The Way We Live Now: Paris calling

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I had a lovely Paris flat for years. It had all the tics and trimmings. The double doors with their characteristic panelling design and the charming relief of half-naked classical women above. Above the 18th-century froggy chimneypieces there were inset mirrors. The oak parquet had a double line of mahogany at the border and the herringbone pattern was subtly different from the English kind. The floor, panelling, chimneypieces – the lot – all came from a smart decorator in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. But the flat was in London W1.

The whole house – originally a sober Regency one – had been owned by a French toff who'd married an English one and had the place re-worked by French workmen who knew how to install proper French stuff. I ended up with two floors where you could fool yourself you were in prime Haussmann Paris if you didn't look too closely at the contents.

There are two ways to do up and furnish a Haussmann Paris flat to get the best out of it. One way is to jump in and go for gold. Lots of it, and the real thing if you can afford it: old French furniture; classical gilt-metal clocks and light-fittings; a touch of the style Rothschild (seen, at its absolute best, at the Wallace Collection). Brits find this kind of thing profoundly worrying. It makes them think the guillotine is coming any minute. It's also snobbishly – ignorantly – associated with its bad imitations of style Française in Dubai, the universal furnishing language of very dodgy New Money, crims and dictators.

The other way is the Euro-designer update: a dramatic white-out – or a black-out or navy-blue-out – of all that panelling and gingerbread; contemporary art and modern ethnic stuff; and "functional sculpture" such as a giant metal Ron Arad chair or a dramatic Amanda Levete wotsit. Or sculpture from Easter Island folk. That's the way to do it.

The room pictured here has got the Haussmann Look. The multiple double doors leading to yet more double doors. Plus the really gingerbreaded plaster, the marble chimneypiece in the Pre-Rev mode and the parquet, and every modern design statement and bongo-ethnic reference you could cram in. This strand of French taste adores the London street and the African shanty-town but, mysteriously, always ends up looking so very 16eme arrondissement.

Comments