Designer Christophe Poyet’s eclectic home in a Parisian garret
But for his unflagging persistence, Monaco-born architect and interior designer Christophe Poyet might never have acquired his Parisian apartment in the little-known but up-and-coming Saint-Georges area, just south of Pigalle. “Saint-Georges is traditionally known for its theatres,” he explains. “Now it has many new hotels, restaurants and shops – it’s very bohème chic.”
The painfully protracted purchase of Poyet’s property began in 2011 when he bought three compact, interconnected rooms in a classic Haussmannian building. It was Baron Haussmann who, from the 1850s, at Napoleon III’s behest, modernised the city, supplanting cramped medieval neighbourhoods with wide boulevards and residential buildings clad in uniformly elegant cream limestone. Poyet’s apartment is not far from tree-lined Boulevard Haussmann, named after him. Haussmann’s buildings typically boasted six storeys and a mansard roof with garret rooms occupied by servants; Poyet’s top-floor apartment is no exception. “The first rooms I bought were maids’ rooms,” he recalls. These had very antiquated interiors with old wallpaper that he describes as “vintage” (although not in a complimentary way).
Soon after, he set his heart on enlarging the apartment by annexing two other rooms. But their owner at the time, an elderly woman who hadn’t changed the interiors for 50 years, had no intention of selling them. “I visited her regularly to try to persuade her but she wouldn’t budge,” recalls Poyet. But his tenacity finally paid off – in 2016, she agreed to sell him the space. He vividly remembers the moment that he first saw them: “She opened the door with a 20cm-long key,” he remembers, theatrically mimicking the sound of ancient metal turning creakily in a lock.
Once in possession of his mini-empire, Poyet worked alongside his Paris-born business partner Emil Humbert – who set up their interior design practice Humbert & Poyet 10 years ago – to refurbish and redecorate the property. Converting the rooms into a single apartment consisted mainly of removing the parts of the walls near the windows in order to create a single corridor connecting most of the spaces. “I wanted the circulation to be along the windows from the kitchen at one end to the bathroom at the other,” Poyet explains. “Only the bathroom has a door.” He also now owns a small room opposite the apartment’s entrance (in the living room), which is used as a guest room. The other major intervention was laying smoky grey-brown chevron parquet flooring in most rooms to unifying effect. By contrast, the bathroom, with its walls with utilitarian white tiles similarto those in the Paris Métro and strip of eau-de-nil paint, has a marble mosaic floor by Devon & Devon. Poyet adorned the ceilings with subtly decorative cornices to add more “Haussmannian chic” to the apartment.
We started out loving 1950s design. Now we’re moving towards the 1970s and 1980s – a slightly more pop style
Humbert & Poyet’s projects to date include the The Hoxton Paris hotel, Luxembourg eatery Beeftro and Michelin-starred Alan Yau restaurant, Song Qi, in Monaco. The latter isinspired by 1930s Shanghai, a time when the city was still exposed to Western influences, notably the French Concession, a territory occupied by the French until the second world war and famous for its grand shikumen houses with stone doors and courtyards. Song Qi epitomises Humbert & Poyet’s opulent, eclectic aesthetic: its focal point is a semicircular, velvet-upholstered banquette enclosed by a cage-like structure of gold spindles. Radiating from this is a black and white marble floor with a pattern of exploding concentric stars. “We like dramatic contrasts, theatrical elements. We use natural materials, mixing bronze for example with marble,” says Poyet.
Another important aspect of the duo’s work is sourcing antiques and art for clients. “We started out loving 1950s design. Now we’re moving towards the 1970s and 1980s – a slightly more pop style,” says Poyet. One of the duo’s favourite hunting grounds is Paris’s St Ouen flea market. “We go there once a month, minimum,” he continues. “There’s a section called Paul Bert, divided by different galleries. Recently, a new generation of dealers with a fresh vision has been taking over its spaces.” They also frequent galleries such as Patrick Seguin in Paris and Nilufar in Milan, either searching for pieces for specific projects or taking a more organic approach, as Poyet has done when decorating his own place: “In my bedroom, there are two 1950s Italian pendant lights designed by Luigi Caccia Dominioni that I bought five years ago. I kept them in our office until I found the right spot for them.”
We like dramatic contrasts, theatrical elements. We use natural materials, mixing bronze for example with marble
While Poyet’s aim was to link the majority of rooms, he has differentiated them using distinctive colours to give each one “a different atmosphere”. The dining-room-cum-kitchen is particularly flamboyant with its busy palm-tree motif wallpaper by Pierre Frey, plush custom-made banquette and marble-topped 1950s Eero Saarinen Tulip table. The kitchen units are faced with a sumptuous layer of bronze. “Thin vertical lines drawn on the bronze disguise the joins between the units,” says Poyet. “I wanted the bronze to give the kitchen a richness, a wow factor.”
In the adjoining living room, contemporary designer Eric Schmitt’s stylised tree-shaped Arbre floor light and rug that features a bold geometric design are playfully teamed with Pierre Jeanneret’s more sober, 1950s teak Easy armchairs, originally designed for Chandigarh, the Indian city co-created by Le Corbusier. Breaking up the room’s off-white walls are two abstract canvases, one by Spanish painter José María Sicilia, the other by younger US artist Graham Collins. Colour-wise, Poyet’s bedroom is more dramatic, its walls painted Farrow & Ball’s moody hue, Hague Blue – a dark greeny-blue – in sharp contrast to the crisp white ceiling and headboard. A lithograph by op artist Victor Vasarely hangs on one wall. “Cosy” is how Poyet describes the den-like guest bedroom, with its walls painted the same deep hue paired with similar Farrow & Ball colour Pigeon. “Everyone who sleeps there loves it,” he says.
Clearly Poyet has no regrets about devoting so much time and energy to securing his apartment. What was his first impression of the additional rooms? “Great. I instantly fell in love with the views.” It’s not hard to imagine why. The sweeping vistas of rooftops, topped by the iconic Paris landmark the Sacré-Coeur basilica, are undeniably romantic. “They’re like a carte postale,” he rhapsodises – clearly intending to conjure up an image more charming than clichéd.