Design Notes Archive

The New French Look

The New French Look

There’s something to be said for staying true to the bones of a historic house, using it as veritable guard rails to keep a renovation from veering off the stylistic tracks. But a departure can also be wildly successful if it’s done with gusto. In her first book, The New French Look, Australian interior designer Lauren Li would argue that the French have mastered this art. “The French live with art and historic buildings, but they don’t live in a museum. They respect it however they really live in the spaces and aren’t afraid to layer in contemporary pieces,” she says. “There is a confidence in combining pieces from different eras.” 

Take the Paris kitchen of Studio KO founders, Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty, left. Tucked on the second floor of a 17th century building in the first arrondissement, the bijou space is not enveloped in period references. Instead, the duo pared it back with a nod to its original occupants through luxurious finishes (it was once a goldsmith’s atelier). That meant a curated combination of workhorse materials and aesthetic pleasures: cabinetry in tinted birch, countertops in White Beauty marble, tap and splashback (not pictured) in brass. “Even in a small footprint, a kitchen can be rich in details and materials,” notes Li. Those elements juxtaposed with raw floorboards, a wicker pendant lamp (scooped up a flea market) and utensils kept out on display create a warm, functional atmosphere in the jewel box space.

Further south in Tarascon, France, a vast country kitchen designed by Marcelo Joulia offers a dramatic example of how historic and modern features can sit together in harmony, right. There was nary running water in the old farmhouse when Joulia acquired it, yet now the kitchen is alive with modern conveniences that don’t hide behind a façade of traditional cabinetry. The clean lines of utilitarian shelving and white marble breathes fresh life into the room and complements the rustic stone walls and exposed beams. Far from looking out of place, “the kitchen floats in the space,” says Li. “It’s a contemporary insertion into the old stone building.”

Looking at traditional design through a modern lens was also par for the course during Paris Deco Off a few weeks ago. During the much hyped about sister fair to Maison & Objet, showrooms and pop-ups around the city flung open their doors and debuted their newest collections, many of which were delightful reinterpretations of the past. We were particularly smitten with Ateliers Zelij’s collaboration with Ombre which saw Moroccan zellige tile installations inspired by twisted Japanese Shimenawa rope. The resulting patterns are deeply rooted in craft and know-how whilst simultaneously feeling fresh and appealing to contemporary interiors.

Photos: Karel Balas for Milk; courtesy of The New French Look