Shelf love

a French chate­laine, a Bri­tish book­seller and an is­raeli de­signer unite to cre­ate the per­fect li­brary

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A French chate­laine’s luxe li­brary

Build­ing a li­brary from scratch to tell the his­tory of cre­ation might be a daunt­ing task. But that’s ex­actly what Garance Pri­mat – with book­seller Nicky Dunne and mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary de­signer Raphaël Navot – set out to do at her es­tate in south-west France.

The es­tate, the Do­maine des Étangs, is lo­cated in Massignac, a com­mune near the city of An­goulême, less than two hours from Paris by train. Vis­it­ing it, though, feels like trav­el­ling back in time. An 11th-cen­tury château sits at the heart of 1,000 hectares, with seven

‘The idea was to mix art and books to tell a story of past, present and fu­ture’

ponds, pas­tures, gar­dens and a for­est. The es­tate has been in the Pri­mat fam­ily since the 1980s, when Garance’s fa­ther, the French oil baron Di­dier Pri­mat, bought it as a hol­i­day home and ren­o­va­tion project. In 2015, Garance de­cided to turn the château into a ho­tel, fill­ing it with an ar­ray of art­works and cu­riosi­ties from her per­sonal col­lec­tion. Two years later, she trans­formed an ad­ja­cent for­mer dairy barn into an ex­hi­bi­tion space, La Lai­terie.

‘From the be­gin­ning, the idea was to mix art and books to tell a story of past, present and fu­ture that would mir­ror that of the Do­maine it­self,’ says Pri­mat. ‘Na­ture is my pas­sion, and also the one thing that is trans­mit­ted from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, so I wanted it all to grav­i­tate around that one sub­ject.’

There would be two li­braries, lo­cated in mez­za­nines on each side of the barn and rep­re­sent­ing the past and the fu­ture re­spec­tively, with the art space in-be­tween sym­bol­is­ing the present (its cur­rent show, ‘Pous­sières d’étoiles’, fea­tures works by Yves Klein, Sol Le­witt and David Nash, among oth­ers). But how to start fill­ing the book­shelves? ‘I’ve been col­lect­ing books all my life, ei­ther find­ing trea­sures among my fa­ther’s things or buy­ing rare pieces in auc­tions,’ ex­plains Pri­mat. ‘But, for this, I knew I needed to bring in pro­fes­sion­als who could re­ally ad­vise me.’

En­ter Dunne and Navot. Man­ager of the renowned book­shop Hey­wood Hill on Lon­don’s Cur­zon Street, Dunne started of­fer­ing a li­brary cu­ra­tion ser­vice a few years ago and, with his team of 16, has put to­gether all man­ner of bib­lio­phile treats, from an Amer­i­can his­tory-cen­tred li­brary in Maine to one about Antarc­tic ex­plo­ration in Lon­don. ‘Garance’s plan was an un­usual one, and unusu­ally large,’ he says, ‘but her idea was crys­tal clear: she wanted a col­lec­tion of books on the sub­ject of knowl­edge trans­mis­sion, fea­tur­ing bi­ol­ogy, ge­og­ra­phy, his­tory, an­thro­pol­ogy, art, lit­er­a­ture and as­tron­omy, mostly in English, yet with a good pro­por­tion of French au­thors, as well as some books in other lan­guages.’ It takes Dunne eight to 12 months to com­plete a li­brary. The process in­cludes sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions with the client, es­tab­lish­ing an

ideal bib­li­og­ra­phy (‘We do a lot of our re­search on­line, but I have yet to find a place as use­ful to my job as the Lon­don Li­brary,’ Dunne re­veals), sourc­ing ti­tles through auc­tions, book­shops, pri­vate sell­ers and pub­lish­ing houses, and, of course, or­gan­is­ing the li­brary.

‘That’s when I talked to Raphaël,’ says Dunne. ‘Within the first minute of our first meet­ing in Lon­don, he had sketched some of the book­shelves we would end up us­ing.’ Born in Jerusalem and based in Paris, Navot re­cently gar­nered at­ten­tion for his work at the Hô­tel Na­tional des Arts et Métiers (W*226). Says Pri­mat, ‘He uses mainly nat­u­ral raw ma­te­ri­als and, rather than try­ing to sub­due na­ture, he goes with its flow. He was per­fect for this.’

It was up to Navot to cre­ate the Past and Fu­ture li­brary spa­ces. The for­mer em­u­lates the fa­mil­iar com­fort of a gen­tle­man’s club, com­plete with Chester­field so­fas; the lat­ter has a softer, airier at­mos­phere. In both, most of the fur­ni­ture was cus­tomde­signed and crafted by Mai­son Jouf­fre us­ing Pierre Frey tex­tiles, but Navot also worked with Massignac ar­ti­sans on the oak par­quet floor and two pol­ished stone desk­tops. ‘But the most chal­leng­ing part was the book­shelves. Un­til the early 20th cen­tury, books were all pretty sim­i­lar and ti­tles on their spines were hor­i­zon­tal. With the rise of mar­ket­ing came dif­fer­ent for­mats, vi­brant colours and, for some rea­son, ver­ti­cal ti­tles. Have you no­ticed how we al­ways tilt our heads in con­tem­po­rary li­braries?’ says Navot. This, he ex­plains, is why he de­cided to shelve the books back to front in the Fu­ture li­brary, ‘for a more Zen ef­fect’. Spines are vis­i­ble from a pas­sage­way be­hind the book­shelf.

Not that spend­ing a few hours in the li­braries – leisurely por­ing over the likes of Mar­garet Mead’s Male

and Fe­male, Rosamund Young’s The Se­cret Life of Cows, a first edi­tion of Scott’s Last Ex­pe­di­tion, as well as Ed­ward Barnard’s Pho­to­graphic At­las of Se­lected Re­gions of the

Milky Way, or the Drake Man­u­script – wouldn’t make any­one feel Zen. ‘Which is why I wanted this project to be pub­lic,’ says Pri­mat. Ad­vance book­ing is all that’s needed for those wish­ing to visit. ‘I couldn’t com­plete this project that cel­e­brates knowl­edge and then lock it up. It has to be for ev­ery­one.’

‘I couldn’t com­plete this project that cel­e­brates knowl­edge and lock it up. It has to be for ev­ery­one’

de­signer raphaël navot with hote­lier and art col­lec­tor garance Pri­mat in one of two new li­brary Spa­ces at the do­maine des Étangs. the ‘Fu­ture’ (Pic­tured) and ‘Past’ li­braries oc­cupy mez­za­nine lev­els Flank­ing the es­tate’s la lai­terie ex­hi­bi­tion Space

above, in the ‘past’ li­brary, an 8m-long book­case made in the 1930s by michel rouxspitz for the french na­tional ar­chives is now filled with clas­sics such as the drake man­u­script. the li­brary is fur­nished with a be­spoke hang­ing lamp by navot; matthew hil­ton’s ‘os­car’ ot­tomans for scp; a pair of ‘clemente’ floor lamps by aerin; two be­spoke chester­field merid­i­ans made by ate­lier jouf­fre; and a book stand de­signed by navot and carved from 200-year-old solid wood from the do­maine des étangs by a lo­cal ar­ti­san

above, the ‘fu­ture’ li­brary fea­tures a hand­made oak par­quet in ‘forêt’ end­grain floor­ing, de­vel­oped by navot for os­car ono. also de­signed by navot are a vel­vet arm­chair, and a 6m-long sofa made by ate­lier jouf­fre. on dis­play are many ob­jects from pri­mat’s an­tique col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing a 1780 gre­go­rian tele­scope left, the Sun, an art­work in gilded bronze by swiss artist ugo rondi­none, frames one of the do­maine’s seven ponds

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