! My client is not simply Elite, it is Elite and its diverse group of owners and renters. I must make the property feel equally like “home” to each of these individuals. Of course, their tastes in décor will not be the same, but it’s still vital that I’m able to achieve a property that is a pleasure for each of them.

The apartments are all located in the heart of Saint Germain des Pres, the epicenter of historic and fashionable Paris, but the similarities end there. There are no two apartments alike in Paris, and you can say the same for Elite apartments. The task in each has been to end up with a 3-bedroom apartment in about 100 to 120m2; the challenge is to create the needed useful spaces without ending up with an apartment that would feel too static or stuffy. Each of the three has had it’s own personality and good bones, but with different needs demanding a fresh approach each time.

How so?

The first property on the rue du Four had been recently redone to a very high standard. It had a smart layout with neat, compact rooms that were efficient and spacious at the same time. That project was about selecting color patterns, furnishings, lighting and design objects that complimented what was already there.

The second property on rue des Saints Peres was entirely different. One woman had lived there for over 70 years, so when we started work we found outlines in dust where old paintings and photographs had hung for well over 50 years. We radically transformed the floor plan from a very large one bedroom with expansive sitting rooms to a three bedroom and two and a half bath apartment, added air conditioning, a study area, a living and a dining room. It was like clay with which we molded our vision from start to finish.

The newest property, at rue de l’Université, is a combination of the two. It was in good condition but the renovations were not up to the standard that Elite holds for its properties. So at RDU there was a lot of determining what to keep and what to redo, how to maximize the space for our needs without adding unnecessary expense to the renovation and decorating.

Elite’s properties are an investment, both for Elite and the owners who share the property. The result must modernize the apartments while staying true to their original features. My vision must deliver a beautiful and stylish result while staying in budget.

So what is your vision for RDU?

The RDU apartment is like a jewelry box – literally, it’s square in shape, and there is a continuity and natural organization that flows from the way the rooms interconnect that must be respected. The contents of a jewelry box are gems, fantasy, love, memories. You must have those elements for it to work, but – like any box – it has to be practical and sturdy and well-designed so that it does justice to its contents.

It’s a space that cries out for each room to have it’s own identity, but with a thread of continuity and a memory of the other rooms. Moving from one room to another I want to create the experience of being inside the jewelry box, of being surrounded by the room’s identity and then relaxing in a comfortable but not overdone interior.

Our biggest layout change in the RDU apartment has been to create an open kitchen with a dining area in what was previously the living space. We’ve designed it so that the obvious kitchen elements hide behind the archway into the living room making it convenient yet not imposing on the primary living space. When viewed from the living room, only the dining area will be visible so that it’s not abundantly obvious that it’s a working kitchen. It is ample enough for the serious chef, but no longer tucked in a far corner for the guest who wants to enjoy an espresso with his morning paper. This change additionally organizes the apartment into distinctive public and private spaces, that is to say the bedrooms and the reception rooms.

How will you bring the RDU apartment to life?

I want to capture the jewel box feeling with the walls: I am playing with oak paneling in one room, muted period wallpaper in another, paint in blues and whites for one room. The walls are complimented by furnishings as further showpieces, rather than themselves being the only highlight of each room. Furnishings that feel light and comfortable, that pay tribute to old Parisian style and the beauty of the apartment, at the same time being comfortable and inviting. The mix will be antique and modern, silks
and leathers.

In line with creating a space that works for a lot of different people and lifestyles, the furnishings, in muted tones, can eventually be switched around between the rooms if needs change over the years. And like any jewelry box, its highlights will be its small gems – little objects here and there that play to your fantasy and whimsy. I have a few things already tucked away….

When can we hope to see the final project?

Any good property takes time, and this one is no exception. The reality is that, when Elite bought the apartment, we thought that there would be far less to do. As we started our work, we realized that a good deal of what was there did not meet Elite’s quality standards and would need to be redone which set us back on our timing. I know that Elite and their owners are eager for delivery, but the added wait for everything to be just right, is always worth it. We are currently looking at a finished apartment by the beginning of May 2009.

The Property at Rue de l’Université

A stylish, 3 bedroom apartment centrally located in Paris’ 7eme arrondissement, steps from many of Paris’s most popular attractions, best shopping, and exclusive art and antique galleries. Visit the Musee d’Orsay everyday if you wish, it’s at the end of the street!

The building, nestled between a private mansion, a large cobblestone courtyard and a French Ministry, is located on the chic rue de l’Université (which counts Karl Lagerfeld amongst its illustrious residents). The apartment was selected only after an exhaustive 24 month search search to find the perfect property in this very exclusive area. The property was purchased from a former American Ambassador (and widow of a former CIA Director) who spent many happy years in the apartment, if only the walls could talk!

• 3 bedrooms with 2 bathrooms
• 1225 square feet
• Designed by renowned Parisian decorator Gisela Trigano
• Southern exposure, great light throughout the day
• Parquet floors and ornate mouldings
• Gourmet, eat-in kitchen with designer stone countertops
• Living room with working fireplace
• Luxurious modern bathrooms with designer fittings
• Elevator
• Full size washer & dryer
• Extremely quiet apartment with chirping birds and light breezes when the windows are left open – a truly relaxing retreat
• Secure access with door code and concierge
• Wireless Internet and Satellite TV
• Unused weeks are rented for you
• Secure, individual storage
• And much, much more..

As an owner you will experience all of the benefits of your vacation home with none of the worry or drudgery that home ownership traditionally entails. You will also have the option of pampering yourself with an assortment of concierge services. Many of our co-owners tell us that the greatest benefit of our vacation home offerings is the level of care and service we provide. Owners love having no worry or responsibility for the maintenance of their home or the management of their investment. The privacy and small size of the group, and the fairness of all of the systems we have developed for vacation time, rental income and cost allocation make this a carefree and equitable real estate investment.

Our fractional ownership homes different from traditional fractional ownership homes in some fundamental ways:

• Privacy. Our co-ownership groups are small, typically no more than five owners per home. desirable, exclusive, and private locations.
• Investment Quality. Because we buy smart and have a fair fee structure, the appreciation on the property goes to you.
• Unique Co-Owner Selection. We have a unique mutual due diligence process that assesses whether co-ownership is right thing for you.
• Property Management and Concierge Services. We not only take care of all aspects of property management and administration, we will pamper you with a comprehensive suite of concierge services to assure that your vacations are memorable, meaningful, and totally trouble-free.
• Rental Income. We rent out the weeks that you’re not there to create an income stream for you.

The Floorplan
Take a look at Elite’s previous private, co-ownership projects: