A Paris Apartment That Mixes Contemporary Art and Design

By the time Megan Grehl finally met Côme Ménage, it felt as if their relationship was meant to be. Both had studied architecture and urban design internationally, and when Ms. Grehl landed in Shanghai in 2009 to work at the design firm Neri&Hu, she heard stories about Mr. Ménage, who had just left.

“We missed each other by a month,” said Ms. Grehl, 37, who now runs her own interior design studio. “Our friends were like, ‘Oh, it’s too bad. You just missed Côme. He went to New York, and you guys would have gotten along so well.’”

Ms. Grehl didn’t think much of it at the time, but five years later, after she’d moved to New York, she and Mr. Ménage began following each other on Instagram. When she posted a photo of the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, brownstone where she had rented an apartment, Mr. Ménage got in touch. It turned out they were next-door neighbors.

Côme Ménage, a Brooklyn-based architect, and his wife, Megan Grehl, an interior designer, renovated his 19th-century apartment in Paris as their second home.Credit…Zack DeZon

They became fast friends, and then a couple, marrying in 2017. Eventually, they moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they now live with their children, Yves, 5, and Ren, 1.

But when Ms. Grehl married Mr. Ménage, she got more than just a husband and a family — she got a home in the heart of Paris.

Mr. Ménage, 39, who grew up in France, lived a peripatetic life for years. But when he moved to New York, he decided he wanted to maintain a foothold in Paris. “I took an apartment that I could go back and forth to, and that some of my family members could sometimes use,” said Mr. Ménage, an architect who founded the firm Re-A.D, which works in the United States and France.

The apartment in the Ninth Arrondissement was a rental, “and it was a deal,” he said, “because the whole building had to be renovated.” Initially, he was paying about 3,500 euros (about $3,900) a month, but the rent has since increased to about 4,000 euros (about $4,500).

Before he met Ms. Grehl, Mr. Ménage made some basic changes. “It was your typical Paris Haussmann-style apartment, with a grand salon,” he said, that had plenty of ornate 19th-century details, and a back corridor leading to a cramped kitchen and bathroom. To make those back spaces feel larger, Mr. Ménage knocked down one wall of the old kitchen and concealed a back stairwell to make space for a powder room and a larger bathroom.

“It was actually quite simple,” he said. “But once Megan came into my life, I brought her here and she was inspired, and that spurred the idea to do more.”

Ms. Grehl also met Mr. Ménage’s mother, Odile Vilain, a massage therapist who sometimes invited clients to the apartment, and the pair hit it off. Before long, the family planned to give the apartment a significant decorative boost, mixing contemporary art and design, finds from Parisian flea markets and Asian-inspired elements, in a nod to Ms. Grehl’s background (her mother is Taiwanese and she grew up in Asia).

In the living room, or grand salon, they maintained the original plaster details, but gave the room an eclectic look by furnishing it with modern pieces, including a vintage Artichoke pendant lamp by Poul Henningsen, a bulbous Culbuto chair by Marc Held and a graffiti-style painting by an artist friend who goes by the name Chanoir.

In the dining room, they took a more daring approach, painting the original paneled walls black and gold, and letting the gold fade toward the top, “to draw the eye up to the ceiling,” Ms. Grehl said, “because it’s so beautiful.”

Inspired by the Japanese artist Hokusai, they ordered custom wallpaper featuring waves and figures from the artist’s work; the graphic pattern now covers some kitchen walls. Then they installed Ikea cabinets, a wood countertop and backsplash, Gaggenau appliances and a painted tablecloth depicting fish that they repurposed as a wall-mounted artwork.

They gave their bedroom a fresh treatment with simple white drapery and a pedant lamp from Merci with a fabric shade, then transformed the second bedroom into a spa for Ms. Vilain, placing a console by Philippe Starck over a miniature garden of dried moss, grasses and flowers.

The result: an 1,800-square-foot apartment where each room evokes a particular feeling.

“It’s good to have different concepts for different rooms,” Mr. Ménage said. “As you find more pieces, you’re not tied down, trying to be coherent across all of the spaces.”

He added: “It allows for more experimentation and gives us more freedom” to shop the flea markets.

Mr. Ménage estimated that they spent about 120,000 euros (or $134,000) updating the apartment. They inquired about buying it, but the owner wasn’t interested, so for the foreseeable future they will continue renting.

“The idea is to have it for a very long time,” Mr. Ménage said. And because of that, investing in updates “just makes sense, for the comfort of everybody.”

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