Magali Avignon. A family name that seems tailor-made for this native of the Luberon. A passionate lover of her region, she decided, after several years in Grenoble, to return to the backcountry of Marseille with her family. A call from the land that was stronger than her career in board sports – in marketing for her, in production for Olivier, her husband. From the Alps to Mont Ventou, the couple made a choice: returning to their roots and starting a new life that would work for them! The hyperactive woman – supported by her other half – has taken advantage of this departure to concretise a project on a project that focuses on Mediterranean residences. A collection of guest houses with a distinctive character that answer to the sweet name of Enamoura – which means ‘lover’ in Provençal. Saumane, Marseille, Saignon, three holiday resorts that have taken over the Midi region and embody the spirit of the south, which is so dear to the family. These “warm”, “embodied” houses have quickly become the playground of their owners, who celebrate the original beauty of these habitats. Their generous and unusual spaces charmingly accommodate a “sensual, often rough, sometimes rustic” decorative style. And the couple can thank their respective mothers for the secret. Creative and practical women who have passed on to them this sensitivity to beauty and craftsmanship. A rich family heritage that the couple also tends to share with their two daughters within their three houses, which vary between primary and secondary residences. Because the Avignons have chosen a nomadic lifestyle. The family travels from one address to another. Here, we find them in their Marseilles residence. A town house with all the charm of a country home where the exterior and interior merge. Recently resurrected by the couple, this haven of peace gives them the feeling of being on holiday all year round. A quality of life that they also embrace once they leave for their village house and their workshop home, where holidaymakers and craftspeople also come to enjoy the premises, since Enamoura also hosts artists in residence. An abundance of culture that inspires Magali to create unique, numbered handcrafted objects that inhabit her three houses. For a total immersion in the land of Provence, from the ancient stone to the furniture.
Olivier, Magali: can you introduce yourselves, please?
I am originally from Le Thor, a village near L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in the Vaucluse. I grew up in a farmhouse in the middle of my family’s land, which for a long time grew the “Chasselas”, a table grape whose virtues made the region famous. We have two daughters.
I was born and raised in Marseille. I met Magali while we were studying in Aix-en-Provence, and she introduced me to the Luberon and the Vaucluse mountains.
What is your background?
I started my career in marketing and communication in the field of board sports in Grenoble. In particular, for Rossignol Skis, where I managed product collections, then the communication department before moving back to the south to establish a property start-up in Marseille. After 10 years at the head of this company, I wanted to devote myself to a more personal project. Over the past year, I’ve been developing the Enamoura collection of holiday homes and, more recently, the collections of objects and furniture of the same name.
I trained as an engineer. Having supervised the production of competition skis for Rossignol in Grenoble for quite some time, I came to the Vaucluse to supervise production at the Blachère Illuminations factory, known for illuminating the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Élysées, and also for its contemporary African art foundation. I have just taken over a folding factory in Cavaillon.
Tell us about your education in beauty. How did your tastes develop?
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a Mecca for antique and second-hand goods. When I was a child, I used to go bargain hunting with my pocket money! My taste has been refined over time by understanding the history and purpose of an object and the skills used to make it. By being very observant and often by making mistakes too. (Laughs)
My mother is very creative. From sewing to bookbinding, I’ve always seen her working with her hands to make precious objects. She contributed enormously to my appreciation of the lengthy and painstaking work craftspeople do.
You are truly passionate about decoration. Where did you get this from?
I grew up surrounded by old stones and authentic objects. I am still extremely aware of the environment in which I live and of natural materials. When I was a student, I preferred a nice studio with a view of the rooftops, or an apartment in a private mansion, even if it meant spending my entire budget on it. I’ve always been particularly attracted to places with a lot of history. Each renovation is a new personal challenge for me. The aim is to get as close as possible to the property’s original beauty and provide the people who will stay there with comfortable, soothing surroundings.
Magali’s passion for architecture and decoration has often led us to stay in elegantly decorated houses and hotels. On our travels, we have always taken the time to seek out local artisans, to hunt for and bring back the objects we have around us today. I’ve become very attached to this ritual.
Each renovation is a new personal challenge for me. The aim is to get as close as possible to the property's original beauty.
What about designers and artists: whose work has had a particular influence on you and your work?
I really appreciate the work of the architect César Manrique and the sculptor Valentine Schlegel, who have endeavoured to create settings inspired by the lifestyle in the south. I also greatly admire the work of contemporary studios like Cobalto Studio and StudioKo. And I have a soft spot for Guy Barref’s light sculptures. My grandmother, Lisette, passed on objects and a culture that guides me in my daily life. The Enamoura project is my way of paying tribute to her and allows me – in turn – to pass on this culture of Mediterranean beauty to my daughters.
Your Enamoura project is – among other things – a collection of holiday homes that have absorbed the Provencal landscape. Tell us about your choice of properties.
Enamoura comes from the word “L’énamourado” which means “the lover” in Provençal. The love of my native land and of its southern way of life. This collection of holiday homes is naturally located in the south of France, and each offers a different facet of the Provence holiday lifestyle. They complement each other perfectly. In winter, you can visit the Provencal Colorado, in summer you can enjoy the Calanques in Marseille and in autumn you can enjoy the rolling hills of Saumane. They are family homes, places full of memories. We like everyone to make them their own during their holidays, and to experience their own happy times there. With friends, as a couple or as a family.
As well as being about holiday destinations, Enamoura is also an illustration of your ebullient creativity. Tell us about the outlet.
With Enamoura, my wish is to help people rediscover the way of life in Provence, its traditional housing and its traditional skills, and the formidable talent of the craftspeople who perpetuate the tradition. My passion for the houses of the south was the starting point for my desire to design objects and furniture for them. These are handcrafted by local artisans and inspired by the everyday Provençal objects I have always kept an eye open for. Sensual, often rough, sometimes rustic, these objects reflect my peasant roots and my Mediterranean culture. They reflect the simplicity and timelessness of the south. The highlights of these collections are limited editions created in collaboration with guest artists in residence in our houses and craftspeople from the region. During the first residency last March, the Marseille-based ceramic duo France Bocognani and Caroline Bartoli, the illustrator Franck Lebraly, the painter Margaux Derhy, the soap maker Manon Monge and the photographer Enzo Luccia took part. The first series of objects released is the result of a collaboration with the Marseille-based ceramic duo Franca Atelier. 53 pendant lamps made of mixed clay – known as agateware, a particular way of working the clay, from the Apt region – which are a sensual and precious reinterpretation of the enamelled pendant lamps our grandmothers used. Each one is accompanied by a bar of mixed soap made by the soap maker Manon Monge during the residency.
Your family home is itinerant. You live with your daughters and husband in one or other of your residences, as the fancy takes you. Where does this desire for a ‘nomadic’ life come from?
I’ve always loved travelling, getting away from it all and the happiness that comes with arriving at a holiday home. The freedom to leave whenever you want, with only your bag on your back… The south already has this atmosphere of lightness and plenty. Our professional careers took one of us to the Vaucluse and the other to Marseille, which was the trigger for this nomadic lifestyle. Nowadays, I love moving from one house to another, places that are ours, warm and welcoming, but free of the unnecessary clutter that can accumulate over the years. I really feel as if I’m on holiday all year round. This is a luxury that we have appreciated all the more in this last year of successive lockdowns.
I’m naturally a bit more sedentary than Magali, but thanks to her restlessness, I’ve really rediscovered my home town. I enjoy Marseille’s vibrant nightlife as well as its many opportunities for sporting activities. However, I have a soft spot for Saumane, its peace and quiet and its hills. Footpaths into the hills start in right front of the house. This summer, we are moving into our newly renovated workshop in Saignon. The opportunity to explore the northern Luberon by mountain bike. Our eldest daughter is now in Lyon; the second is lucky enough to have her own independent studio attached to our house in Marseille.
Tell us the story of your first encounter with Montevideo, the Marseilles home where we are meeting today.
While I was looking at a property for my daughters and me that I didn’t really like, we peeked over the garden wall and discovered this totally derelict house. An absolute miracle in Vauban; it’s a very popular district. From that moment on, I couldn’t sleep and scarcely breathed! I looked for the owners, the children had just inherited it, and it had not yet been put on the market. And that’s how we came to own this very special place. It was a major undertaking. I created an upper floor in the garage – a former coach building workshop – to open it onto the garden and create the winter living room, the master suite. The pond was constructed first because once the renovation was completed, the garden was no longer accessible. Next, I renovated the shed and turned it into the fisherman’s hut I’d dreamed of owning. I was supported by my long-time partner Maria Olofsson from Insides, who translated my sketches and inspirations into highly professional plans for my artisans.
I wasn’t really attracted by the idea of living partially in Marseille. But Magali found the right arguments to sway me with this house. It’s hard to believe we’re only 10 minutes walk from the old port! Magali designs the space and supervises the building work. I help her with all the processing and transport of the old materials. I’ve also repainted the house several times! (Laughs)
How did you furnish and decorate it?
Before knocking everything down to rebuild it, I salvaged all the old things I could from the site: wooden doors, stonework, old windows, old shutters, and so on. Thanks to Olivier’s network of craftspeople, I was able to have each piece restored, and they were all later re-used in the layout of the house. The tabletop in the living room, for example, is an old door from the garden shed. I was able to expose the stone and brick walls of the house; the ceilings are very high. Then I simply arranged my collection of objects – pieces I had found in Provence or brought back from my travels. There is very little furniture in here. The winter living room was plastered and covered with mattresses so that the whole family could gather in front of the giant screen. For the other rooms, we limited ourselves to the bare minimum: a wicker outdoor suite and two armchairs from the Canal flea market in Lyon, a chest of drawers that we also found, as well as two 1950s benches that my brother-in-law gave me. They were in his father’s surgery. I like simple, “no fuss” furniture, as my grandmother would have said!
Before knocking everything down to rebuild it, I salvaged all the old things I could from the site: wooden doors, stonework, old windows, old shutters, and so on.
Natural materials are in the spotlight in your holiday homes, from the living room through to the bedroom. Could you explain this decorative approach to us?
I prefer to use recycled materials in the renovation of our houses. They have already had a life; they are marked by time and bring that timelessness that characterises the Enamoura spirit. As a true Mediterranean, I like to walk barefoot and live outside. I like the fact that the boundary between inside and outside is almost invisible. Hence, my passion for houses made of stone, lime and plaster. I choose natural colours and warm materials like linen, hemp and wool, because they encourage calm and laziness. Holidays are a special time for reconnecting with your senses. This search for sensuality is what guides my decorative choices. This is why I also use old materials alongside the application of Marius Aurenti polished concrete by Bruno Crespin. It’s a material that links the past and the present.
You are a southern girl. How would you define the Provencal lifestyle?
t is there naturally in my country roots: living to the rhythm of the light, savouring each season, keeping your door open and your feet in the earth, cooking with olive oil, drying your clothes in the four winds, going to the pump to fetch water because it’s fresher there, and then lying under the arbour when the sun is at its height. Never throwing anything away, re-using everything.
Tell us your favourite places to visit between Saumane and Marseille. The ones that are precious to you and Enamoura.
Year after year, as I share my favourite places and tips with my friends and holidaymakers who stay at Enamoura, I was inspired to create my own guide to Marseille. A four-day itinerary, where visiting museums is not necessarily a priority. I share my best spots for enjoying a cocktail by the sea or taking a midnight dip in a secret cove. It is really a guide to “experiencing Marseille”, not visiting it. You can download it directly from the website, and it comes with a link to a geo-located map where I have listed everything. It’s super handy, and I update it regularly! Of course, there are places where the décor, the setting and the atmosphere reflect the way of life in the south: the restaurant Chez Le Belge in the Marseillesveyre cove, the Cabanon Paulette, Tuba in Les Goudes, L’Abri, where we can see the wine-making done before our very eyes, or the intimate shaded terrace at Sam Kitchen, just a stone’s throw from the house. And then there are the flea markets and decoration shops. This season we have produced the Provence guide. A one-week course – step by step – for enjoying the softness of the Luberon, the Vaucluse mountains and the Alpilles. There is plenty to do! For a quiet dinner for two, I like the restaurant Le Haut Perché, in Saumane, best. The view from its terrace is the most beautiful in the region. During the week, I go to the farmers’ market in Velleron for fruit and vegetables, and on Sundays, after scouring the flea markets in the surrounding villages, I always pop into the Maison Pernoise concept store in Pernes before going to stock up on tapenades at the market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for the daily aperitifs under the arbour.
Where will you find us in the next few months?
In Saignon to finish setting up the workshop, and working on the e-shop to release of the new Enamoura collections, in particular, a limited edition of plates illustrated with nails by Franck Lebraly. They tell the story of the seasons and the traditions of the south of France. There are also some majestic candlesticks designed by the painter Margaux Derhy from traditional culinary objects, handmade by the Barbotine pottery. A magical place in Aubagne, which partners with us for the residences.
In my factory! I have a feeling that Magali will soon entrust me with manufacturing a range of lighting fixtures. (Laughs)
What does The Socialite Family mean to you?
A source of inspiration, eclectic environments, interiors that show the joy of mixing and matching, just like the owners. Homes that are lively, warm, personal and unique. And a very attractive collection of objects and furniture.
As a true Mediterranean, I like to walk barefoot and live outside. I like the fact that the boundary between inside and outside is almost invisible.
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily