The family photo could easily be one destined for an American Vintage advertising campaign! Surrounded by his children and nephews,...
Benjamin, Philippine: can you introduce yourselves, please?
My name is Benjamin; I am an architect. Philippine works in her father’s architectural firm, where she is in charge of the decoration and landscape section. We met nearly 30 years ago at law school and have been together ever since.
What is your background?
After spending my teenage years doing a lot of graffiti, I went on to study law. This was followed by two years of loitering in the lecture theatres at the University of Aix, which is how I met Philippine! I naturally went back to what I aspired to from the beginning and studied architecture. After graduating at about the same time as my brother, we established the Sériès et Sériès agency.
After studying law and art history, I joined my father’s architectural firm to help him in decoration projects for the hotel industry.
Tell us about your education in ‘beauty’. How have your tastes evolved?
My family has been in the decoration and painting business since 1895. My father ran the family shop in Marseille, so I was immersed in this environment from a very young age, wandering about between fabrics and upholstery that my father had carefully selected. During my graffiti years, I had a studio in the back room where I spent a lot of time painting on leftover materials from the shop.
Benjamin, your architecture firm Sériès et Sériès operates between France and Los Angeles. Why did you choose the United States?
When we graduated from architecture school in the early 2000s, Thomas moved to Paris. For a few years, we divided the agency between Paris and Marseille and this city, and about ten years ago, Thomas got fed up with the greyness and wanted to move to sunny Los Angeles. So when one of us goes to bed, the other wakes up. But we talk to each other every day to review current projects, the day’s events and things to do! This dual location allows us to run the agency 24/7. We work on projects involving small blocks of flats, houses, hotel redevelopment and offices, and we try to imbue our architecture with both these American-Mediterranean influences.
What drives you in your day-to-day work as an architect?
We are constantly experimenting to refine our ideas and adapt them to the spaces we are working on. We try to express the essence of a place through simplicity and select materials carefully to highlight the essential: the quality of the architectural space. We make numerous drawings to explore all the possibilities and leave nothing to chance, but the construction site brings us back to reality and restores our faith in serendipity. My house is a work in progress that lets us test and approve decorative choices before adapting them to other projects. At the moment, we are also working like this on Thomas’ residence in Los Angeles.
Designers, architects, artists: whose work has had a particular influence on you and your work?
Although we are interested in the work of architects like Ricardo Legorreta, Rudolf Olgiati, Carlo Scarpa and Franck Ghery’s houses, we are mainly inspired by artists, sculptors and designers like Tony Smith, Giuseppe Penone, Daniel Buren, Claude Viallat, Ettore Sottsass, Isamu Noguchi and Sol LeWitt.
From the living areas to the garden, your house seems to pay homage to the modern Californian architecture of the 1970s. What does this architectural trend mean to you?
There is indeed an influence of 1970s American architecture, which I like very much for the simplicity of the details, the execution and the use of simple materials. But I would call our house a southerner in its influences (laughs). It is a house that takes advantage of all that the southern climate has to offer, sunny and warmed by the sun in winter, and wide open to the garden to enjoy its mild climate in summer!
Wood, tiles, and marble predominate in your interior. Tell us why you chose these materials.
We have chosen materials that are as unindustrialised as possible. We used them in a fairly brutalist way. The lower part of the house on the garden level is built of concrete painted white on the inside with a golden render on the outside. Each storey is wood panelled with wooden partitions; there is very little plasterboard. Bejmat tiles, inside and outside for the floor, have an irregular appearance that makes the light dance. The tiles from Salernes for the swimming pool are glazed by hand. A quartzite stone adds colour to the kitchen island.
For you, architecture is a “vector of emotion”. So what were the intentions behind the design of your home?
It is an unpretentious house that does not show much from the street. Both the ground and first floor rooms are arranged around a courtyard. We both wanted to have one so that we could bring vegetation into the heart of our home. The living room is accessed by a staircase that leads down to the garden level. This is where we set the scene for the outdoor spaces, the garden – which is almost exclusively Philippine’s work – and the view that appealed to us when we first visited. We imagined the house as a continuation of the green spaces and not the other way around. Being outward-looking, we live and spend a lot of time outdoors.
How did you furnish the house?
We have chosen simplicity to lead the eye to the garden and to highlight the outdoor spaces, which are the ones we use the most. The terrace which is a continuation of the living room, the swimming pool where we often have aperitifs and the courtyard, which is perfect for a cool lunch. We try not to accumulate too many objects; each piece of furniture has to be a consensus.
What is your favourite room?
The patio with the pizza oven I built during the lockdown! It is an ideal space for entertaining friends and having drinks all evening.
Your house is located in the Madrague district. Why did you choose this location?
For us, La Madrague is the countryside near the city centre, accessible in less than ten minutes by motorbike. At the bottom of the Marseilleveyre hills for year-round walks, just a stone’s throw from the sea, we can run down with my son to go surfing as soon as the mistral blows. Holidays all year round, in short.
Any Marseille addresses to recommend?
The Cantini Museum! It is the first museum I visited alone, to see a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition. I was 15 years old, and I still have a certain affection for this place. La Relève for the aperitif and the conviviality, Sepia for the inventiveness of Paul Langlere’s recipes, the Cercle des Nageurs for the rest.
Where will we see you in the coming months?
In Sète, where we’re finishing a lovely townhouse project that’s close to my heart, in Los Angeles, where we’ve started work on Thomas’s house in Venice, or maybe on the beach, in the islands, making pizzas in a hut.
We designed the house as a continuation of the garden - which is almost exclusively Philippine's work - and not the other way around. This view of the outside world and the hills soothes me.
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily