From the school classroom in Lyon to Marseille via London, Axel and Mélissa Chay have been guided by their mutual love throughout their journey together. Hauling their luggage from one destination to another, they finally settled down in the city of Marseille with its creative buzz that has inspired their work. A lucky encounter between two young students at business school, both passionate about design. An attractive common interest that unites them personally as well as professionally. As both a married couple and a business duo, these two inventive souls have been working closely together since independently advancing their careers in art and architecture. Alongside her friends Amadine and Sébastien Coquerel at Archik, and his friend Marouane Sadki at Nova Obiecta. Adventures that have led them to new horizons. Founded in early 2020, the designer’s studio is the realisation of his childhood dream. Self-taught beyond convention, the artist expresses his creative soul by producing objects that combine functionality and aesthetic appeal. “A free approach to the subject” for an intuitive process that seeks to embody profound works of art. This approach encourages a dialogue that mentally nourishes him, aided by Mélissa’s sharp eye for interior decoration. Punctuated with creative sparks, their day-to-day life is “imbued with design, art and architecture”. This is the setting in which their young son Austin is developing. He is surrounded by his father’s works of art in what seems like an immaculate playground dotted with splashes of colour. A house with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea which the couple is gradually furnishing with Axel’s masterpieces and her own remarkable finds. Warren Platner tabless, Pierre Paulin settees: All these famous second-hand items of furniture are now being joined by the modern creations of the young avant-garde of design. Including theirs, of course.
The decoration has evolved quite a bit since we moved in. The furniture comes and goes with the different furniture shows. Our house is constantly evolving!
Axel, Mélissa: can you present yourselves?
We are a couple with a great sense of curiosity and passion. We have been together for eleven years. We love travel and are always on the lookout for new encounters and inspiration that we can share with our friends and family. Our daily lives are filled with design, art and literature.
Can you tell us about your background?
We went to the same business school in Lyon. That’s where we met. I later continued my studies to do an MBA in international business in London. It was during this period that we created Nova Obiecta with my friend Marouane Sadki. I finally founded my own studio at the end of 2020.
Once I obtained my degree, I started my career in a communications agency in Paris. I then took off for London, a city that I particularly appreciate, to join Axel. Once there, I trained in the art business at Christie’s. For the sake of love, I followed him back to France and we settled in Marseille, where we’ve been for six years now. When I arrived there, I discovered ARCHIK – a real estate and architecture agency – and its founder Amandine Coquerel. That’s when we started a lasting friendship. I took care of the brand image but also of tracking down remarkable architecture for five years. Today, I assist my husband and develop new personal and creative projects.
Tell us about your education for the ‘beautiful’. How did you train your eye?
I already dreamed of becoming a designer in secondary school. I followed an option with art studies that sharpened my eye and fell in love with painting, like my father, who used to take me around the house to show me the paintings when I was a baby. I’ve always haunted museums and libraries. That’s where I started my education by reading about the works of artists. At a very early age, I loved going to contemporary art events and furniture exhibitions. Our many travels are also frequently determined by the architecture and exhibitions that we dream of discovering, like the work of Tadao Ando in Naoshima, Japan.
My family ran a metal frame company. The grandson of a farrier, I’ve always been around workshops and construction sites. There’s where I developed my attraction for metals in general! My parents were very attracted by everything contemporary, whether in architecture, design or any other sector. So, I benefited from this cultural background that I had to enrich with studies of classic works as I continued my training.
Designers, artists: which works have had an influence on you and on your own work?
Almost all 20th century designers! I am also fascinated by artists like Genevieve Claisse, Tom Wesselmann, Donald Judd, and, of course, the kinetic artists of the GRAV movement, like Julio Le Parc, François Morellet, Horacio Garcia-Rossi, Francisco Sobrino, Yvaral, to mention just a few.
Axel, how, as a designer of objects, do you think of your creations?
I read a lot, I highlight, I cut out, I find inspiration and share my discoveries with Axel. During his creative process, we discuss the forms, colours and future functions. However, because I have an eye for interior decoration and current lifestyle trends, I am more involved in set design or development projects.
What is your creative process?
Tell us about how you came across this house.
Your interior is characterised by a generous use of colour. Tell us about your choice.
This house dates to the 1890s. The rooms were small and dark. We wanted to brighten it up and highlight the seaview. During renovation, we knocked down almost all the walls to open up the space and reinstalled interior insulation. All the walls had to be drywalled and painted white. Like a sort of white cube that would highlight our colourful furniture.
How did you furnish and decorate it?
We furnished it little by little. The decoration has evolved quite a bit since we moved in. The furniture comes and goes with the different furniture shows. Our house is constantly evolving!
I began by collecting second-hand designer objects – like our Pierre Paulin sofa – or purchased in Anne Carpentier‘s gallery – like the Étienne-Henri Martin armchair and the Kalou Dubus lamp. We love to unearth things in flea markets. For example, that is where we came across our Warren Platner table and our Jacobsen chairs for Fritz Hansen. We also found some wonderful Eeo Saarinen chairs in a dumper that we followed by motorbike. Axel’s creations bring a final offbeat touch to this happy marriage!
What does it tell us about you?
I don’t know what is says about us, I’ll let you be the judge of that. For me, in any case, it is a sort of creative laboratory. The search for our own aesthetics, the reflection of our desires. Personally, I like to see it like an interior out of a film by Paolo Sorrentino. These open spaces and large volumes are ideal to welcome guests. The incredible view and light at sunset are true sources of inspiration.
Which creation in your home are you most proud of?
It’s impossible to say – it changes almost every day. I always prefer the new prototypes I bring home.
You live in Marseille, a city that is a melting pot of creative energy. What are your latest discoveries there?
We have a real admiration for the work of the photographer Aurélien Ciller. He’s an artist that captures the soul of Marseille on film. There are also many other craftspersons to praise for their creations, especially Laure Amoros – OROS – and her work with wood, France Bocognani and Caroline Bartoli – the founders of Franca – and their pottery work. Finally, Julie Pailhas’s gallery/apartment is an inspiring exhibition room where the ‘Objets Inanimés’ design project comes to life.
What are your favourite addresses there?
Our friends’ places. Gourmet and design addresses. From Camille and Mathieu’s Ourea restaurant to our friend Florent’s second-hand shop. Not to mention our dear friend Nicolas Veidig-Favarel‘s Double V Gallery.
What is The Socialite Family, for you?
Inspired persons in inspiring places.
Photographies : Valerio Geraci – Text : Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily