Sylvie de Chirée and Philippe Rapin like to say that their interior is like a small theatre where the objects are the performers. But what these two natural-born inquisitive people forget to specify is their (leading) roles as directors. And they don’t play just any old roles! Sylvie, Parisian by adoption, is a leading figure in the world of journalism having been a key player in the magazines ELLE and ELLE Décoration, for which she was, in turn, Editor-in-Chief and Editorial Director. She has now freed herself from her former profession to work increasingly with Maison Rapin – the label that brings together the three antique dealer-gallerist-designer skills of Sylvie, her husband, and her son Virgile Dumont – whose creations enhance their home. So much creativity under the same roof, in this case, a building with a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower, could only be explosive! The scenario sketched out by the two joyful directors begins in the entrance hall. The small drawing-room, with its gilded ornamentation, sets the tone for the neo-classical decor, which they have preserved in its original form. One of the many unusual highlights which mark our visit. The dining room is quickly revealed. Then the impressive Safari sofa in panther-print velvet by the Italian collective Archizoom, the centrepiece of the apartment, and the ornamental columns constructed – like almost everything else – in 1950 by the illustrious Maison Jansen… A precious heritage that we will find again later, frozen in the black and white marble mosaic of the bathroom. Here, only the walls remain unchanged. As if preserved from the incessant ballet of treasures unearthed by their owners from the four corners of the world. Fascinated by the incongruous encounters between styles, periods and techniques, Sylvie de Chirée and Philippe Rapin never shy away from eccentricity. In this sense, their space is a veritable laboratory where, like mad (creative) scientists, they explore, assemble, move and even personalise some of their acquisitions. A delightful atmosphere, where the folly of the baroque rubs shoulders with the eclecticism of a cabinet of curiosities and the riches of an exceptional library that nobody ever wants to leave.
Sylvie, can you introduce yourself, please?
From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved houses, it gets into your blood, doesn’t it? I was born in the Ardèche, and I grew up in Provence, in the countryside, living in remote places. I’ve always had large groups of girlfriends, from boarding school right up to the present day. I found this kind of close friendship again in the world of magazines. The world of women has always fascinated me even though I found that the boys had more advantages in life. But that was before… before I discovered ELLE magazine!
What course did your career in the press take?
I arrived at ELLE as an intern in May 1981 and never really left… despite my work on various other titles. I was appointed editor-in-chief in 2000, and seven years later, I got my wish and took over the editorial direction of Elle Décoration. In short, I would say that ELLE has always been my home base. I met my best friends there.
Do you miss journalism nowadays?
No, because I don’t feel like I’ve stopped yet!
What was the most beautiful apartment you’ve ever seen, the one that made the biggest impression on you?
I’ve seen lots of them, including some very beautiful ones. But no apartment is as good as a house. The one that made the biggest impression on me told the story of a crazy collector of Italian history.
How did you decorate your interior? How do you and Philippe manage to mix your styles and your passions?
Philippe is a gallery owner who still has the buying fever from his years as an antique dealer. Not a day goes by without treasure! In his hands, eras and styles merge quite naturally. It’s amazing to see the full spectrum of his tastes. Contemporary, C17th, C18th, C19th, but especially C20th! I love to mix and match things, so for me, the apartment is a real playground. A little theatre where objects come together on stage. We tell each other stories with them. In any case, when the objects are beautiful, it’s rare that they don’t go together.
Do you spend a lot of time on the Archizoom leopard sofa?
It’s the perfect place to sit and have a drink … and we often do!
Can you tell us about it – it’s the centrepiece of the apartment?
People call it the Archizoom but its name is actually the Safari, and it was created by Archizoom Associati. That was a partnership between four architects (Andrea Branzi, Gilberto Corretti, Paolo Deganello, Massimo Morozzi) in 1966 in Florence. That incredibly innovative collective created this piece in 1968
Which eras touch you most?
Our “base camp” is the 20th century. From the style of Liberty to the 1970s, including the phenomenal work of Gio Ponti.
What part do you play in the choices made by Maison Rapin, Philippe’s gallery?
I just help with the choices and assist in the staging for the gallery and the various fairs. Philippe is supported by two young associates: Alice Kargar and my son, Virgile Dumont. Together, they make an incredible trio. During their next event, the Brafa fair in Brussels (26 January-2 February 2020) Maison Rapin will be showing some really interesting design pieces and furniture from the 1960s and 1970s as well as Kinetic Art (another of Philippe’s passions).
What would be the style of Maison Rapin’s choices – if it had to be described?
The eclecticism of a cabinet of curiosities and the baroque of the 20th century.
What is your decorative obsession with each of these at the moment?
We’re in the middle of the eccentric 19th century, with the idealised atmospheres of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance such as the Troubadour style, but we’re also inspired by the English colonies: the Brighton style (around 1830) and the world of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. But all this is in a mix and match style that is very much in tune with today. We’re lucky to be able to tell our decorative stories in different places. So we do have fun!
Is there an iconic character for you in interior design?
Gio Ponti, without hesitation! He was an Italian-born architect-designer-painter-author who produced a considerable number of architectural designs, pieces of furniture and other objects. He founded the magazine Domus in 1928 and was the protagonist of the revival of post-war Italian design. The maestro who revolutionised the vocabulary of forms.
And an era?
The post-war period 1945-1965. It was during these 20 years that we moved from furnishings to design!
And, the piece that each of you would own, in your wildest dreams?
The portrait of Sophie Gray by John Everett Millais, the pre-raphaelite brotherhood painter.
Carlo Mollino’s Zoomorphic chair.
And finally, an address you recommend in Paris or elsewhere?
The Da Fabio restaurant in Bologna for its truffle risotto.
Photography: Constance Gennari – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily