Paloma just woke up from a nap when we arrived to Aliénor Béchu’s and her husband Pierre-Louis’s flat. At the last floor of a...
Fate made every effort to make Michael Coorengel and Jean-Pierre Calvagrac meet. They have a common passion for antiques, they both studied law, they had similar works in design: only thousands of kilometers seemed to be a barrier. But life has seen to gather them. Michael fast left Holland for Paris, where he was in charge of the Home part at Ralph Lauren, while Jean-Pierre went away from Lyon to study at the Camondo school. The two artists evolved in the same realms, but it is only two years later that they met during a common project for Ladurée. It matched instantly. It all started. Michael and Jean-Pierre founded Coorengel and Calvagrac, an interior design and branding agency. It did extremely well and very fast. The duo is on the front page of the most prestigious magazines such as Vogue, House & Garden and Architectural Digest, which ranked them among the 10 best design agencies in the world. With a baroque style imbued with refinement, and sometimes with preciousness, it could not really be otherwise. Their interior illustrates that this couple is like no other. There, in the heart of Paris, we have a break in the pages of a book dedicated to art history. They can state their expertise loud and clear, while making it different. With them, get prepared for a wonderful time travel.
Michael, Jean-Pierre, who are you?
Jean-Pierre is French, born in Paris but then raised in Macon, and after studied in Lyon and came back in Paris. I am Dutch, born in The Hague as a typical product of the colonial period of Holland and Indonesia: A Dutch man sent for an engineering project to Indonesia fell in love with an Indonesian Princess, marries her, brings her to Holland and born I was. It is difficult to find backgrounds that would be more opposed than Jean-Pierre’s and mine. My parents were state-employed in Holland and Jean-Pierre’s parents were self-made industrialists in France. I grew in a modern house with Scandinavian design furniture while Jean-Pierre grew up in a Directoire « chateau » with Louis XVI and Empire furniture. We did both study Law and History of Art, I in Leiden Holland, Jean Pierre in Lyon. It is a certain common base we share. We have started our structure 21 years ago in Paris. Even though we are both not from this city originally we have become to feel very much Parisian, and very lucky and proud to be so. Paris is the ultimate city of liberty and open-mindedness in the world.
For how long have you been living in this townhouse? What is its story?
Jean-Pierre and I have been living in the Rue de l’Echiquier for almost 13 years now. After having lived in the more settled, safe and surer areas in Paris like the 8th, 7th, 4th arrondissements, we wanted to change and we looked for a more particular space. After a long search we had a crush on this space in the totally unknown – to us – 10th arrondissement of Paris. Friends declared us insane, adventurous, suspected us of a reverse of fortune…! Whatever, we loved the apartment and discovered little by little the history of our building but also an incredibly welcoming neighbours and a booming arrondissement of Paris. Our building was built as a private mansion, or “Hotel Particulier” for the Baron Louis in 1834. The Baron was an ecclesiastic protégé of the illustrious politician and ecclesiastic Tayllerand. Baron Louis had worked in finances under Louis XVI, Napoléon, Charles X and Louis Phillipe and was 3 times Minister of Finance for very different monarchs. He was a very clever man and he had become extremely wealthy, also thanks to his grounds at Bercy where he had built huge warehouses that he rented out. Even though being a man of Church, Baron Louis had set up his mistress in our house on Rue de l’Echiquier. From old inventories we know quite well how it was furnished. The Baron died not long after the installation of his mistress and we only know that she did not inherit the house but his niece did. A lot of wealthy gentlemen in the 19th century had their mistresses living in the streets around the « Grand Boulevard » because often the girls were actresses in the numerous theatres on these boulevards. In 1920 the building was divided in several apartments, one per floor. Our floor, the 2nd one, was the reception-room floor or the “bel-étage” or “Piano Nobile” in Italian houses. Italian is very much the inspiration of the architecture of our building. It is called neo-Venetian and even the floor pan is completely Palladian. It was this rare in Paris that made Jean-Pierre and me decide to choose this apartment.
How would you define your style in three words?
Jean-Pierre and I have been a couple in life and associates being involved for 22 years now. As we are interior designers, the question of our styles has often been asked. Our style is to adapt our tastes, culture and knowhow entirely to our customers wishes and to create a custom-made atmosphere for each one of them. For us this makes more sense than customers who like to live in a decorator’s showroom more for social recognition rather than their personal comfort. For us it is much more interesting to have very diverse projects rather than to do overtime the same style for every customer. Our customers know that we can do a historical interior, contemporary, mixed, functional, country, urban, anything in any kind of style and budget. We are lucky to have cultivated customers, a lot of art and antique dealers and collectors. We often learn a lot from our clients and the projects are often exchanges of ideas, tastes and knowhow.
How did you design the different spaces, which all have a particular style?
It is actually our contrasts of upbringings and cultures that have merged quite immediately into what seems a very harmonious unity to us. Not only socially but also artistically. Our apartment is a mix of what seems the most improbable. But everything has been seriously considered. An answer to that question “What is your style?” could be our apartment is « Reasoned Eclectic ». We know that “the Trend” in interior design today is to mix and mix unmixable shapes, colours and materials. It is all about surprise and shock. It is definitely fun but it will and can never be lasting. It is a trend. Our home is what it is. It is something that grew from purchases, family heirlooms, leftovers, and things you are so used to you can never get rid of. Every piece you see though has been very much criticized before we allowed it to stay in our apartment. Its shape, its design, its material, colour has a role to fulfil in the global harmony of the apartment. It’s like actors in a play. Leading roles, second roles, figurants, but all make that play is a success. So yes our apartment represents “our style”: ours in our apartment. Never ever we would or could this in someone else’s home because it would not correspond to their personalities.
In your home, we travel, we go from a Carlo Mollino-style Italian bedroom to an Empire-style living room and then to a decoration from the XXth century. Which period does inspire you the most?
Our tastes go from Tribal to all the French periods, all Italian periods, Scandinavian design, Russian empire, shaker, Biedermaier, name it we love it. But when it comes to contemporary design, we only buy or appreciate it when it can become a “new classic”. Not always easy to detect but with our habit for diverse shapes and forms we think we can recognize a certain quality a design when we see it. Nothing is worse than interiors has to change after 5 years because it’s out of fashion.
What was your last holiday destination? Is there an hotel you would recommend?
Our favourite holiday destinations are in Italy. We just got back from our yearly destination (sometimes twice or thrice) Venice, the last elegant city in the world. We also like Portugal, Lisbon, Comporta, Cascais and our retreat for 2 months a year: our summer home in Contis in the South West region of France, the Landes.
Do you have a restaurant to recommend?
We like to come back to places. Places that do not go “out of fashion”. So unless it is just for fun and people, we can go to trendy places and really enjoy ourselves at La Belle Epoque, Caviar Kaspia, Davé, or Chez Julien or Chez Janou for their terraces. If not, we adore l’Ami Louis, Chez Michel, and for drinks heaven thanks our canteen the Hemingway Bar is at last open again!
Credits: Constance Gennari @thesocialitefamily