Maison Sarah Lavoine Gives A Contemporary Take On A 19th-Century French Mansion

A 19th-century bourgeois townhouse in Lille in northern France known as “Le Berre Vevaud” gets a total makeover by French designer Sarah Poniatowski, founder of Maison Sarah Lavoine, who infuses the four-story historical mansion housing a family of six with the perfect balance of refinement, conviviality, color and French spirit. As Poniatowski’s studio is not only an interior design firm, but has also been a lifestyle brand proposing furniture, home decor and clothing that embody simple elegance since 2012, she naturally turned to furniture and accessories from Maison Sarah Lavoine, while also carefully selecting D.154.2 and Superleggera chairs by Gio Ponti, a dining table by Charlotte Perriand, a coffee table by Pierre Charpin, a floor lamp by Eileen Gray, chairs by Pierre Paulin, a sideboard by Jacques Dumond and a side table by Doshi Levien. Poniatowski shares her insights on the design of the house.

Describe your design language and what makes your approach unique. How has your approach shaped the architecture and interiors that you created for the Lille mansion?

I love warm and lively interiors. I introduced colors very early in my career and people have turned to me for this specific trait of my work. Light is also a huge part of my architectural vocabulary. Colors and light are fantastic ways to sculpt a space, emphasize or conceal something. They are the chisel and the brush of an architect. You can see a lot of this in the work we did for this mansion. The most important thing was to keep in mind that this house was to be a family house, a living space for both children and adults, each of them having their very own personalities and habits.

What was the most important consideration when you first started designing the house, and the overarching main idea you tried to achieve?

The Berre Vevaud is a charming building of historic interest. We thus wanted to create a modern and pleasant place to live, while preserving the essence of the house. We wanted to meet the owner’s needs while offering them an innovative home design.

Who are the homeowners and what are their professions?

They are industrialists from the region.

Describe to me your creative process from the time the homeowners commissioned you to the final design. How did they come to work with you? What did you ask them before you started the design process, how did you help them discover their own personal design esthetic and how did you work together?

The homeowners came to me for this work. At first, it was very important for me to get to know them, to understand their tastes and their needs. I spent a lot of time with them, trying to get to know them. Designing someone’s house can be a very intimate process: you are allowed into people’s lives. As an architect, you have to be a good listener. The collaboration with these clients was very smooth. We had a similar view as we all wanted to keep the authenticity of the home. I don’t think that I made them discover their personal esthetic; it was more like an ongoing conversation, a very fruitful and pleasant one.

Did they have any unusual requests that you accepted, or did you have to bring them round to your way of thinking if their request didn’t reflect their lifestyle and personality?

No, it was a perfect collaboration. They are very fond of authentic pieces and so am I. On this project, I really had the opportunity to include many vintage pieces. I loved that.

What were the inspirations behind your creative process?

It was mainly this dialog between the heritage of the building and the desire to add a touch of modernity. I wanted to keep the soul of this mansion by bringing in the brightness of the signature colors of Maison Sarah Lavoine.

Tell me about the area the house is located in. Is it in a residential area?

The house is located on Boulevard de la Liberté, known for its exceptional buildings such as the Bains de Lille – a perfect setting for this prestigious residence.

Tell me about the original architecture of the building and the unique architectural features. How did you take into account the architecture and character of the building when doing the interior design?

It was a bourgeois townhouse with woodwork in the living room, fireplaces and ceiling moldings. We preserved all these features as well as the paint and bearing walls, always in this modern-vintage vibe. It was not a blank canvas, but the features made the project even more challenging and interesting.

Take me step by step through the different rooms. Tell me about the materials, furniture, lighting and color schemes incorporated.

We made sure that the different living areas encapsulated the lifestyle of the residents. A long table in noble wood sits in the dining room – the perfect addition to a room for family and guests, right next to the modern and minimalist kitchen. A glass wall separates it from one of the living rooms in a clever play of transparency. The soft, old-fashioned looking and comfortable dusty pink armchairs make it the perfect place to enjoy tea or coffee after a nice meal. The other salon, very contemporary, adds a touch of modernity to the interiors with its graphic carpet and clean design seats. We designed the different rooms around the same philosophy: to conceive an ideal place to rest and unwind, a notion that varies according to the personality of their occupants! The soothing forest green of the master suite’s walls is an invitation to peace and tranquillity, as is the pink-colored parental bathroom. As for the children, their bedrooms and bathrooms are a bit more playful. We made sure to multiply the storage while optimizing the space, especially by playing with the extra room offered by the high beds. The final look remains very timeless, but translates a certain fun and childlike spirit, whether through the wallpaper or the bull horn mirrors in the children’s bathroom.

Which are the customized pieces of furniture or special design elements in the house that stand out in particular?

We used noble and natural materials such as marble, walnut, oak, brass and cane, and used strong and unexpected colors (almond green in the kitchen, pink in the bathroom) to create contrast and balance. It’s a constant dialog between the history of the building and a modern feel, traditional materials and contemporary colors.

What were some of the challenges you had to work around?

Our main challenge was time, as the family wanted to move in as soon as possible. The studio redid the electricity, the paint, the floors, the bathrooms and the kitchen, and selected the entire furniture of the house. It was a large-scale job that combined meticulousness and efficiency.

Which is your favorite room in the house and why? How is it designed?

Definitely the pink bathroom of the teenage daughter. We wanted something playful and bright yet cozy. It’s a real living space. She can definitely hang out in there with her friends. I would have loved a similar bathroom when I was younger.

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