Charlotte, Emiliano, would you like to introduce yourselves?
I’m a journalist specialising in decoration and the art of living for the women’s magazine Elle and I also work as a freelance designer and artistic director for various brands and advertising campaigns. Emiliano Schmidt Fiori, my husband, is an artistic cabinetmaker working under the name Sycomore Tree and is also the founder of Hibou House, a company specialising in designing and making tiny houses from wood.
What made you decide to swap your life in Paris for the village of Barbizon seven years ago?
It was the births of our two sons that made gave us the impetus and made us want to leave Paris and move to the countryside. We began looking in the areas around the forests of Rambouillet and Fontainebleau from the start. Emiliano had a very strong desire to live and set up his workshop in a green and rural area. I needed to be reasonably close to Paris for my work. We very quickly came across this house in Barbizon. We liked the village, the surrounding forest was incredible, and there were plenty of shops and businesses. It was perfect. The house was in a very dilapidated state, which meant we could renovate it to our own tastes. We took some time first stripping out then rebuilding the existing part. We then put up an extension made from stone and wood.
What do Leonardo and Solal, your two children, think about this life change?
They were three and five years old respectively when we moved. They don’t really remember life in the city, and they adore living here! They can wander around the village with their friends in complete safety. We spend our weekends in the forest: they make dens, play with whatever they get their hands one, and we often stay there to picnic. This free time is very invigorating; it feels like it stretches on forever. This also enables us to consume less; unlike in Paris, where we had to find activities to keep them occupied. Here, they have an unlimited amount of space to play in, and everything is simpler and gentler.
How did you go about acquiring this place? When does the house date from?
We bought our house in 2013. At first, we couldn’t find anything suitable for us. What we saw was often expensive and not entirely to our tastes. When we came across this, which was in a state of ruin, it really appealed to us. We could see its potential despite the work involved. It took a long time restoring it, but it was absolutely worth it! All four of us are really happy. The confinement has confirmed that to us. It’s like a kind of shield against adversity.
It was Emiliano who completely remodeled this house. How did he do it?
The house was in ruins. It’s Emiliano who’s done all the work. We began by restoring the existing part, which is the portion made up of the dining room, the kitchen, the entrance, our bedroom and the bathroom. We stripped it out, moved the walls and redid the floors and ceilings. We completely remodelled it. We lived with it like that for a short while. Then we put up a wooden extension, which Emiliano designed, made and built. That was a very intense and busy period, but it brought us closer together and gave our children the chance to see that you can build something from nothing and you can do it anywhere. Which, in the end, is very reassuring! We haven’t completed everything yet, but we’re up to the finishing touches. It’s a lot better for Emiliano now.
What did you both want to do in terms of architecture, style and ambiance?
Emiliano is a cabinetmaker, and we both love wood. I’m really in tune with his tastes and the things he wants to do. I let myself be completely guided by his instincts. By renovating bit by bit, he’s been able to shape it like a sculptor, living and experiencing the space and defining it from the interior. We had no particular style in mind beforehand. I suggested ideas to him from time to time.
What types of wood did you decide to use for this? And do you have a favourite kind?
For the house itself, Emiliano used a lot of spare wood left over from his professional projects. This meant there were all different kinds. He works with less common woods: poplar, walnut, elm, sycamore. There’s a mixture of everything in our house.
And for the rest of the decoration, Charlotte, what did you decide to surround yourself with?
I love surrounding myself with decorative items and ornaments that make sense to me. I’m particularly fond of arts and crafts. I have tableware made by my friend Marion Graux and my friends at Astier de Villatte. I like ornaments and decorative items that have a soul, that embody something. The financial value is not important: what matters is the sentimental value. I keep hold of broken crockery for example. These shards and pieces take on a new flavour.
Generally speaking, what philosophy guides your approach to life?
By moving to the country, the notion of time as a concept has really changed. We have learned to take our time. To allow ourselves to be carried along, to stop and look at the world in a different way, and to marvel at details such as the rustling of leaves, a breath of wind. That might seem basic and simple, but I’d never paid attention to these things in the urban frenzy that was our driving force before. We’ve established our own rituals and routines. Getting a fire going in the wood-burning stove, tuning the compost. We’ve given a new meaning to the world. It’s like a kind of metamorphosis.
You both work in areas related to beauty and beautiful things. Have you noticed a change in terms of how you consume decoration, style etc?
We are definitely involved in a real process of “deconsumption”. The more time passes, the less I want and the more I want the space around me to be visually relaxing, with ornaments and decorative objects not taking up too much room. We hardly buy any of these kinds of items any more. We no longer need them.
Charlotte, what are your latest favourite finds – discoveries – in these two areas and, more broadly speaking, in terms of the art of living?
I really love arts and crafts. I was introduced to the work of ceramicist Maon Clouzeau through a female Japanese friend.
What can we expect to find you both doing in the months to come?
Emi is developing and exanding the work he does with wooden houses, and his furniture pieces are going to be exhibited in a gallery when the gallery season gets underway again. For my part, I’m very keen to get back to doing something creative. Confinement has been good as an isolated retreat for thought and reflection!
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily