Hugo Toro draws obsessively. Sometimes on notepads, otherwise on his tablet. “If I’m not drawing, something is wrong,” says the Parisian architect and interior designer. He claims it even helps him concentrate in meetings. “Often, people think I’ve switched off, but it actually allows me to stay connected with them,” he says.
In recent times, Toro has been sketching at a particularly furious pace. Since setting up his solo practice in 2020, he has created a corner for Orient Express to sell travel objects in Paris’s iconic department store La Samaritaine. He is also responsible for designing a trio of fashionable restaurants in France, all called Gigi, as well as Booking Office 1869, a flamboyant eatery at St. Pancras station in London. “I think my style is well suited to restaurants, where the goal is often to create a strong atmosphere,” he says.
There is certainly a touch of drama to the pied-à-terre he renovated in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district for a Monaco-based financier. His client was attracted to the one-bedroom space for its classically Parisian architectural attributes, high ceilings, and brightly colored stained-glass windows at the rear. He was interested in working with Toro, meanwhile, for his aesthetic exuberance and originality. “I wanted to be transported to a different world every time I opened the front door, and Hugo seemed the perfect person to take me on such a journey,” the client says.
The art of travel, especially by train, has captivated Toro from an early age. He was brought up in the Lorraine region of France, near the German border, where his grandfather ran a coal business located close to a railway station. “My sister and I would play on mountains of coal and come back home completely covered,” he says. He inherited his love of interiors from his Mexican mother and describes the family home as being well appointed and painted in vivid colors. “My father would go crazy because we’d move the furniture around every other week,” he says.
In the Parisian apartment, he carried out very little structural work. He simply removed a mezzanine level in the bedroom, as well as most of the double doors in the public rooms. The rest of his intervention is marked by several strong gestures, the most imposing of which is the monumental travertine fireplace in the dining room, whose geometric forms are meant as a nod to the work of Carlo Scarpa. Equally eye-catching, in the adjacent living room, is the custom screen composed of yellow travertine—broken up and reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle—set into a patinated-brass frame. Each of its four elements can rotate.
Aesthetic echoes ring throughout: Fluting is found along the base of the sweepingly sculptural sofa in the living room, on paneling in the primary bathroom, and in the padded forms of the custom leather bed. Toro has a beautiful way with textures too, as evidenced by the wallcovering made from banana leaves in the bedroom and the doors in the kitchen, which have been painted with a trompe l’oeil leather effect.
But his interiors really sing through his highly personal and exquisitely curated choice of furnishings. Here, he mixed a couple of design classics already owned by his client—the Library bench in the TV room and the LC4 chaise longue—with both bespoke items and mainly anonymous finds from the Paris flea market. Examples of the latter include a puffy Italian leather armchair in the entry hall and the puddle-shaped oak cocktail table in the sitting room. “Not everything needs to be signed,” he says. “A piece you’ve never seen before often has 10 times more impact.”
In all of his projects, Toro likes to integrate references to the past. “It gives the architecture more meaning,” he says. One element here is of particularly personal significance—the washbasin that has deliberately been left visible in the entry hall. “When I entered my grandmother’s house as a child, there was one by the door directly on the right,” he recounts. “I find the presence of water poetic. For me, it offers a sort of mental purification.” Just like drawing.
Produced by Ian Phillips
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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