It’s not just an impression. Arnold d’Alger’s universe is as talkative as he is! We wouldn’t be surprised if all these little things, including the plants, started talking to us. After reading this article, you’ll come to realise that the interior by the creator of the bazar d’alger and his companion, Bruno Della Mattia, is truly alive. Not that it really is in the true sense of the word (the Joseph Zotti armchair did not rush over to welcome us like a golden retriever would), but it is fascinating that it immediately makes us feel something. Every detail in this old workshop (which was acquired by the skin of Arnold’s teeth) has a story behind it. Starting with the creations of Arnold himself which accumulate in glorious disorder until they turn into delicate and fragile sculptures with luminous patterns. These porcelain decorations are the start of a new adventure that we hope will be crowned with success for him. Endowed with boundless curiosity coupled with facetious brushstrokes, the artist has been investing body and soul – for just one year – in this upcycling and personalisation project of embellishing old crockery with traces of gold or a patina – all of it secondhand or given to him by his customers. It’s meticulous work that is dictated by his own preferences as well as theirs. Custom pieces are at the heart of the bazar d’alger. Arnold loves collections of things, but above all he has an endless appetite for meeting people. He sees personalisation as an “easy gateway into the personal side of his customers.” That was something he was sorely lacking in his previous career as a graphic designer. Now that he is a guardian of some of their keepsakes – his “raw material” – the Parisian has made it his mission to transcribe them. It’s an exploration that has led him to try new mediums, whether it involves tiles or silk painting. On top of this, some of his creations are already appearing triumphantly in the heart of his little “community”. His interior is a gorgeous mixture between the ceramic oven loaned him by a friend, his family furniture, furnishings he acquired on the leboncoin website or from a friend’s stall, and the artistic works of others… We told you at the start that this interior had a lot to say. But what we really wanted to clarify was that it makes us talk as well!
Arnold, Bruno: Can you introduce yourselves, please?
My name is Arnold d’Alger, son of Brigitte and Gérard, brother of Cécile. In broad outline, I would say that I am an artist, always eager to meet new people, a lover of nature, good living, my friends, sharing, Bruno, art, flea markets, my work and far too many other lovely things to be able to give you an exhaustive list! Currently, I am totally committed to my recently established business, bazar d’alger. The best way to get to know me is still to sit down and eat with me!
I’ve always been a music lover, and in my spare time, you can also find me behind the turntables with my friends from Tristesse and Scandale or with my headphones on selecting tracks for our monthly playlists. I share Arnold’s (somewhat overwhelming) passion for plants and succulents, and our collection is expanding quite regularly. I am one of those people who want a dog and follow them on Instagram (Hello, dear Noodle). I also read a lot of novels, “La Chaleur” by Victor Jestin and “Demande à la Poussière” by John Fante, and comic books too, especially about Japan or written by Japanese authors (“La Cantine de Minuit” by Yarô Abe, “Chiisakobe” by Minetaro Mochizuki, and books by Ryoko Sekiguchi). I hope we’ll have the opportunity to go there one day and experience the food (another passion I have in common with Arnold) as well as for art, culture and sake!
What are your respective backgrounds?
I’m a graphic designer by training, and I launched bazar d’alger in December 2019. It’s a bit of a cliché, “Arnold was fed up with the screen and needed a return to the material world”. We read it a lot these days, but it’s as simple as that. So, two years ago, I signed up for porcelain decorating and silk painting courses through Paris Ateliers, which I doubled-up with a year of pottery at Sandrine de Poterie et Compagnie next door. I did it all. I was asked to bring my own crockery for these porcelain decoration workshops. So, instead of buying new pieces, I preferred to buy on leboncoin. You get direct access to private individuals’ cupboards, and to good old granny’s crockery which was just begging to find a place on the table! And boom, bazar d’alger was born.
As for me, I plunged headlong into digital by founding my digital production studio della mattia. I changed my profession radically about three years ago. Before that, I worked for over eight years in communication and digital marketing for companies and cultural venues. I was always attracted to computers, but I never thought that one day that I would be able to code. Then I got to grips with coding through fellow creative coders who encouraged me to learn. I trained online with SuperHi! and then at the Ecole de Wagon, where I still give lessons today in parallel with my self-employed activities. This is how I help my clients with the conception, design and development of all their digital projects such as portfolios or e-commerce, most often for artists who have small brands such as bazar d’alger (Laughs). More recently, I’ve been training in eco-design, which will allow me to create low impact, eco-responsible websites by the end of the year.
