The ceramicist and jewellery designer Alix Reynis had a very specific criterion for the home she wanted to find in Paris; it had to be a period property which needed some (but not a lot) of work, it had to have a garden, and crucially it needed to have space for her large family (the couple have four children). Such a thing is rare in Paris, where most people live in apartments, and so she waited patiently for the right place to come up.
It was a happy coincidence then when a friend switched careers to real estate and one of their first listings was a five bedroom, two bathroom house, with a large front garden and, thanks to its location in the very chic 5th Arrondissement, views of the Pantheon.
The house was built in the late 1800s and hadn’t been touched since the 1950s. 'I didn’t fall in love with it straight away. It was in a really bad state', says Alix. Some of the previous owner’s decorative choices were, to put it mildly, questionable (master bedroom-cum-sex dungeon, anyone?) but Alix could see that underneath the 'creepiness', it was what exactly what they had been looking for. ‘The decoration hadn’t ruined it, and all of the original architectural features were there'.
She snapped it up and quickly got to work. The immediate task at hand was to peel back the layers which had been built up over the years. 'I wanted it to feel very classic. Like it had never been touched or had a decorator in it,' says Alix.
The first work they undertook was to knock down unnecessary walls and doors dividing the hallway, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor. 'I think flow is really important when you have a big family'. The once convoluted space is now open and airy, with the kitchen and dining areas subtly defined by an elegant archway. Alix hopes one day to build a new kitchen in an extension, so didn’t invest hugely in this 'temporary' one. The floor here is a rather cunning concoction of her own making, using sealed cement with 'the cheapest possible' floor varnish. Its patina is the result of builders leaving cans of paint and oil on it. ‘I rather like the worn look. I think it adds to the room,' she remarks. Cabinets and cupboards are painted in ‘Pantalon’ by Farrow & Ball, which also features on the panelling throughout the house, linking each room.
Elsewhere in the house carpets were replaced with wooden floorboards, wallpaper with paint and unnecessary doorways were closed off. Pattern and colour are used in delicate ways, allowing the antiques to take centre stage. 'I adore going to brocantes in Paris, or anywhere else in France if we go away for the weekend,' she says, citing the Chatou antiques fair and Materiaux Authentiques, just outside of Lille, as her favourite spots to pick up furniture and Haussmann-era doors and hardware.
The entrance, with its chequerboard floor, leads on one side to a spiral staircase that winds its way up to the top of the house. On the other is the sitting room. It's here that the family performs their Sunday ritual. ‘We light the fire, roast chestnuts and eat them with cheese', explains Alix. She designed the sofas, both upholstered in an earthy green velvet which matches the curtains. The gold antique mirrors are offset by the wooden coffee tables and the glitter of a crystal chandelier, found in a brocante.
The two floors above house all of the bedrooms and bathrooms. The children’s rooms were painted in blues, yellows and pinks. 'I love the idea of each bedroom being a different colour. It reminds me of the holiday homes I stayed in as a child.’ The main bedroom, however, remained white. 'My husband was determined. It’s the only thing I conceded on, and now I am really pleased I did. It meant I could pick a really bold colour for the curtains'. On the desk - which Alix picked up on Boncoin (a French version of Gumtree) - sits an ornate gold lamp, given to Alix by her grandparents. 'I loved their style,' she says of them. 'It was classic and timeless'. It’s a simple but wonderful vignette, and Alix’s favourite place to work.
Walking around the house, Alix feels pleased. 'I wanted it to feel as if we’d lived here forever', she says. It seems she’s succeeded.