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Robert Mallet-Stevens had already drawn attention for villa projects in the early 1910s when, in 1922, encouraged by patrons like the couturier-collector Jacques Doucet, he published an album of architectural renderings and plans for buildings entitled Une Cité Moderne.
In them we see the strong influence of the Viennese Secession, and in particular the work of its leading architect Josef Hoffmann, with plain elevations and interiors favouring a ‘total art’ approach. Mallet-Stevens advocated minimal compositions, with buildings made up of cleverly proportioned geometrical volumes that expressed the internal arrangement. To emphasize his resolutely modern stance, in all his constructions he imposed the use of cement, glass and metal. Rob, as he was known to his friends, attracted a clientele drawn from the intellectual and financial elite of Paris.
But in his short career, he built relatively few projects.
Besides the rue Mallet-Stevens scheme (1924-1929), his most important works were the Château de Mézy for couturier Paul Poiret (1924-1925), unfinished due to the owner’s bankruptcy; the Villa Noailles at Hyères (1923-1928); the Casino at Saint Jean de Luz (1928-1930); the Villa Cavrois at Croix (1929-1932); the Hôtel Barillet, square Vergennes, Paris 15 (1932); and firemen’s barracks in rue Mesnil, Paris 16 (1936), his only public commission.
He also designed décors for cinema, in particular for the silent films L’Inhumaine (1924) and Le Vertige (1926) both directed by Marcel L’Herbier. As for Man Ray’s legendary Les Mystères du Château de Dé, it was shot at the Villa Noailles.
The décors that Mallet-Stevens created to frame these films, which are in essence Surrealist, reflect the elusive poetic attraction that his work exerts more than ever today, and that relies on much more than simply ‘modernist’ architecture.

Rue Mallet-Stevens from its open end, 1927.

© Photo Marc Vaux. Paris Centre Pompidou, Mnam-Cci, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, fonds Mallet-Stevens, don M. et J. Videlier Martel.

Already ill, Mallet-Stevens wound up his activity after the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques of 1937. He died in 1945, leaving instructions for his wife to destroy his archives. Not until the 1980s did his œuvre receive its just acclaim, when his major works – some already badly disfigured – were saved in extremis from destruction thanks to the efforts of a handful of aficionados.
Of all Mallet-Stevens’ built projects, the Hôtel Martel, which until the 90s was still inhabited by descendants of the original owners, is the best conserved.

Rue Mallet-Stevens
In the mid-1920s a group of fashionable people who wanted to have a townhouse designed by Mallet-Stevens purchased, on his advice, adjoining blocks in the same allotment at Auteuil. This enabled the young designer to give form to the architectural manifesto he had proclaimed a few years earlier in Une Cité Moderne.
Each building in the set shows a careful arrangement of volumes lit by large horizontal windows and capped by a flat terrace roof.
Construction went on from 1924 to 1929, unfolding as follows:
Hôtel Reifenberg. The largest in terms of volume was also the first to be completed. Although floors were added in the 1950s, it remains well conserved.
Hôtel Allatini. Its architecture was the most spare of the entire set. It was totally disfigured in the 1950s.
Hôtel Dreyfus. The smallest of the set, its original owner only lived in it for one year. In the 1950s a large apartment house was built beside it, but externally it remains much as it was when completed.
Hôtel Mallet-Stevens. Built as a dwelling for the architect and his family, with his office on the ground floor. Raised higher in the 1950s, it remains even so in a good state of conservation.
Hôtel Martel. Remained in the hands of the first owners’ family until the 1990s. It is the only one of the set still true to its original state.
Caretaker’s lodge. The last construction to be built, at the far end of the impasse. Its perfect minimalist cube vanished in the 1950s, when it was encased in an amusing villa of indefinite style but not devoid of charm.
The financial crash of 1929 put an end to any hopes of extending the set.

Photo left. Rue Mallet-Stevens, on the left, the Hôtel Martel.
Photo right. The Hôtel Martel with one of the Martel twins in the foreground.

© Photo Thérèse Bonney - Ministère de la Culture - France - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine.

The set was inaugurated on 20 July 1927, the cream of Parisian society attending. In the review Art et Industrie, May 1926, the architect had described it as follows: ‘In the street I had the good fortune to build at Auteuil (…) no shops are allowed. It is exclusively reserved for residence, rest, people will find real calm there (…) even its appearance evokes placidity without sadness’.
To build these villas, Mallet-Stevens called on the skills of creators who were more or less well known at the time, among whom were Pierre Chareau, Gabriel Guévrékian, Louis Barillet, Jean Prouvé, Jan and Joël Martel, Jean Burkhalter, Charlotte Perriand and Djo-Bourgeois. He defined them as ‘architects rather than decorators. …their designs do not aim at making a room pleasant, or adding ornament, rather they compose logically, frankly; instead of prettifying, they build.’

Hôtel Martel just after completion in 1927.

© Photo Thérèse Bonney - Ministère de la Culture - France - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine.

Martel townhouse at n° 10 rue Mallet-Stevens
Mallet-Stevens had become friendly with the Martel brothers at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925, after which they collaborated on several artistic projects. It was then that the brothers decided to build a townhouse for both their families, with a shared atelier at streel level. The father of the sculptors, who helped them financially, would live on the topmost floor, in a studio laid out to interior design by Gabriel Guévrékian.
The stepped array that is so characteristic of the building begins at the ground floor atelier and goes all the way up to the belvedere. Split levels appear throughout the construction, with all three dwellings laid out in duplex.
The central axis of construction is marked by the cylindrical tower that houses the main stairwell, which extends above roof level to form a belvedere capped by a cement ‘béret’, whose underside is lined by a mosaic of red pâte de verre tiles. The stairwell is lit by a tall slit of stained glass with geometrical patterns designed by Louis Barillet, which starts on the 1st floor terrace and reaches up to the belvedere. A circular mirror fixed on the stairwell’s ceiling catches the reflexion thrown up by a mirror at the foot of the stairs, creating the dizzying illusion of an endless spiral – an effect that recalls the Surrealist aesthetics of the film décors designed by the architect.
Three different entrances open the building at street level:
- On the left, the folding garage doors in black-lacquered steel, lit by openwork squares at the top.
- On the right, the tall, sliding, black-lacquered steel door of the atelier, with its frosted glass plaque that reads: Jan et Joël Martel – sculpteurs.
- In the centre between the preceding, the main entrance in silver lacquered metal with two central sliding leaves. Its crinkle-crankle body echoes that of the polyhedral Cubist mirror that stands facing it inside, which was designed by the Martel brothers but is attributed to Mallet-Stevens in the portfolio presented by Jean Prouvé in Le Métal, Edition Charles Moreau, 1929.
In the same book is to be found the handsome wrought iron interior grate used in the entrance hall of the Hôtel Reifenberg; it was the first Parisian creation of the young metalworker Jean Prouvé, who in an interview in 1982 would recall with emotion his first meeting with Mallet-Stevens, in 1928.

Unlike most of his works, as for example the Hôtel Reifenberg, the comfortable and refined fit-out of which was done mainly by Pierre Chareau to suit the tastes of the wealthy bourgeois owners, the Hôtel Martel was designed for artists. More precisely, for sculptors working in clay, plaster and stone. No doubt this is why its modernity is more radical, anticipating by half a century the minimalist industrial aesthetics of the loft.
Washable floors in terrazzo extended at wall bases by skirtings in brown-stained cement are matched by the recurrent use of metal simply painted industrial grey, with sliding doors mounted on exposed rails. Even the systems used for opening and shutting the glazed openings and their shutters proclaim a functionalist bias that does not attempt to hide itself – on the contrary, there is a constant tendency to integrate to the beauty of the interiors whatever is easy to use and good-looking too.

Photo left. The spiral stairwell at the Hôtel Martel with its mirrors that create the illusion of an endless whorl.
Photo right. Stairs in Atelier Martel leading to interior entrance door with mezzanine in the background.

Pour toutes les photos de l'appartement de Jan Martel © Photo Thérèse Bonney - Ministère de la Culture - France - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine.

Preceding page and photo facing. Living-dining room in Jan Martel apartment, with tailored fit-out by Francis Jourdain, consisting mainly of wooden storage units sliding on steel rails. This unique set was purchased by the Pompidou Centre in 2006 from the heirs of the Martel family.
Following page, photo left and second page following. Steel tube furniture – designed by Marcel Breuer and made by Thonet – in the living-dining room of the Jan Martel apartment.
Following page, photo right. A curtain by Hélène Henry separated the entrance from the living-dining room of the Jan Martel apartment; a red line of terra cotta mosaic in the granito floor established a sort of virtual threshold between the two spaces.

Pour toutes les photos de l'appartement de Jan Martel © Photo Thérèse Bonney - Ministère de la Culture - France - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine.

Bibliography
- F. Honoré, ‘Maisons modernes’, L’Illustration, July 1927.
- ‘La rue Mallet-Stevens’, Les échos des industries d’art, August 1927.
- Marie Dormoy, ‘Robert Mallet-Stevens’, L’amour de l’art, October 1927.
- Photographies de la rue Mallet-Stevens, La revue de l’art ancien et moderne, September / October 1927.
- ‘La rue Mallet-Stevens’, L’architecture vivante, autumn-winter 1927.
- Léon Werth, ‘L’architecture intérieure et Mallet-Stevens’, Art et décoration, June 1929.
- G. Rémon, ‘Architecture nouvelle, Mallet-Stevens architecte’, Mobilier et décoration, August 1929.
- Jean-Louis Cohen & Christian Bonnefoi, Dossier Mallet-Stevens, Architecture mouvement continuité, 1977, number 41.
- Richard Becherer, ‘Monumentality and the Rue Mallet-Stevens’, Journal of the Society of architectural historians, March 1981, number I. Arlette Barré-Despond, UAM, Editions du Regard, Paris, 1986.
- Peter Sulzer, Jean Prouvé, volume 1 : 1917 – 1933, Birkhäuser, 1999, pp. 78-79.

Preceding page, photo left. Studio-bar designed by Charlotte Perriand, with metal fittings made by Jean Prouvé, for one of the bedrooms of the Jan Martel apartment. This unique piece was purchased by the Pompidou Centre in 2006 from the heirs of the Martel family.
Preceding page, photo right. Interior stairs leading to upper floor in the Jan Martel apartment.
Photo left. Shelter nooks on the terrace roof of the Hôtel Martel; note the disc shelves around the base of the columns, the same principle as for the Atelier of Charles de Noailles at the Villa Noailles in Hyères.
In the background, the start of the stairs leading to the belvedere that caps the building.
Photo right. Portion of the building’s central stairwell and glazed entrance door to the dwelling occupied by the sculptors’ father, on the topmost floor of the building.

Pour toutes les photos de l'appartement de Jan Martel © Photo Thérèse Bonney - Ministère de la Culture - France - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine.

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