In Paris, an Apartment Built on Heirlooms and Wicker
IN 1953, THE parents of Benoît Rauzy, 53, a co-founder of the design studio Atelier Vime, moved into a timeworn two-floor flat in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The neighborhood — a tangle of streets radiating from the 11th-century Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey — was in those days a sanctuary for artists, poets and freethinkers, a place where philosophers and writers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir would gather in cafes to share ideas. “There was a deep sense of intellectual freedom,” Rauzy says. His father, a dentist, had an office on the first floor of the six-story early 18th-century building, where he would tend to the neighborhood’s eclectic residents. “Some of them went to see the dentist after visiting Serge Gainsbourg,” Rauzy recalls, referring to his family’s onetime neighbor, the famed pop provocateur, “so of course they were full of whiskey!” Decades later, the area is known for its clothing boutiques and galleries. But Rauzy, now joined by his partner in life and work, Anthony Watson, 40, still calls Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the apartment he grew up in, home.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the couple’s work is rooted in preserving the past. With Atelier Vime, they have made wicker furniture — most recently associated with stuffy ’80s-era décor — relevant again. Partial to Modernist designers like Charlotte Perriand and Tito Agnoli, the couple began collecting woven furniture 16 years ago. In 2014, when they purchased an 18th-century hôtel particulier in the Provençal village of Vallabrègues, Rauzy, then an environmental consultant, and Watson, a stylist, discovered the building had once been a basket-weaving workshop, one of several in the region during the 19th and 20th centuries. Then as now, the swampy Rhône river delta was a source of the willow plant used to make wicker items. Two years later, they began dealing in vintage pieces and producing their own, bringing on Raphaëlle Hanley, a former leather goods creative director at Yves Saint Laurent, to help with the design. Balancing the warmth of handcrafted pieces with fluid, refined forms, their work ranges from simple leaf-shaped wall sconces to daybeds decorated with scalloped rattan skirting. Among their signature pieces is the Aramis pendant lamp, a 41/2-foot-wide circular light with delicate crosshatching details that requires over 40 hours of braiding in their Vallabrègues workshop.
WHILE THE HOUSE in Vallabrègues encouraged the couple to bring the past into the future, the Paris apartment for Rauzy remains a place of memory. “I can still see my father working,” he says, perched on a sled-shaped rattan chaise by the French Art Deco designer Louis Sognot in the sitting room of the 2,045-square-foot apartment. Loathe to erase signs of that earlier era, he hasn’t felt the need to alter much beyond adding a fresh coat of paint since returning to his family home in 2002 to tend to his ailing father, who died in 2004. (His mother still lives in a neighboring flat.) And while their home occasionally serves as their Paris showroom, meaning that Rauzy and Watson regularly swap out new designs and discoveries, the place still evokes a bygone city.
Upon crossing the apartment’s threshold, visitors immediately enter the tiny galley kitchen, its walls painted a deep forest green and lined with stacks of modular red-and-white plastic Kartell storage unit blocks purchased in the ’60s by Rauzy’s parents. From there, the space unfolds in an enfilade of narrow rooms. Moving across the worn and creaking herringbone parquet floor, guests pass through a small lounge with a 1940s raffia armchair by the French Swiss Modernist furniture designers Adrien Audoux and Frida Minnet that is placed next to a black side table hand-painted with abstract figures from the Cerenne ceramics workshop, active in southern France in the ’40s and ’50s. Here, the couple have affixed to the wall a series of wicker panels of their own design, from which they have hung a cluster of 19th-century mixed-earth ceramic plates produced in the town of Uzès. Next is the dining room, where the space-age form of a white lacquered Eero Saarinen tulip table — introduced in 1957 and accompanied here by matching chairs and mushroom-shaped stools — provides a Modernist counterpoint to several heavy wooden antiques: an 18th-century marble-topped rosewood veneer commode by the German French cabinetmaker Jean-Baptiste Courte that once belonged to Rauzy’s grandmother; an elegantly carved Directoire chair discovered at a neighborhood antiques store; and an empire armchair, found at an auction, with a tapestry-upholstered seat depicting a scene from the 17th-century fables of La Fontaine.
An Atelier Vime Medici pedestal and vase stand in front of a large painting by Wayne Pate.Credit…Yvan Moreau
But it’s not only pedigreed furniture that populates the flat. Rauzy is an obsessive art collector: “I spend about three hours a day looking for paintings,” he says. The couple’s personal collection dates mostly from the 1920s and ’30s and was largely purchased at auction. It includes an oversize plaster bust of a young woman by the French Romanian sculptor Margaret Cossaceanu, set on a tawny rattan side table by Paul Frankl in an alcove off the sitting room. Just opposite, between symmetrical floor-to-ceiling windows, is a smaller bust in terra cotta and its identical plaster study by the Spanish sculptor Josep Clarà. A set of wartime pencil drawings they believe to be by Marcel Duchamp, including one depicting a pig resembling Adolf Hitler swinging from the gallows, hang on the dining room wall.
Many other works have occupied the home since long before Rauzy and Watson moved in. Though Rauzy’s parents were not artists, they surrounded themselves with creative people. Artist friends would come to stay for a period in the small former maid’s suite, now a guest room, nestled beneath the mansard roof (the remaining two bedrooms are on the main floor below). Many would give their hosts work in exchange. A collage by the Russian artist Nikolai Dronnikov leans against a sitting room wall, and in the attic suite, on the whitewashed wall above the spartan single bed, Rauzy and Watson have hung an Expressionist-style painting of a vibrant cafe by the Russia-born painter turned translator Nina Nidermiller, one of the family’s frequent guests.
The couple have continued this tradition, surrounding themselves with artists in their own way. For Atelier Vime, they recently created a limited series of low-slung rattan and hammered-copper cabinets with their friend the New York-based painter and illustrator Wayne Pate, who decorated the pieces with drawings of leaves. They also released a collection of hand-printed linen tablecloths produced with the French designer Marie Victoire de Bascher. Rather than simply an opportunity to collaborate, they see this cross-pollination as a way to cultivate community — much as Rauzy’s parents did so many years ago. “It’s just our natural way of living,” Rauzy says.
Photo assistant: Olivier Hallot