Here we are bazar d’alger, your hideaway, your temple, dedicated to Arnold’s creative pursuits. Can you tell us about your brand in more detail?
It’s an open hideaway, and we have as much fun welcoming people here as we do working here! We’ve been here for two years now, and it’s partly because of bazar d’alger. For the record, this ceramic kiln, sitting carelessly in the entrance, is a gift from Isabelle, a friend of my mother’s. She gave me a huge boost as soon as she saw that I was starting my business. It was right at the beginning of my relationship with Bruno, and I took him to the Vaucluse in a van to go and fetch this free gift! When we returned in the middle of the night to what was my flat at that time, we realised (well actually I did) that it wouldn’t fit. It was already full! Long story short: after a few days of embarrassment – acting as if nothing had happened – and with that kiln near the mailboxes, I came across the only property advertisement in the neighbourhood that didn’t have a photo… on the eve of going on holiday in the Basque Country. I called, and the viewing was scheduled for the next morning. And that’s how we came across this little gem. The train left three hours later. The landlady kept the apartment for us until we got back from our holidays and then we settled in! So for two years now, I’ve been enjoying working on old dishes – or directly on those provided my clients, I’ve been creating decorations on tiles for unique interiors, and I’ve been painting on silk.
Why did you put “custom-made” at the heart of your project?
I needed to create that intimate bond that I’ve too often missed with my clients. These are not objects that I’m selling, they are the work of artists and craftspeople. I have an infinite taste for new encounters. It’s not unusual for me to come home late at night and tell Bruno that we have strangers coming for dinner the next day, but “you’ll see – they’re really nice”! ». Personalisation is an easy way into this intimacy, it allows the people I meet to tell me about the ones they love, to tell me their story and to confide just enough of this intimacy for me to be able to transpose it in my own way. But for bazar d’alger, my primary source of inspiration comes from the stories that my clients share with me as I work on custom designs for them. That’s my raw material. It is then up to me to suggest ways to transcribe their secrets. I often get asked for my alphabet pattern. It’s like the little pieces of alphabet pasta we had at the bottom of plates as children. A random pattern that I paint with gold. Usually, it’s only the recipients of this treatment who decipher the message straight away.
Porcelain, earthenware, silk, paper: is there a material you prefer to work with? And which is one you like to apply your designs to most?
I use these mediums because they give me pleasure, but they also give me the opportunity to develop the products the bazar d’alger can offer. Because by working with so many, I make sure that I never get tired of what I’m doing. And because the ones I’ve chosen are so diverse, I open myself up to all sorts of possibilities when it comes to application. With my decoration on porcelain, I’m working on the art of the table and conviviality, which is part of the way Bruno and I live. It’s also allowed me to enter into a phase of reflection and creation with Balbosté, designing multi-sensory taste experiences. I developed my decoration of tiles to offer myself creative possibilities using larger surfaces. With decorations on silk, the project might be to create unique pieces, like the ones we wear. Reversible bomber jackets, and oversized unisex shirts. I will soon be tackling a series of unique pieces in the form of painted silk cushions Watch this space!
Why do you use gold and platinum but not colour – which is everywhere in your home – in your creations?
I use gold because I also use dishes that I pick up second-hand. It just so happens that gold and platinum have a power to enhance that makes people accept the traces of wear and tear present on tableware that may already be 50, 100 or 150 years old. By using this precious addition, old things are up-cycled, and passed on and it’s important to realise that gold, like platinum is not just one colour, but thousands of reflections that move with the light that touches them. And it works on all scales!
Where do you get your inspiration for your designs? Which ones have contributed to the shaping of your unique world?
Having one’s senses continually reawakened. That seems to me to be a basis. Then, shaping a culture, taking an interest in what affects us and understanding why. It is from this analysis of what awakens my emotions that I draw my inspiration. Nature is obviously one of the things that surround me in life, and it influences me a lot. The intimacy I was talking about earlier is also very important for creations for bazar d’alger.
Tell us about this place, which is both a workshop and an apartment.
It’s a former workshop! This floor, and the part in which we are standing, housed the machinery, and on the other side of the landing was the living space. It’s a completely open area. The space has only been structured by the furniture, a few curtains and blinds, and a lot of plants. We wanted to keep it as fluid as possible and make people feel at home, whether it be our friends or the people we work with.
What is it populated with?
Populated is the right word! Between the plants that are growing and the flowers that are drying… there is a whole lot of furniture that was passed on to me by my mother, who embellished her home during her stays in Africa with my military father. I also loved to raid Ambroise Alliou’s wonderfully well-stocked shop when he was still in the 18th arrondissement, but I’ve been keeping a close eye on him ever since he moved to Trouville; you never know! That’s where I acquired the Joseph Zotti armchair that I like so much, together with the 1970 round marble coffee table with a white steel base that commands the entrance, the cream and aluminium armchair by George Frydman and the metal and rosewood bookcase. I have also scoured leboncoin and used Cocolis a lot, the ideal partner when you’re looking for Chinese treasures, large or small! I found my marble and rosewood pieces on the classified ads site. Now, I’m displaying my latest tile samples! Apart from those, I love this shelf suspended from the ceiling. It is made of iron rods covered with white plastic and comes from Mexico. I would have liked to bring back four more, but we already had a lot of extra luggage due to my compulsive “little” purchases (pottery, typewriter, candles, vases, birds, bronze face and so on). On the wall, you can see some of the large paper collage work I made during lockdown, some framed tiles, a silk hanging and some bathroom shelves that I decorated with gold and placed in the living room. And a coffee table, the prototype from a collaboration with Renée Recycle with whom we will soon be producing some unique pieces of furniture. They will have tiles from bazar d’alger on them. And then, there is this bronze banana. It was the only object I could afford from the incredible selection belonging to my antique dealer friend Dorian Caffot de Fawes. But what I like most is to be surrounded by the work of other artists. As for that, I’m a bit compulsive, there are about a hundred work sitting waiting to be framed. My passion for art has infected Bruno. He recently bought himself a drawing by Alex Foxton and a painting by Alexandre Benjamin Navet. Among the few things of mine that are visible at the moment, there are my dear Martinet & Texereau, who made the two drawings above the sofa and this group of four plants that shares the office space with us. Then there are Claire Trotignon’s collages, Brian de Graft’s plants, an iconic portrait of François Malingrëy, this Bruno portrait that I commissioned from Cristina Amodeo for his last birthday, some canvases by George(s), and these little Mexican lottery cards that I like so much.
You spend your time looking for bargains. What have you been your most beautiful finds? And which object/piece of furniture do you dream of finding one day?
I was happiest when I found this le Corbusier LC6 table on leboncoin. It’s been a dream since I discovered it! We’ve been working on it every day since then. So many thanks to the lady who gave it up for giving us the chance to buy it! And I love this bronze crab! It was Bruno’s first gift to me. It told me that he understood everything about me! (Laughs)
As residents of the 10th arrondissement, what are your favourite places to go around here?
For food, the generous and refined dishes offered by both Pierre Touitou at Deviant and Vivant 2. Fish like you’ve never had it before at Olive Davoux at Sur Mer, the terrace of the Providence hotel which offers a little haven of calm on the terrace, peace and quiet (outside there, too) at the Le Chardon, opposite the Saint Martin market, the tavern of Zhao definitely, Oliver Gage’ travelling cellar and the new Louise Paris boutique. Not far away, I suggest you seek out the artists and craftspeople at the Villa du Lavoir, including the jeweller Karl Mazlo, the Baqué Molinié embroidery workshop and William Amor’s up-cycled flowers!
Where are we likely to meet you this year?
Let’s meet at the workshop for an introduction to decorating on porcelain! All you need to do is write to me to book a place on a three-hour workshop, during which I help my students to create two decorated plates. You can also come and explore the workshop, either by making an appointment or by emailing me. Alternatively, I will be on the first floor of Le Bon Marché from the 22 of October until 24 December. You will be able to acquire unique pieces from bazar d’alger, or you can place an order!
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily