A Bridge Across the River of Time

Société des Gens de Lettres, Paris (France)

The Hôtel de Massa was built at the end of the 18th century on the Champs-Elysées, which at the time was situated in the middle of the countryside. Since 1929, it has housed the Société des Gens de Lettres (SGDL), an organization founded in 1838 by the writers Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and George Sand to represent the rights of authors. In the course of its turbulent history, the Hôtel de Massa came into the hands of two businessmen in 1926: Théophile Bader, director of the department store Galeries Lafayette, and André Lévy, a real estate investor. These gentlemen were not interested in the building per se but rather in owning a piece of real estate on the Champs-Elysées. The building, however, was, and still is, a protected landmark and could not be torn down. So between 1927 and 1928, the businessmen had the structure transported stone by stone to the observatory at the southern end of the Jardin de Luxembourg and then sold the building to the SGDL for the symbolic price of one franc. As a token of gratitude to the Galeries Lafayette, the president of the SGDL ordered all of the furniture for the building from the famous department store. Bader delivered the order but never sent a bill. Thanks to his generosity, the building is now in possession of a unique collection of 110-piece collection of Art Deco furniture. In 2009, SGDL decided to update its furnishings, but it was not easy to arrive at a stylish combination of 18th century architecture, Art Deco furniture and contemporary office equipment. USM Haller, in pure white and ruby red, was chosen because the furniture has the sort of timeless quality that ensures that it will not dominate the atmosphere of the rooms. Because they were deliberately configured with a low profile, the furnishings allow open sight lines of the large spaces and to the portraits of the society’s founding fathers, including those of Hugo and Balzac.

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