Thomas, Lea: what is your background?
Léa: I have moved around a lot over the past ten years taking photographs, meeting people and feeding my inspiration to create lively spaces such as the one we have at the Puces de Saint-Ouen, and La Pinède, which Tom and I have designed here. I divide my time between my projects with places, my primary profession as a photographer and my role as a mother. We had a little girl, Java, two years ago and she made us think about settling down. We are travelling a little less for now but have given her the name of an island because it holds the promise of a life with her, exploring the world and giving her a free and open mind.
I’m a designer and decorator. My fashion school education taught me how to handle beautiful materials and the audacity in mixing & matching that I now put to good use in my decoration work through a variety of media (web, TV, scenography and other projects). I’m very hands-on; I’m quite a fidget. Léa and I have plans for the rest of our lives! But for the moment we are focusing on our new family adventure in Marseille and the establishment of La Pinède. During any one day I may begin by pruning the olive trees around the house as well as preparing breakfast for our guests at La Pinède, followed by a trip to Paris to see a construction site, and then building a cabin for Java before picking her up and taking her out for a bike ride to the seaside. No two days are the same, and that’s what stimulates and fulfils me in my daily work.
Why did you change your lifestyle when you left Paris for Marseille?
Coming to live in Marseille wasn’t about running away or being tired of an urban lifestyle. We love Paris, we’re often there, and we loved life in Saint-Ouen even more. We simply wanted a change of scenery and to challenge ourselves by attempting a new project on a larger scale. And, above all, to discover a city as fascinating as Marseille. It’s a bit like a voyage of discovery for us. It all happened very quickly. We knew that one day we would leave Paris for an adventure elsewhere but more likely in 5-10 years. One evening I saw the advertisement for the house, and in six months we were on our way.
What do you love most about this city? What makes it different?
We chose Marseille because we are both enthusiastic entrepreneurs and it is a huge playground for us. Marseille has changed a lot since 2013, but there are still a lot of things to do here! This city has something different, a rich history, a slightly scandalous reputation, a melancholic past and a cosmopolitan population that reminds us of all our travels. It is a city full of enthusiasts. People here speak up, they are intense and genuine and we like that! Marseille doesn’t reveal itself easily, and many people miss out. I like knowing that the most beautiful places in this city are worth seeking out and that in eight months we haven’t seen half of them.
What would you like to achieve by setting up your first joint project, La Pinède?
We want to set up a long-term project in Marseille. La Pinède is the pretty little draft for a larger scale ambition. We wanted to create this experience of welcoming people into our home, and allowing them to discover a small part of our life and our inspirations. Using this formula, on the edge of the hotel business, will help us to understand better how best to welcome guests. Our ultimate goal would be to significantly increase the project with several more bedrooms because at the moment there is only one, which makes the experience very exclusive for our guests and makes management easier for us. But we have been fully booked since the day we opened (1 April 2018), and this is filling us with enthusiasm for pushing the boundaries and undertaking work to create an extension or even just build on a piece of land. An XL version of La Pinède with the same structure, this bohemian feel which invites travel, and, above all, surrounded by nature.
Tell us about your concept. Why offer everything for sale, from the lights in the bedroom to jam from the grocer’s?
The concept of La Pinède comes from another place we have in Saint-Ouen, Flea: a small coffee shop whose principle is based on a single sentence: “Everything here is for sale except Java“. When guests arrive at their room, our goal is to make them feel at home. And that starts with the board on the door, where we write their first names. This then continues down to the smallest details and tiniest touches. Sometimes, when you arrive in a restaurant or hotel you say to yourself: “I would like it to be exactly like this at home” and, in fact, at La Pinède this is pretty much possible. You can leave with an object from the flea market, brought back from Asia or South America, but also with the Berber throw that is placed on the bed, the lamp that Tom made, the ceramics that we had made for us, the cushions, the books, the delicatessen products that replace the traditional minibar, and so on. We like people to take full ownership of the place to the point where they take a piece away with them. This particular feature is very popular at Flea. Now all our projects will be based on the same principle.
What was your main inspiration for the development of La Pinède?
Our inspiration comes purely from all the trips we’ve made. Every inch of the house contains a memory of a country we have visited. Each material or object is meticulously chosen; nothing is left to chance and everything reminds us of a city, a region or a street. We went on road trips to inspire our creativity and took the best from each destination through the many different hotel experiences we had. But if there were to be a predominant inspiration, we would say California. Indeed, the fantasy of the Californian cabin of the 1960s can be found throughout the house in the white wooden cladding on the walls, the natural materials and the omnipresent greenery inside and outside. If we had to choose one particular place, it would be the Joshua Tree House project: houses in the middle of the Joshua tree desert in California, designed in total harmony with their environment with exceptional decoration and in a spirit of purity and freedom.
Where did you get this passion for interior design?
We have always shared a passion for decoration. It is the result of our shared vision of the world around us. We both grew up in houses where style, decoration and lifestyle were never left to chance. Where aesthetics played an important role in the way a table is set up, in the choice of the brightness of the lighting. We choose everything together. Some will say that our interiors are crowded, we think they are full of anecdotes and memories. We like natural materials, soft colours, cabinets of curiosities and accumulation. But also geometrically shaped objects we have collected, especially those from the 1930s, a decadent period for art and decoration when people enjoyed a dance called the Java – which was decisive in the choice of our daughter’s first name.
Could you give us some exclusive locations that you would recommend to your guests?
Even though there isn’t really a typical day for us in Marseille, we have already developed a few habits. Drinking a deep-roast coffee at Deep‘s, bargain hunting at Joli Rouge, having lunch on the patio at Jogging, eating couscous at Noailles, eating panisses and drinking an aperitif at the Vallons des Auffes or at Paulette‘s, jumping off the rocks and then heading to Les Goudes before nightfall to admire the old road before finally enjoying some fish at Aldo‘s. We also spend a lot of time in Cassis, the beach is stunning there, and for Java, it is pure happiness (ice-cream, a carousel and a little harbour)
Photography: Eve Campestrini – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily