You already know the work of architect Hector Guimard, perhaps without even realizing it. His most famous gift to Paris was the iron canopied Metro entrances, an example of which you can see at the Abbesses station in Montmartre (pictured below). He even designed the typeface for the text.
Guimard, sometimes called the “Pope of Art Nouveau” designed over 50 residential buildings in Paris, but the 1960s saw Art Nouveau go out of fashion and many of his buildings were destroyed. Today there are only a handful of key Guimard buildings across Paris, with the highest concentration of them in the 16th.
Incidentally, we’ve just spent 24 hours exploring the 16th arrondissement (read more about it here) and found the main buildings. Here’s how you can find them too.
But first: What is Art Nouveau?
Art Nouveau came out of the Belle Époque and took its inspiration from the natural world. It was a break away from the monotony of historicism and eclecticism in pursuit of more optimistic and innovative designs. In simpler words, if you see swirly asymmetrical designs on a building, if you see natural things like sculpted plants, fruits, vines, even animals, then you know you’re onto a good thing.
The Castel Béranger
This is the most famous of the Guimard buildings. It was constructed between 1895 and 1898 and is considered an Art Nouveau founding work – the first of its kind to be built in Paris. The facade was ranked as the most beautiful in Paris in 1898 and the building was declared a historic monument in 1972.
The front gate is unlike any other you’ll see in Paris. Just beyond the gate, the lobby was designed in the style of an underwater grotto. Note: I once got inside this lobby during a Patreon-Only live video. Watch the replay by becoming a member here. Already a member? Scroll forward to the 1h07 mark for the look inside this building. Address: 12 Rue Jean de la Fontaine, 75016.
More of the Castel Béranger
From the street, you can admire all kinds of fancy decorations on this building, including what appear to be seahorses. There’s a clear influence of nature and plenty of curvilinear lines. Even the windows are adorned with Art Nouveau details.
Over the fence you get a glimpse of the rest of the building. Eye-catching green details adorn the balconies, drainpipes, and overhanging turrets.
Are the apartments inside also Art Nouveau?
While I’ve not been inside one of the apartments, I did spy one for sale. This real estate site has plenty of pictures of an apartment interior, and even some more of the communal lobbies further in. The apartment in question has a few clear touches of Art Nouveau (like the fireplace!). It sold for almost a million euros.
Rue Agar: A full street of Hector Guimard
Just down the road from the Castel Béranger you’ll find a very small street that’s almost all the work of Guimard. Even the street signs are in his signature style. The buildings, drainpipes, balconies, even air vents are all his work.
At the base of one of the buildings above is the Art Nouveau bar Cravan. We spoke to the owner, Franck Audoux, on our podcast episode about the 16th arrondissement, which you can hear below. Also, click here for an in-depth blog post about the bar with loads of pictures of the interior.
Hector Guimard: the finer details
Look carefully while strolling around the 16th for small signs of Guimard’s work, whether it’s an abstract drainpipe, a door handle, or a swirly balcony. Here are some details we spotted on our stroll. Note his signature on the third picture below, surely the easiest way to confirm you’ve found a Guimard building.
Additional Hector Houses to hunt
Hôtel Mezzara was built for textile and lace manufacturer Paul Mezzara. Even the iron gates outside the buildings are rich with detail. Address: 60 Rue Jean de la Fontaine, 75016 Paris
The Hôtel Guimard was built by Guimard as his own personal home and architectural studio. Today it contains modern apartment buildings, but museums around the world showcase fittings from the original interior. Address: 122 Av. Mozart, 75016 Paris.
Guimard was also a furniture designer. In the two pictures of Hôtel Guimard below (showing the dining room and his wife’s bedroom), it’s no stretch of the imagination to say the furniture was likely his own design.
Hôtel Jassedé was the second private building designed by Guimard, the first was “Au Grand Neptune” and was destroyed in 1910. I didn’t make it to Jassedé on this visit, the picture below is from rue Agar. If you want to find Hôtel Jassedé, go to: Address: 41 Rue Chardon Lagache, 75016 Paris
What do people think of Guimard’s work today?
Well, just the fact that you’re reading this page might answer the question! While there was a distinct lack of interest in his work in the decades after it was displayed, there was a surge in its popularity from the 1970s onwards. His designs, including everything from furniture to door handles, is on display in museums around the world.
And it’s clear that there is a public interest in his Paris buildings today. You’ll often see tourists in Paris taking photos of the Guimard buildings, and especially the ornate Metro entrances. And just this week, a cast iron escutcheon for the Paris Metro, designed by Guimard himself, sold for over €4,500. And yes, I only learned the word escutcheon today while writing this piece.
If you look closely, you can see the M for “Metro” on the recently sold escutcheon above. And if you’re lucky, you might find other escutcheons around Paris today (hint: there are some at the Monceau Metro entrance).
The Earful Tower podcast episode
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll probably love our podcast episode about the 16th arrondissement of Paris. In the episode my wife Lina and I share our experience spending 24 hours in the 16th, stick around till the end when we give our final ranking on the district out of 100.
Tour the 16th arrondissement in our YouTube video
And that’s it! A big thanks to Charlotte Pleasants for the additional reporting, Augusta Sagnelli for the photos, and to the Patreon members who make all this possible. Join them here.
Oh yes, and you can also support our work by buying one of our children’s books, or our PDF guide, below. Merci!