"I love demolishing," and then rebuilding, shared architect Elisabeth Regnault de la Mothe with us as we met her in her son's apartment, within one of her restoration projects of Venetian palazzos.
Immersed in a subtle, plush universe at the crossroads of the meeting between East and West, within a Venetian building that she has restored to its Gothic authenticity, the Franco-Italian architect tells us about her "choice to become Venetian" and how it has greatly influenced her career.
A city that mirrors the different replicas of its identities, Venice's historical trajectory, as a hinge of the Mediterranean basin and the Eastern and Asian routes, has deeply permeated Elisabeth Regnault de la Mothe's aesthetic and architectural imaginary.
Thus, they established an international network that allowed them to build a clientele for their architecture studio, called “Vivere a Venezia”, they created in 1990 , in which they always work together.
Becoming Venetian was a first choice, before the one to become an architect. Born in Tunisia in an international background family (her father was Hungarian and her mother French-italian), Elisabeth Jambor, using her maiden name, spent her adolescence in Rome before pursuing studies in mathematics, physics, and chemistry in Paris
She decided to abandon her studies to pursue a career in architecture, following her creative voice and artistic curiosity. She gained access to the best training at IUAV and thus decided to establish herself in Venice, where she would remain for the rest of her life. Through the numerous opportunities offered by the university (such as her connection with her professor, the architect Louis Khan) and the vibrancy of Venice, she met her husband, Michel Regnault de la Mothe.
Before exclusively joining their architecture studio, Elisabeth Regnault de la Mothe worked for UNESCO and an international center for artisanal restoration training, located in the former asylum on the island of San Servolo. The transfer of this center in 1978 marked the first rehabilitation action on one of the islands in the Venetian lagoon, of which she was at the origin of the project. Her trajectory as an architect became inseparable from her new Venetian identity, from which she drew her inspirations and resources directly.
The apartment we visited perfectly illustrates the authenticity and intimacy of the universes she seeks to create in her projects. After walking through the Cannaregio district where its inhabitants lazily lounge, we find ourselves in front of a small Gothic palazzo from the 14th century whose trilobed arched windows directly overlook the canal.
Elisabeth Regnault de la Mothe immediately points out a piece of charcoal drawing that can be seen on one of the walls in the first bedroom. She tells us that she discovered this drawing hidden behind false ceilings built in the 20th century. Indeed, the restoration work undertaken by the architect initially involved demolishing subsequent interventions that came to conceal the original building. She explains that the apartment was de-structured to create new rooms to make several apartments for rent.
During the restoration in 2008, she had to excavate the beams covered by the false plaster ceilings, restore the windows and their arches that had been walled up, rebuild the fireplace embedded in a wall, restore the terrazzo floors…
Thus, she undertakes a true rehabilitation and preservation project of the historical structures that she frees from the partitions which confined the different treasures and ornaments of Venetian heritage for a century.
The awareness of the heritage of Venetian buildings has been constantly evolving in recent years, and the restoration work by the architect couple supports this safeguarding and enhancement.
In addition, the rediscovery of decorative details opens up new perspectives: the extraction of a beam that revealed a charcoal drawing almost makes it seem like it could be by Durer, who lived in one of the few houses of the district in the sixteenth century, "As a joke, we say that we have a Durer at home".
After the process of destruction and renovation of the architectural buildings, which Elisabeth Regnault de la Mothe asserts is her favorite part of the project, comes the design of the interior layout. It is this crucial part that allows her to recreate in the heart of Venice, a traditional kingdom at the crossroads of East and West, through a delicate and extravagant mix of Asian and Arab ethnic objects and some contemporary Western influences.
The wall covering, painted in a sensual ocher-red and polished using the traditional Venetian technique of stucco lucido, recalls the lime plastering technique used in Moroccan riads and palaces, the tadelakt. Indeed, the architect projects us into a soft and subdued atmosphere that recalls the intimacy of Maghreb hammams and saunas. She incorporates precious details in each room that recall her Mediterranean influences such as Moroccan clay lamps in the bathroom or Tunisian ceramics that adorn the kitchen. Her identity manifests itself in each of her architectural and design choices, and the architect tries to mark each of her commissions with her DNA.
Objects play a central role for this collector at heart who accumulates and recycles curiosities, timeless traces of her travels and encounters, but above all of the diversity of commercial exchanges that built the prosperity of Venice. Indeed, several of the traditional objects found in this subtle cabinet of curiosities were acquired at auctions in Venice. Thus, the Chinese canopy bed that sits under an impressive Burmese umbrella transformed into a lampshade, comes from an auction of traditional furniture in Venice.
Exoticism is also found in the detail of a Burmese vase used for offerings, in Chinese dragon statuettes, or in a traditional Burmese coffee table.
This table stands out against the two Piero Lissoni Extrasoft sofas that recall contemporary Italian design, as does the Arco floor lamp.
This hybrid composition blends perfectly with the colorful and luminous tones of the typical Venetian terrazzo floor.
Thus, this layout invites the ceremonial and traditional splendor of the East to meet Venetian historical craftsmanship and contemporary design practices, recreating a unique and bold atmosphere of Venetian living home.
Even as a citizen of the world, "it is always when you are in Venice that you feel at home,", the architect confides in a true declaration of love for her adopted city. Indeed, "having chosen to become Venetian" has allowed her to obtain opportunities and interactions with the world that she could not have had elsewhere: "Everyone passes through Venice! We have met the whole world here and we wouldn't have had these opportunities elsewhere."