Margot, Romain: can you introduce yourselves, please?
I’m 33 years old, and I’m an interior designer and decorator. I work mainly in Bordeaux, the Arcachon basin and Paris. I like renovating old properties, keeping the original features of a house or an apartment and mixing them with more contemporary elements. I love walls that aren’t straight and rooms that are crooked. I like the unusual! I work with passionate craftspeople who enjoy using antique and salvaged materials in a project as much as I do, with all the complexity that this entails. My spouse has just joined me in the adventure, much to my delight!
I’m also 33, and I trained as an engineer. Margot and I have lived in Paris for seven years. Then in 2013, we took the plunge and moved to Bordeaux. I wanted some space, a garden. I’d dreamed of buying my first property and renovating it myself. We quickly found our first apartment, and in 2019 we fell in love with a typical local house and renovated it ourselves. We have always shared a passion for renovation work. We like to imagine ourselves in a property and bring out all its potential. We also dreamed of working together, and that is now the reality!
What is your background?
I don’t have a conventional background. As a teenager, I liked to go along with my father, who was renovating properties, to advise his clients on the possible layout of rooms. Out of a passion for the subject, I followed a course of study in art history and interior design in parallel with my studies to become an early childhood educator. I wasn’t thinking of making a career out of it; I just wanted to learn more about it and deepen my knowledge. After seven years in early childhood education in a facility for multi-handicapped children in palliative care, I became a mum myself and decided to change my career path and make my passion my profession. I went back to get some training to bring myself up to speed, and I went for it!
At school, I quickly chose the scientific stream. That was where my interests lay. I then followed an engineering course, Civil Engineering, then, after five years study, I obtained my engineering degree in structural and fluid mechanics in collaboration with the Arts et Métiers school in Paris. After 10 years of experience in engineering, I wanted to take on a new challenge and apply what was at the heart of my university studies to the field of renovation.
Tell us about your education. Where did you grow up – and how did it influence the development of your taste?
I grew up just outside Paris in a house with my parents, my older sister, my older brother and my dogs. We’ve always travelled during the summer holidays. My parents brought back treasures from every trip. As for me, I was fascinated by the colours in the streets and the design of the guest houses or hotels where we stayed. Throughout the year, the Sunday ritual was a trip to the flea market and to garage sales. I grew up with the idea that we should repair instead of throwing away; that if we no longer like the original design of a piece of furniture, we can paint it and reintegrate it into a room. As a teenager, I also helped to renovate my brother and sister’s apartments, and I enjoyed that very much!
I grew up in the south of Paris in a house with my parents, my older brother and my younger sister. My parents renovated the house by themselves. When I think of my childhood, I hear the sounds of work; I see my father and mother with drills, sanders and brushes in their hands. In my family, it’s a passion that has been passed on from generation to generation. My grandfather graduated from the Ecole Boulle. My mother worked at Mode et Travaux as a Graphic Designer. As for my father, he followed a career in engineering, but at the same time he renovated a large part of their house and their second home in the mountains, too. He passed on to me his passion for woodworking, the need to be patient, and for work well done. To find the rare gem to renovate, the antique door that will make all the difference in a room. So when I told them I was going to quit my job and start a renovation company with Margot, it made sense to the whole family!
Designers, artists: whose work has had a particular influence on you, your work?
I am very attached to artists like Alberto Giacometti and Pierre Soulages, who highlight materials and light. I love their clean approach, the timelessness of their art. I could spend hours looking at a painting, its spatial effects, its cracks. I like defects, material that lives, dries, evolves. I also have in mind painters like Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, who had a very innovative vision of the arbitrary use of colour. In my job, I’m often asked to help future parents and to design their children’s bedrooms. I like to be inspired by their style, to go back to my art history classes to suggest a different design approach.
Your architectural signature is distinguished by a strong sense of purity. Could you explain this aesthetic choice?
In my personal and professional approach, I try to develop my ecological awareness, to consume sensibly and to reduce my impact on the environment. For me, this means an interior designed using a maximum of second-hand materials and furniture. Why produce something that already exists somewhere and is waiting for a second lease of life? This results in refined interiors that will stand the test of time without my clients getting bored. Interiors that last and do not encourage short-term consumption. Offering wallpapers with a strong design or wall colours that are too colourful could become boring too quickly. The same goes for furniture: I always choose sustainable items. The farm table, the workbench and the wicker armchair have survived the years without a single wrinkle. These are good value for my clients, and I like to think that they are pieces that will be passed on from generation to generation.
What is your approach to interior design, and how do you apply it in your Bordeaux home?
In my work, I like to interact with the houses, visit them, see how they change during the day. For me, renovating a house means first perceiving all its potential and its original features, recognising the poor renovations it has undergone and tracing its history. Then I have to get to know my clients. To meet their family, to know how they live, how they imagine their everyday life in this new place. This gives me a personalised view of the project, which will suit both the house to be renovated and the family who contacted me. I don’t copy and paste between two projects; each encounter is unique. However, in all my projects, you can find antique furniture to give a function to each room, I like to create a real focal point in each space. For my house, I was looking for old features that had been retained, and I fell in love with its stained glass windows, its two-storey stone staircase and its mouldings. I didn’t want a partially renovated house, with the risk of it being badly done. I was looking for authenticity. It didn’t need much doing to it to make it pleasant and to my liking. We had to sand the wooden floor to restore its original colour, remove the wallpaper and paint it white to lighten the whole place up, open up some of the rooms, and re-partition them to let the light in.
