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There’s a lot of activity happening in the Cultural Services of the French Embassy on 5th Avenue and 79th Street. The former Gilded Age mansion of Payne Whitney designed by Stanford White has been host to predominantly offices, special events and film shoots until tomorrow, when Albertine, a French bookstore and reading room will open to the public. In fact, it will be the only French bookstore in New York City, following the closing of Librarie de France  in 2010.

Areas that had been previously been closed off and used for storage have been transformed into a beautiful two level bookstore, restoring a room that had been a library during the era it was used as a private mansion. Indeed, the space comes off as a grand private library, but with enough nooks to make it feel homey with warm wood paneling, Versailles-style parquet floor and lamp sconces throughout. There will be over 14,000 books in both French and English ranging from books on French literature, art, cuisine, poetry, comics, children’s books and a rare books collection. Albertine is a reference to a character in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and the upstairs reading rooms is named in dedication to Proust. We stopped by Wednesday as the Embassy was putting last touches on the construction.

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Albertine-French Bookstore-Cultural Services of French Embassy-972 Fifth Avenue-Payne Whitney Mansion-NYC-001Photo by Jess Nash

Albertine-French Bookstore-Cultural Services of French Embassy-972 Fifth Avenue-Payne Whitney Mansion-NYC-003Photo by Jess Nash

The renovation was completed by two French companies with operations in New York City in a real cross-cultural collaboration. Jacques Garcia of the NoMad hotel has designed the interior. A painted ceiling of the constellation was made in France, inspired by a mural in the palazzo of Lorenzo de Medici, and moved to New York City. Couches and poufs will be spread throughout the space along with custom made furniture and busts of inspiring figures in history.

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Albertine-French Bookstore-Cultural Services of French Embassy-972 Fifth Avenue-Payne Whitney Mansion-NYC-002Image via Cultural Services of French Embassy

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Visitors to the bookstore will walk through the marble rotunda lobby, which features a replica Michelangelo (the original had been in the lobby until 2009) and glimpse the Rococo Venetian room.

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Books were getting added to the shelves, after processing in the main event space of the Embassy which was taken over by boxes:

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The beautiful marble reception room, newly painted, is full of the furniture and sculptures that will go inside the bookstore:

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The entrance to the bookstore:

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Albertine-French Bookstore-Cultural Services of French Embassy-972 Fifth Avenue-Payne Whitney Mansion-NYC-004Exterior. Photo by Jess Nash

A festival from October 14th to 19th will celebrate the opening of the Albertine, featuring discussions between French and American artists and thinkers, including: Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner; Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz; author and filmmaker Marjane Satrapi; filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Paris, je t’aime); and Fields Medal-winning mathematician and author of Théorème vivant Cédric Villani.

Stay tuned for photographs of the completed space and check out Albertine on opening day tomorrow.

See photos from the Untapped Cities Live Illustration Event “New Yorkers v. Parisians” at the French Embassy. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.

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