The staircase and downstairs dining area.
In his work, German artist Markus Hansen spends considerable time trying to “undefine” himself. Whether working on films, sculpture installations, or urban projects, he uses his art to explore the contradictions he sees in the world. Eleven years ago, when he designed the apartment that would become his family’s home in Paris’ 5th arrondissement, his intention was quite the opposite. The duplex penthouse apartment—complete with 360 square meters of wraparound balconies and a rooftop terrace—is a study in spatial harmony and fluidity.
“The apartment is more of an experience than it is just a place to be housed,” Markus explains. “I wanted to create a context, which is how I work anyway.” Collaborating with interior architect Pierre-Louis Faloci and landscape architect Pascal Cribier, Markus and his wife, French writer Valentine de Ganay, conceptualized a space that would be both ethereal and comfortable, whimsical and pragmatic. “We don’t really have art here, because we wanted to emphasize the space itself by allowing the eye to move from the inside to the outside.”
The upstairs salon that leads to the terrace.
Over a decade ago, Markus and Valentine set out to find an apartment with outdoor space, unaware that they would soon be the owners of one of Paris’ most spectacular private terraces. “Valentine always wanted an apartment with a terrace. At first, we thought the building was ugly,” notes Markus. “The apartment had been done in the late ’50s and it was totally different. No one wanted to buy it because it needed so much work.” Eighteen months later, they had created a living work of art thanks to the their own vision and the ability of architect Pierre-Louis Faloci to open the apartment up by increasing circulation and transparency.
The young couple agreed to keep the decorating natural and minimal in order to emphasize the apartment’s unique light, mesmerizing views, and abundant outdoor space. But they agreed the apartment needed something else to help articulate the space. The solution? An impressive furniture collection that includes pieces by Jacques Jarrige, Bruno Mathsson, Mies van der Rohe, and Achille Castiglioni, among others. “I’ve been very happy in this apartment,” remarks Markus, as we sit in the sun-filled salon on the upper level. “To have this much light is very rare. In Paris, you’re usually looking out the window at your neighbors dressing and undressing. One building blocks the light for the others. The real pleasure here is the fluidity of the space.”
The downstairs living and dining area.
Since initially designing the apartment eleven years ago, the Hansen’s life has evolved considerably. “We were only planning to have one child at first. When the second and third showed up, we had to make some adjustments,” Markus remarks with a smile. The apartment initially included only the top floor of the building, but last year, Markus and Valentine bought the apartment below to create a duplex that could better accommodate their family’s needs. The result is a sophisticated upper level that flows seamlessly into the colorful, whimsical floor below, where three children’s bedrooms are located. During the renovation, Markus took out walls to invite more light into the apartment and decorated the lower level with colorful furniture and amorphous shapes. I ask about whether, in retrospect, he would change the overall design of the apartment in order to accommodate family life. “The bottom line is, when you have children, you have to repaint more often. The Mies van der Rohe daybed has sometimes been used as a trampoline. But that’s part and parcel of living as a family,” he explains. “I wouldn’t have changed the design of the apartment.”
The outdoor terrace and garden.
Various parts of the terrace and views.
Today, Markus and Valentine spend much of their energy maintaining the extensive garden on the terrace—whose panoramic view of Paris is one of the most comprehensive in the city. “Once we had the furniture we needed, we both wanted to move on. Now we put our effort into the garden and its reinvention. That work continues, as it’s a living thing.”
But I soon learn that the Hansen-de Ganay’s Paris garden is just the tip of the iceberg. Valentine’s family owns the 16th century Chateau de Courances, located 50 kilometers south of Paris. The chateau’s extensive park and gardens predate Le Notre (who designed the gardens at Versailles) and represent the period known for “Renaissance Water Gardens.” Markus and Valentine are both incredibly active in maintaining the gardens at Courances, which is open to the public from Easter through All Saints Day.
A reflecting pool in the park at Chateau de Courances.
Chateau de Courances. Photo: offrench.net
Born in Germany, Markus was educated in England and lived in South America before settling in Paris. His work regularly takes him to far-flung corners of the world, but he is content to call Paris home. He notes, “the quality of life in Paris, especially if you have children, is extremely high… This is where the kids are at home. So I don’t ask myself ‘Where is Markus at home?’ It’s not really about me anymore.”
And this generous outlook pertains to the ways in which the Hansen-de Ganays share their home with others. “It’s a special apartment, and it’s fun to invite people and share this experience with them. Same with Courances, really. Personal exclusivity is not something that interests us.” When not using the apartment, the family rents it out to tourists and visitors who undoubtedly appreciate the opportunity to spend time in a space that feels as though it is floating above the city.
The view and sitting area in the upstairs salon.
As we look out at the Parisian rooftops that surround us, Markus notes, “I have an open idea about the boundary between what is art and not art, and the notion of creativity. So I do consider this [apartment] to be an extension of my art.” Looking around as one room flows into another, ultimately leading to the terrace where you are surrounded by sky, sky, and more sky, I realize that contrasts can yield harmony. The realities of family life, as unpredictable as they might be, can play out in an atmosphere that is, in a word, transcendent.
To inquire about renting this apartment, click here.
For information about visiting the Chateau de Courances, click here.