I grew up with the idea that we should repair instead of throwing away; that if we no longer like the original design of a piece of furniture, we can paint it and reintegrate it into a room.
Your work often involves rearranging interiors. How do you identify the potential of your clients’ spaces?
The current standards outline the main lines of all projects: a kitchen open to the dining room, a maximum of openness, so the light can flood in, and storage. My job is to indicate all the possibilities that a house offers by specifying the modifications that this will entail, such as opening up load-bearing walls, changes to services, and reorganising spaces. I’m there to find aesthetically pleasing solutions to the problems caused by these modifications and to bring my special touch to the whole: how to make the link between two floors when opening up walls, how to keep the mouldings when moving partitions, how to make the most the defects of a room such as the absence of a window, or unusual dimensions. I like to bring a fresh eye to the room, to suggest an unexpected design, a detail that can only be found here. This is one of my favourite stages in a project.
In your home, the old and the new blend harmoniously. How do you find the balance that characterises your world?
Even though I love incorporating antique furniture, I try not to fall into the “I live in a junk shop” or “I live with grandma” trap! Romain acts as a bit of a safety net for me in this respect! I have a real attachment to sanded, sandblasted, raw wood, but also to wood with a patina that has survived the ages. I find it brings a real depth to an interior, a warmth that cannot be beaten. Hunting for antique and second-hand furniture also makes it possible to mix eras without too much difficulty, while keeping the vintage aspect as a common thread. For decorative objects, I like to use old pottery in places where it is less expected: in the kitchen to store utensils, in the bathroom to store reusable cotton wool, in a child’s bedroom to store little games that can get lost. But I especially like to create a surprise by placing these objects or pieces of antique furniture right next to a very modern lamp that will give the whole thing a boost. I’ve got a bit of an addiction to very sleek designer lights. I often choose authentic materials like porcelain, metal or recycled fibres. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a piece stand out. Some wooden furniture, beautiful materials and a more elaborate pendant light in the centre. There’s nothing else to add!
There are also many elements you have made yourself. Where does this passion for handmade products come from?
It goes back to my childhood! I’ve always enjoyed painting and making pottery myself. As a teenager, I used to go to Emmaus with my mother, and I would reupholster bits of furniture and change the handles and the colour to put them in my room. I miss manual activity in my job, which is more about design than implementation. At weekends, I like to get together with my daughter to work with clay or papier-mâché to produce something, to see it evolve as it dries, and to be able to paint it or sculpt it. I also like do-it-yourself, and I’m used to handling tools and materials (we renovated the whole house ourselves). I’m not afraid to start making a chandelier or a mural for my children’s room. The walls I painted in Mathilda’s and Joseph’s rooms are my favourite works. I find it brings a poetic touch to their worlds; it makes their cocoon softer, more personal, like a childhood bubble. And then doing things yourself really allows you to recharge your batteries and break away from the pace of everyday life. For me, it gives me energy and creativity too. And this is very beneficial for my client projects!
What does your interior say about you?
We hope it says of us that we are two simple, genuine and welcoming people. We like to feel at home, to sleep well, to eat well, for the children to run and play together, for the adults to have a good time playing cards in the living room or drinking tea and sharing a good loaf of banana bread in the conservatory on the benches. We are both creative, highly family-oriented and positive people. We like to see the good in things and the beauty in our surroundings, especially when they’re not perfect! We also like interiors that are easy to live with and share; we hope ours is like that and that it represents our values in everyday life.
If you had to recommend any places in Bordeaux, what would they be?
I really like good food! I’m addicted to the cardamom rolls from Suzzie Café, the creamy heart cookies from Be My Cookie and the lemon scones and fondants from the La Diplomate tea room. Every Sunday morning, we go shopping at the Capucins market. We can also eat on the go there: Thai specialities, tapas with pata negra or oysters from the Arcachon basin. And just after the market, I always have a look round the Saint-Michel flea market. I drop by Yvonne’s and say hello to my second-hand dealer Jamal, who helps me with my professional projects and who runs an Ali Baba’s cave, Cour et Jardin. You have to search, mind you, but the atmosphere of the place is incredible.
What does The Socialite Family mean to you?
Where will we see you in the coming months?
I have some great projects in Bordeaux that are starting to bring new challenges! In particular, there’s a fabulous house right by the sea near Royan, which is going to be nicely renovated using beautiful materials, eco-friendly insulation and warm colours in the different rooms. The preliminary draft is almost finished; I can’t wait to start on the rest!
I’ve been working with Margot since the beginning of October. I’m going to work through all the steps of a project with her. I’ll be there to do the technical drawings and 3D modelling of the proposals, as far as the design part is concerned. My work will also involve the execution of the project: acting as a link between the craftspeople and the clients, checking that the project agreed with the clients is properly implemented. This will enable us to increase our operational capacity!
At weekends, I like to get together with my daughter to work with clay or papier-mâché to produce something, to see it evolve as it dries, and to be able to paint it or sculpt it.
Photography: Eve Campestrini – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily