Panama Apartment, Paris

Function, flexibility, and fluidity guided the design of this 47sqm/505sqft apartment, nestled in an early 20th-century building within the lively Goutte d’Or district of Paris. Architect and ovo/studio–founder Bertille Bordja embraced inspiration from the existing architectural features and the client’s ’70s furniture to build a harmonious marriage of the past and the present in this starter home.

Initially, the client hired Bordja only to help remove the walls around the kitchen; however, this quickly evolved into a renovation of the entire apartment. The space had not been renovated in some time and bore the hallmarks of older design, most notably in its enclosed kitchen and the small, dark bathroom. With the renovation, they sought to spread a feeling of warmth throughout the whole apartment with both materials and natural light.

Removing the kitchen walls entirely transformed the atmosphere and functionality of the apartment from the moment of entry. The door now opens into a view of the kitchen and receives some of the natural light from the living room windows. The kitchen itself, which flows directly into the generous living and dining area, is finished in a contemporary, minimalist style — with subtle nods to ’70s aesthetics through its curved edges and oak cabinets.

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To keep a sense of openness in the kitchen — allowing it to blend harmoniously with the rest of the home — Bordja kept all cabinets below the counter line and used a light polished concrete for the countertops, as well as mirrors for the splashback.

The approach to designing small spaces is to be very personalised and be a good listener. There is no one set of rules we apply to everyone so it is important to understand their lifestyle and needs.

Bertille Bordja

A large wall storage unit, made from the same oak as the cabinets, serves as a link between the kitchen and the dining room. The curved fronts wrap around the existing metal beam, which nods to the apartment’s past life and unites the structural and decorative elements of the space.

The living-meets-dining room has two large windows that bring in a lot of natural light, offering views of the street below and the lovely Haussmannian building across the way.1 The multipurpose space was designed to be fluid, allowing the client to rearrange it to suit her needs as they evolve.

Floating shelves were added to either side of the old fireplace and a multifunctional storage unit was installed along the base of the living room walls. The unit, which can be used as either a bench to sit on or a surface for displaying artwork and plants, was painted in the same colour as the kitchen counters to tie the whole room together.

Another great feature that was added is the separate powder room and ensuite bathroom. The power room is ideal for guests and has the virtue of sequestering the full bathroom as a private space. A pocket door was used for the powder room to maximise the space and square orange tiles with a ’70s feel — inspired by the Artemide lamp in the living room — were installed to add some warmth.

The ensuite bathroom was kept simple, with a shower, a niche for the toiletries, and a white vanity with a terrazzo basin. The floor and walls were finished in the same polished concrete used in the kitchen, instilling a nuanced continuity throughout the entire apartment.

By responding to not only the existing space but also the client, Bordja created a unified and flexible space that will be able to adapt to the client’s needs as they change with time. A responsive and practical approach she feels is key to small space design: “The approach to designing small spaces is to be very personalised and be a good listener. There is no one set of rules we apply to everyone so it is important to understand their lifestyle and needs.”

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Images by NeverTooSmall & Agathe Tissier-Dumont

  1. Haussmannian, after the prefect Georges-Eugène Haussmann, refers to the style of architecture that came to dominate Paris in the late 19th century as part of a concerted effort to modernise and beautify the city, realised in part through unified building façades. ↩︎