Castel Béranger: The first Art Nouveau building in Paris

Located at 14 rue de la Fontaine, the Castel Béranger is a residential building in Paris built in the Art Nouveau style.

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It was designed by Hector Guimard, a French architect born in Lyon. Castel Béranger was built between 1895 and 1898 and was the first Art Nouveau building in Paris.

Castel Béranger, the first Art Nouveau apartment building in Paris Photo credit

Between 1890 and 1893 Guimard designed a school and several private houses in France, all of them in traditional styles.

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Castel Béranger, interior courtyard Photo credit

He had undertaken a project for designing an apartment building, also in a traditional style, for a widow called Madame Anne-Elisabeth Fournier.

In 1894, before beginning the project, Guimard traveled to Belgium, where he met the Belgian architect Victor Horta and saw Horta’s Hotel Tassel. Hotel Tassel was built in a style unfamiliar to the French architect.

Entrance of Castel Béranger Photo credit

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Castel Béranger, corner detail Photo credit

Impressed and inspired by Horta’s creation, he returned to Paris and convinced his client to allow him to build the residential building in the style later known as Art Nouveau. In 1895, after getting Madame Fournier’s approval, he began designing the structure.

When they met in Brussels, Horta stressed the importance of unity in the building; the new style presumed that structure, wallpaper and furniture design, carpets and decorations should all go together. As a consequence, Guimard was involved in every detail regarding the construction of Castel Béranger, designing the furniture, glass, ornamental ironwork, doorknobs, and wallpapers.

He incorporated many different elements, colors, and materials in the building. Some of the colors were inspired by the colors of villas in seashore towns. The building was richly ornamented but designed in such a way as to not appear overwhelming or distasteful.

When construction was finished, Guimard sent an album with the building’s designs along with an inscription that read “to an eminent master and friend, Victor Horta, affectionate homage from an admirer.”

Castel Béranger, entrance hall Photo credit

 

Castel Béranger, the vestibule Photo credit

 

Castel Béranger, detail of main stairway Photo credit

In the late 1890s, the facades of the Parisian buildings, built during the Second Empire of Napoleon III, were severely criticized for being monotonous and uninteresting. In 1898, the city authorities, trying to promote new designs, organized a competition for the most beautiful and original facades. Guimard’s design for the Castel Béranger was the winner of the 16th arrondissement. Later that year he was entrusted with the design of the entrances to the new metro stations in Paris. He became one of the most prominent figures of Art Nouveau in France.

Castel Béranger, balcony decoration Photo credit

 

Castel Béranger, stained glass window Photo credit

Guimard designed several other buildings in Paris including a concert hall and a synagogue before concentrating on houses built from prefabricated materials. He moved to New York before the start of World War II and died in 1942.

As the years passed, nearly all of his metro stations were removed and his name was practically forgotten until the 1970s brought a revived interest in Art Nouveau. In 1972, Hector Guimard’s Castel Béranger was classified as a historical monument.