“This is a large building that was occupied previously by two sisters who specialised in aromatherapy and the place is filled with both serenity and a certain amount of quirkiness (…)”, sums up Mylène Niedzialkowski in a few apt words. The founder of the brands Georges and Soma invites us to discover the Château de Méritein. It is located in a hamlet on the Bearn road to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle where her future workshops and showroom are about to be established. In the meantime, Mylène, the jack-of-all-trades, made a home for herself with Jules (12) and Paul (9). The three companions had a blast while the château was being renovated so they could live in it. Competing with ditties on the piano (the family loves music from horror films, which are very easy to play!), creating a host of small accessories as well as improvising readings, they had plenty to keep them amused. It’s impossible to get bored in a place where everything is in the spirit of camaraderie, and where the mum and her two children each had a “wing” to themselves once the teams had finished work! They live like kings in their château, surrounded by their favourite things and the exceptional pieces developed for Soma. Mylène had to “battle her habit of cluttering the place” in order to really bring out the best of each piece, alongside the incredible local artisans who made them. The result is a very natural space that is strictly minimalist with an edge of sophistication, where the items of furniture seem to interact with each other. The colours that have been chosen (warm and earthy), the light (slightly cinematographic), and the materials (multiple) all seem to chime with the concept of letting the magic do its work. A fascinating visit coloured by the narrative of a woman who really loves the region and the infinite realms of artistic possibilities it has to offer. Without a doubt, this is one of the nicest ways to start the autumn!
Mylène, could you introduce yourself to us?
I’m originally from Paris but I grew up in Hyères. I’ve been living in the South West since I was 12, firstly in Landes and now in Bèarn. This is where I raised my children, Jules, who’s 12, and Paul, who’s 9, and it’s where the three of us now live. We have our house here, which, for us, is a place where we relax and recharge our batteries, spend time reading, and make all kinds of objects from wood, cardboard and various materials we find here and there, and where we also play the piano. Recently, we’ve been spending more and more time here, in what will be the future workshops of my two brands, Georges and Soma. It’s like a family home. We’ve brought all our favourite little objects and items!
Where are we here exactly?
This is the chateau of the village, Méritein, which lies on the road to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle. It’s here that we’ll soon have our production teams and our showroom. It’s a large building formerly occupied by two aromatherapist sisters, and it’s imbued with an atmosphere of both tranquillity (due, in particular to the large gardens) and a certain craziness (each floor is made up of a succession of rooms and long corridors; it’s quite unsettling at first). We’ve nevertheless made ourselves almost completely at home in it, me and my children, while the work has been underway. We spend every weekend here! In fact, we’ll eventually always have our own “wing” here so we can enjoy the gardens, which we’ll soon be converting into a healing and aromatherapy space. I wanted Jules and Paul to be part of this cultural undertaking! I wanted a place that would form a natural link between my family and my team. This building was perfect. I didn’t want a “practical” workplace but instead a country house where everyone feels happy and at ease, where we can all get together around a table.
How did you make the space your own?
By introducing favourite objects and items: some furniture pieces I adore, some books and our beds. Paul has brought items of chemistry and antique medical equipment, which he always likes unearthing and discovering – like treasure – and Jules has brought virtually his entire collection of books with him. We’ve also completely renovated the kitchen, which is done in brass, and the toilets and wash rooms etc. For me, as someone who tends to accumulate a lot of things and never throws anything away, the challenge was to occupy the space in a minimalist way, with everything based more around a “central” piece of furniture rather than an overly furnished combination. In the lounge, it was a case of “constructing” the general design and layout around the sofa and the desk. The design of the kitchen used the table I made for Soma as a starting point. In the boys’ bedroom, I began with painted wall hangings for George, which we used as makeshift bedspreads. In my bedroom, it’s my Marni chair – which I adore – that served as the starting point.
What are your most recent additions – your latest acquisitions – in this house?
The last things I added were purely decorative. The thick Aytm rugs, for example, which follow us everywhere and which we’re were always moving to different places. One of them is currently serving as an XXL bathroom rug! We’ve also added some Vallauris lamp bases (which I collect) and designed a new kitchen, stripping everything out so that we could create the work surfaces and backboard ourselves from a series of long brass sheets. We’ve also put our Soma table in there, the lacquered surface of which mirrors the brass, with the canework base of echoing the rustic touches the room has, such as the stone tile floor for example.
What kind of feel and atmosphere did you want to create for it?
I have to fight my compulsion to keep accumulating things. So I decided to do the opposite and create a space that’s restful on the eye, with natural, untreated pieces and everything either picked up second-hand or made by me, without too many additions. The idea is to really bring out the best in the objects and items, the work behind each one, and to make the most of the house’s large spaces.
You can spot some of your creations for Soma there. Tell us about this project, which is supplementary to the world and flagship models of your brand Georges Studio.
It’s now 10 years since I created Georges. Ten years of design based around textures and colours I’ve fallen immediately in love with. Ten years of prototyping and meetings with artisans from here and increasingly local sourcing of materials. I’ve discovered incredible ways of doing things: growing raw materials close at hand, initiatives in our region that I simply could not pass up. Soma is the fruit of this research – or of these finds rather. Like a sort of homage to our local lands and soil. Because often, when you visit the other side of the world, you find yourself amazed at the wonderfully skilled hands of certain artisans. Soma is the opposite of this approach. I visited my neighbours. Shepherds, weavers, organically sourced and biodegradable surfboard makers, basket makers, boilermakers, cabinetmakers… and found the same precious skills and know-how, the same beauty in the gestures and movements, the same kind of working with fibres. I therefore took the time to put together a complete collection of pieces, all developed over a period of months and numbered and signed. Soma adds to and extends the range of items created for Georges. Every year, we will present our vision of one of the rooms of a house: for 2020, it’s the dining room, based around a glossy table and an assortment of fine, precious materials. For 2021, the lounge. The idea being to have a collection that’s as complete and accomplished as possible, thought out entirely from start to finish, from the smallest item to the central furniture piece.
Where did you get this love for craftsmanship and, in a more general sense, materials from?
I grew up surrounded by it, quite simply! And it seems to me that in each generation of both sides of my family, everybody has created things. One of my great-grandfathers designed outfits for women in small notebooks when he was at the front during the war. He knew how to recane chairs and also did basket-making. One of my other great-grandfathers was a bootmaker: he made shoes for the cabaret singers of the era, such as Mistinguett for example. There’s a whole section of my family involved in jewellery. My grandmother was an upholsterer. And finally, I grew up with parents who new how to renovate a house from top to bottom, from the framework to the masonry, from the plumbing to laying the wooden floors… With around a dozen renovations taking place during my childhood, I learned to recognise good quality materials and make things.
What are the inspirations for your work, your taste?
I grew up in the South West, in Hyères, in the shadow of the strikingly unusual and almost extraterrestrial Villa Noailles. I found that building fascinating. But I think my inspirations also come from my parents’ wanderlust and thirst for discovery. As well as the presence of the sea, the coves of Giens and the smell of the heaths, which were essential for us, we were always out of the house every weekend. The Camargue, Marseille, the Haut Var region and the country houses in Sainte-Baume, Vallauris, Italy and Liguria. It all seemed magical to me. I was mad about architecture, floor tiles, whitewashed facades and warm, earthy colours, and also that raw bright light that’s unique to the South. Then my father took me to see a potter he subsequently ended up working with for a long time… I must have been about eight or nine. And I was captivated by the object, by the hand that fashioned it, combining both slowness and brusque deliberateness at the same time, and the odour of the clay and that so incredible workshop. I still carry that inside me I think.
What role does your region play in your work and your life?
Our region is completely authentic and unspoiled, our countryside and mountains have not yet been touched by tourism and are therefore very quiet and peaceful. It’s very enjoyable, as you feel very free here; and when we go hiking, my children and I, heading off to explore new trails and forests, we feel like the world belongs to us, that there are thousands of possibilities. The beaches here are huge; we have our own spots in the mountains; it’s really very enjoyable.This is counterbalanced by city visits to the Basque coast, to Bordeaux, Toulouse and San Sebastian, and by various trips here and there to all kinds of places. I think that we’ve found the ideal balance between everyday peace and tranquillity and the urban hustle and bustle I have an absolute need for. For creative work, this calmness, this absence of external demands, this unimposed solitude suits me perfectly and helps me focus in a highly positive and beneficial way. Lots of music and a large table are all I need.And even if the pull of the city can frequently be felt, it’s here where everything is born for me. My children, primarily.But also Georges and Soma. And my team. These are my roots!
What would you recommend as a good way of exploring it?
The gorges of Kakuetta, the various hikes starting from Iraty, the Bénou plateau and the Lacs d’Ayou lakes are must-see places, and easy to access for children! Navarrenx, a village dedicated to pilgrims, is also a highly atypical, offering access to the river and a place to swim and bathe.At Sauveterre-de-Béarn, Sally has opened a tea room in a house by the side of the Gave d’Oloron river, where they do home-made English specialities (the cheesecakes are to die for). And all of it in its garden. in the shade of a weeping willow.Finally, you absolutely must have a look around Pau and visit its Saturday morning farmers market and its Emmaüs, which is simply enormous!
Where can we expect to find you, personally and professionally speaking, in the months to come?
In April we will be in Milan to present the second Soma collection. And finally, in Méritein, where we plan to invite people to visit and bring our new place to life!
I have to fight my compulsion to keep accumulating things. So I decided to do the opposite and create a space that’s restful on the eye, with natural, untreated pieces (...)
Photography: Eve Campestrini – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily
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