Instagram is a fantastic playground for those who know how to look. Les Pénates is a perfect illustration. Lucky Finds 2.0. – with the concept of boutique apartments imagined by the inspired imaginations of Annabelle Brun and Brice Bérard, it couldn’t be more true. Their leitmotif: “making new with old”. And it more about “making” than ever. In the heart of Reims, this building, once an archive and then an artist’s studio, was destined for demolition. But that didn’t take into account Annabelle’s deep-rooted desire to take on the work. Her speciality, and one that has been acclaimed by a public eager for advice, resulting in the upcoming release of a new… book! A splendid collection of tips, processes, interviews with craftsmen and lots of ideas for using antique furniture… The other asset of this couple from Reims being on Brice’s side. He is an antique dealer and expert, with a well-deserved reputation and his profession also contributes to Les Pénates‘ considerable success. More or less fully furnished by his fabulous finds (for sale, like the whole of the decor), the house is taking on a new look. It is spacious and generously proportioned, but two spaces stand out. Guesthouse #1, where everything is pure and simple, and woodwork takes pride of place. And Guesthouse #2, which is more stylistically distinctive. Each with its own kitchen, bathroom and living room, these guest suites are available for rent and have everything to satisfy and delight visitors. Les Pénates, in Reims, and soon, perhaps, elsewhere? Annabelle and Brice are already thinking about it. In any event, the family is looking for its next project….
Les Pénates 8, Rue des Filles-Dieu – 51100 Reims. From €150 for 2 people.Reservations: [email protected] // +33 (0)620 451737
Annabelle, Brice, can you introduce yourselves, please?
I’m an artistic director and interior designer. Together with Brice, my antique dealer and antiquary companion, the creator of the Pénates Home concept.
Are you from Reims originally?
No, not at all! I’m from Bordeaux, and I’ve been living in Reims for twenty years. I came to the city to establish a marketing and development post within the regional daily newspaper. I’ve made two changes in my life, one with my daughters’ father, setting up a communications’ agency of which I became artistic director, and now I’m developing my activities as an interior designer. I’ve moved thirty-five times. Les Pénates is my seventh major renovation… Space planning is almost a part of my everyday life, from my first apartments where I transformed everything, to projects for family and friends.
I am from Ardennes, I came to Reims to study and stayed here – I made music for a very long time and, at the same time, I developed what I do today. I’ve been at the Saint-Ouen flea market for years, and Les Pénates became my shop window.
How did the Les Pénates adventure begin?
When Brice and I met, I was looking for a new place to renovate. Very quickly, we started looking for a rare pearl in the centre of Reims. What we were after was work, a lot of work. Thanks to a friend, we came across this place which was completely abandoned. It had been used as an archive, an artists studio, and was in the process of being demolished. We took one look – and we fell in love with it at first sight. It had everything. To tell the story, we created the Instagram account, Les Pénates Reims. Throughout all the renovations I’ve done, my principal concern has always been to preserve the spirit of the place. Every place has a soul that seeks only to express itself. Also, as a result of Brice’s profession, we decided to bring the house back to life by furnishing every room in it with antiques and vintage pieces. We took the time to study every square centimetre, to make plans to transform it, to meet up with specialised craftsmen. Everything was very large and quite unusual. We didn’t know what to do with some of the spaces. There was no question of renting apartments, because of the proximity. Creating co-working spaces crossed our minds, but we didn’t want to have to go backwards and forwards all the time. And then, one day, when I saw Brice taking pictures of the furniture he had bought in his home, I said to him, “Why don’t we create a shop in the apartments?” ». One thing led to another, and we realised that we could introduce our world and our expertise to paying guests. The project was launched! “Making new with old” has become our leitmotif. The Instagrammers were extremely enthusiastic about our story and this concept. We have lots of questions coming in every day. I have always set myself the goal of answering everyone!
How is this affected your daily life?
This project has turned our lives upside down because now we are doing what we love. We realised that the combination of our two activities was a real asset. So, there’s no such thing as a typical day here!
For my part, the thing I like best is when I start a new project. The imagination I bring to bear around a new place, the way I have to plan and anticipate, and find solutions, before I put on my overalls and get down to work! The part I hate is the paperwork, the administration. That feels like a waste of time to me.
Our schedule is certainly hectic, but the keyword is “freedom”! We love our jobs and what we do with a passion. We are both self-taught and learn something new every day. What I like best is working with my partner and, of course, treasure hunting! And as Annabelle says, the administrative side is very hard for both of us. Not having to deal with it would be a real luxury.
Why did you choose this name?
We wanted our visitors to feel at home here, and during a discussion – over a nice little glass of Bordeaux, as usual – (laughs) I said to Brice, “When I come back to Bordeaux, I always say I’m going back to my Pénates, to the bosom of my family.” That was the trigger. And then, (as if I had itchy feet already), I added: “If it works, we’ll open other Pénates elsewhere!”As a result, it became Les Pénates Reims. It was like a secret desire for there to be Les Pénates elsewhere.
How did you shape the identity of this place?
The idea was that it would stay out-of-the-ordinary, and would not look like what we are used to seeing, and would still respect the spirit of the place. I like – in my work – the purified, the immaculate, space. So we approached the design of this place in the same way. In Guesthouse #1, we played with white to highlight all the woodwork and antique furniture we brought back here. We have taken great care with even the smallest details so that there is a strong visual identity, a clear logic to it. But for Guesthouse #2, we wanted to show something else… while sticking to our original theme: “making new with old”! So we decided to offer a more defined space with furniture and (here’s a surprise) strong colours.
Is there one (or more) piece(s) that you dream of finding, buying, for your establishment?
A painting by Pierre Soulages, but that’s a utopian dream! We never stop hunting for treasures and bargains. Even on holiday, you can’t stop yourself!
For me (you’ll laugh), but no, nothing. I dream of finding a new place to devote myself to, and it will be that which determines my desires.
And something that it would be hard for you to part with?
I’m not attached to furniture and objects, what motivates me is looking for them and staging them. It’s like a treasure hunt, like a kid’s thing!
On the contrary, I get attached to things! My giant letter “B” that has come with me in all my moves over the years, my big faceted ball and even particular mirrors.
What is the distinctive feature of Les Pénates?
Here, we offer boutique apartments for rent, but in reality, the whole house is used as a showroom. The house can be rented for photoshoots or private events.
You’re located right in the heart of Reims. Have you become accustomed to working hand in hand with local talent?
For the renovation work, we have surrounded ourselves with local craftsmen and specialist companies. The 9-metre long skylight I designed, and the entrance doors, were custom-made with a partner who specialises in frames for historic buildings. Together, we studied the details of the period and the place and were able to integrate, for example, a grille we found into the front door. The only flooring we have added is the one with these flower mosaics that we commissioned from a tiling specialist in Paris, as well as the switches and sockets. As for the refreshments on offer, the apartments are both equipped with a fully equipped kitchen in which we leave coffee and tea for the morning. We can deliver breakfasts on request, prepared with local products. In terms of decoration, we sourced everything, each object is unique. The only thing that is “new” is household linen. For this, as for some other items and supplies, we work with French brands that we meet on Instagram and are receptive to our world. They’ve taken over the place like a shop!
What are the addresses that you spontaneously recommend to visitors wishing to know Reims better?
Here’s a list of names that we automatically recommend for lunch and/or dinner: Chez Jérôme, a restaurant-antique shop that we like very much. Le Bocal, for a table in the heart of a fish shop. Les 3 Petits Bouchons, an intimate and trendy wine cellar. Le Bon Manger, a bar where you can eat, and a grocery shop. Le Sacré Burger, the benchmark for homemade burgers. Le Jardin des Crayères, a brasserie in the heart of the Crayères gardens. Our Saturday lunchtime rendezvous, Le Marché du Boulingrin, is a real culinary and festive gathering. In a completely different style, we would strongly advise you to visit La Villa Demoiselle. It is a unique example of art nouveau and art deco architecture; it was built by Henry Vasnier in 1890 and completely restored in the style of the time by Mr and Mrs Vranke. And how could I forget the unmissable cathedral!
What does Les Pénates have in store for the coming year (and beyond)?
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily