The Socialite Family invites itself into the home of two long-time readers! Genuine enthusiasts, for whom decorating is an everyday affair. Babeth, a private nurse, is better known under the pseudonym @NotJustMom, an Instagram account that mixes lifestyle and lively reflections, while her husband, William, is a designer for Knoll International. “People-oriented professions” insofar as each of them involves care for one’s neighbour. Always concerned about the well-being of those around them, the couple has taken to expressing themselves through their surroundings. A charming mix of signature pieces, brought back from their travels, found or simply bought on a whim, housed in a designer setting in stark contrast to the house’s historical past. Built in 1893, this millstone house with its stunning staircase and excellent potential for expansion had, from the very first visit, bewitched the newlyweds and their two daughters who “could already see themselves living there”. Now they have updated it right down to the smallest detail, from the many layout changes to the custom-made fittings and the texture of the walls, it is a flamboyant reflection of their history. That of inquisitive individuals, with solidly anchored values and contagious joie de vivre, endowed with a boundless open-mindedness that impels them from one encounter to the next. Including our own, today, on the occasion of the release of the evian® (re)new fountain. This new hydration solution features a minimalist look and is a sustainable alternative to bottled mineral water. It fits in well with family life and its silhouette, designed by Virgil Abloh, echoes the clean, contemporary lines of the kitchen.
Babeth, William: could you introduce yourselves, please?
We’re two solitary souls who only met 20 years ago, and since then, we’ve hung onto each other! And we’re parents, our two daughters are Ceryse, 13, and Salomé, 8.
What’s your background?
I’m a designer/interior designer at Knoll International; Babeth is a private nurse. Both of us have chosen to work in people-oriented professions.
Tell us about your education. How did your tastes develop?
I was raised by parents who were avid bargain hunters. My mother passed on a passion for haute couture to us at a very young age, and she awakened us to the notion of beauty. As far as decoration is concerned, my parents had a particular notion of aesthetics and a preference for functionality. We had big leather sofas and a huge dining table because entertaining was very important to them. On the other hand, whenever they came back from Congo Brazzaville – the country we come from originally – my mother would always bring back paintings, ivory elephants, handmade chairs, statuettes, stuffed crocodiles and so on. This was her way of bringing home the country she had left behind. I don’t think she chose those pieces to complete a specific setting. Yet, without intending to be, our home was unusual. The only thing she didn’t kid about was housekeeping! She was keen for us to grow up in a peaceful and orderly environment. I certainly inherited that from her! This atypical approach was reflected in her looks, which she put together after watching fashion shows with us. She adored them. So I think all this has led me to develop a taste for beautiful pieces as well as for going bargain hunting and for keeping things tidy.
I’ve always been immersed in very ornate environments. When my parents were married, my mother – who was a florist – always wanted to decorate each space, to tell a story in each room. Our family dinner tables always looked wonderful! When we moved to the country, my parents turned the house we were living in into a holiday home. We felt good there! In fact, even after my parents’ divorce, my mother, who was then forced to work on a much tighter budget, always knew how to decorate her various apartments tastefully, in keeping with the times, using a very soft palette. Besides that, she drew and painted a great many pictures. I genuinely believe that it was she who inspired me to move into the creative arena.
So when we moved in together, we had to deal with our tastes, our choices, our upbringings. In other words, our two worlds! Where Babeth wanted to furnish the flat efficiently, namely with a large sofa and a big table, I was very sensitive to the detail, the finish of the furniture and the colours chosen as well as to the fact that our home had to be this cocoon where we would feel good. We soon decided that it was important for our place to tell a story before realising that it wasn’t just any story that needed to be told, but our own!
Our friends and families have an important place in our life. We show our affection for the people around us by the way we entertain them. From the way the table is decorated to the choice of flowers and the food we share with them. We like our guests to feel comfortable in our home, and this has influenced some of our choices in both decoration and furniture.
How do you familiarise your own daughters with art and architecture?
By involving them to a large extent in the choice of decoration for the house! They give us their opinion and discuss it with us when our tastes differ. For example, they chose all the furniture, colours, bed linen and curtains in their rooms themselves and we approved them. They have good taste!
What are the essential day-to-day values that you – as committed parents, open-minded and curious about others – are keen to pass on to them?
We instil in them acceptance of others, as well as tolerance, and all the values we believe are vital if they are to flourish. Things like reaching out to others if someone is in need and asks for help, for example. So we talk a lot about the importance of inclusion, love, sharing, rigour, discipline and humility. These values that we’re passing on to them are essentially motivated by our faith, to be totally honest with you. So we try to do the best we can with what we ourselves have learned and practised in our lives. It’s not always easy being the parents in charge of tomorrow’s adults, but this is the challenge we’ve decided to accept!
Babeth, you are also – besides @NotJustMum – the founder of the Instagram account @BonjourMadame, which encourages the celebration of femininity. Why is this commitment so important to you?
Quite simply, because I believe that we women have so much potential that together, we can work miracles. And I’m weighing my words! Life has taught me that being surrounded by good and caring people allows us to reach heights that we might not have been able to reach alone. Moreover, we women are beings who love contact, discussion, sharing and fellowship. We love getting together to share our experiences and encourage others in situations similar to those we have experienced and overcome. We’re not necessarily looking for solutions but rather for someone to listen. I assure you, our stories have impacts, but they have consequences too. It’s important to be able to share our story when we feel the need. Once everything is better, it’s important to talk about what went wrong. Because it’s valuable, vital, in fact, to bear witness to who we were before and who we have become afterwards. Useful, because if it doesn’t help you, it will help someone else. So I wanted to create this place where women who follow me – or not-, those who know me – or not-, can come and share their pain, experiences, issues, and challenges with others who are living or have lived through potentially the same realities. I wanted to create an environment where judgement, criticism and embarrassment have no place. A place where every woman can understand that her story is no less important than any other.
What is your philosophy in life?
We work on the principle that anything is possible, so long as we believe in it and give ourselves the means to do it! Every challenge we’ve faced was a learning curve, but, above all, it was an opportunity to mature.
Tell us about when you first saw this house.
We first discovered our house through social networks. It was the only one we visited because, at the time, having just got married, we didn’t think we were in a strong enough position financially to commit to buying so quickly. But you can never tell; we went to visit it anyway, and the magic happened. It was everything we were looking for. We had a wishlist, and it was important for us to live in a house that tells a story but above all, that gives off a feeling. Ours was built in 1893 by the builder who built the millstone houses, the ‘maisons meulières’, in the town where we live. Everything here is a delight, from the old wooden floors to the wrought-iron window mouldings and the grand staircase. The children have their own floor, we have our own floor, and then there is the ground floor, which contains the main rooms, including the living room, kitchen and dining room. We were looking for an old house with land and space but with very little renovation work to do. It was waiting for us! The previous owners had done all the work that would have held us back from the sale. Making the windows watertight, for example, and knocking some of the walls down. The old building already had a touch of modernity about it. This motivated us to continue writing the story here. All we had to do was decorate with the changes we wanted! All that opened our eyes to the potential for expansion. And then we fell in love with the light, which the house enjoys all day long. The girls could already see themselves living there, and we all literally fell under the spell of the house. The greenery is reclaiming its rightful place here now.
What did you do to make it reflect your personality?
We had a lot of antique furniture in our different apartments. Partly from choice, but also due to lack of money. Student life! So when we moved into our house, we wanted to mark this turning point in our lives. So we decided to invest in better quality and more durable furniture. We wanted strong pieces with a good story. Furniture that would echo our love of design. It’s not just the furniture; we have a relationship with the material. It starts with our choice of a millstone house. The most important thing for us in this type of house is the high ceilings. But the spaces lacked openness. Work had already been started on this by the previous owners. However, William wanted to take down some of the walls and transoms to bring in even more light and verticality. We decided to make floor-to-ceiling furniture like the kitchen cabinet and our dressing room/hallway wall to give our living spaces a coordinated appearance. In addition to this custom-made furniture, we thought it would be interesting to add texture to our walls by adding vertical facings. For example, those in our kitchen, which go all the way up to the stairwell, are made up of a succession of strips, which gives a fluted, tone-on-tone effect. The oak veneer one wraps around a pillar separating our living and dining areas. Oak is the material that holds everything together in our house. This solid, noble wood appears in every room. Sometimes just little touches, sometimes larger ones. It’s the right material to finish off a decorative scheme. It has a safe, comforting feel about it.
You will find some pieces by Knoll, where William is part of the creative team. We like the visuals and the graphics. You will find some personal paintings, as well as others bought during our various trips (France, Europe, USA, Morocco, and so on). We have pieces and textiles from friends like So Skaia, Dibambe Afrika and from Musaka Ethic Chic Bazaar, and others too. This mix of mass-market furniture that we revamp, combined with our designer furniture, antique objects and vintage furniture, as well as some small on-trend items: this is our signature. We love collecting! Hence the succession of objects that you can find in several places in the house: bags and baskets, demijohns and other glassware, beautiful books and magazines, and plants of all sizes. There are lots of things are hung on the walls: modular shelves, frames, mirrors, masks and sculptures… we exhibit our belongings here!
What does it say about you?
Our decoration reflects the people we are, but above all, it reflects our lifestyle. We love travelling, and we have a fetish for bringing back a painting and a decorative piece from the destination we have discovered.
How would you describe The Socialite Family?
We’ve always found something of ourselves in it! We were already following Les tribus de Constance very assiduously, so we couldn’t help but be drawn to The Socialite Family. Seeing the homes of people like us and/or who inspire us is what makes your media so successful and keeps us as loyal followers.
Where will we see you in the coming months?
With the evian® (re)new fountain, evian® is reaffirming its commitment to being part of everyday family life and continuing to innovate for future generations. Using significantly less plastic than conventional 1,5L evian® bottles, this new product developed in collaboration with Virgil Abloh – creative advisor for sustainable innovation design at evian® – provides households with a more convenient solution thanks to its 5L capacity of natural mineral water.
evian® (re)new can be found on www.evianchezvous.com/evianrenew
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily in collaboration with evian®