The French owner of this Chelsea pied-a-terre retained its existing neutral palette but enlivened it with splashes of colour, modern furniture and art, infusing the interior with style, comfort, and Gallic esprit.
According to various statistics, London is now the sixth largest French city in the world, which is really good news not least in terms of better baguettes, more interesting films and properly cut trousers. Cecile Chancel and her husband are French and have a tiny house in a quiet street in Chelsea on the day I visited, the song of a blackbird in the cherry tree was the loudest sound. The Chancels are not recent arrivals over the years they have lived in other London houses, all large, commanding residences but now their children are grown up, this small, charming terrace house works to perfection.
The house is designed to be easy to live in, simple to keep, and fun. Fun, in Cecileworld, means a space that is furnished in a manner that is comfortable, well designed and elegant, with amusing, eccentric touches and flashes of bright colour in every room.
The combination of bright and elegant could be perceived as contradictory; but not in Cecilehands, I ve always loved colour,’she explains, in France, we have a traditional Parisian apartment with high ceilings and large rooms and there I have bright yellows, dark purples, reds and lilacs and I m going to add some gold, which I love.’
And she has imported much of the same palette to London, in scaled-down form. These are bright colours not primary or Day-Glo bright, but subtle, and all within that same rich, clearly defined, very French palette. She blends glowing aubergine and grape with vivid red, warm orange and melon yellow, with not a cold blue or icy green to be seen. Interestingly, she decided to retain the curtains and background colour scheme that she inherited from the previous owner very English, muted wool checks at the windows, and woodwork and walls in a safe cream and taupe scheme; it all works surprisingly well as an effective base for the ripples and splashes of colour in every room.
Allied to Cecilelove of colour is her appreciation and collecting of interesting furniture and textiles, particularly from the twentieth century, and mostly by French designers. On the red sofa, for example, is a pair of cushions covered in a bright, naive pattern designed by the painter Raoul Dufy in the early twentieth century. A pair of cone-shaded lamps by Jean-Michel Frank flanks the fireplace in the sitting room, and around the dining table downstairs are loose-covered chairs by Robert Mallet-Stevens. I have always lived in classical style, but my life is changing and I wanted to change too to simplify,’Cecile explains. When I furnished my first house, there was little choice and the old, the antique, was so much better than the new. But today there are many more possibilities, and much modern furniture seems more appropriate to the way I want to live. When I first began to collect twentieth-century furniture, I was interested in pieces from the Twenties and Thirties. Now, I have moved into the Fifties and without doubt, I ll get to the Sixties and Seventies soon.
As a natural collector, she is constantly adding pieces in every room. I go to flea markets and fairs, and I do like the occasional something which is not in good taste.’There are interesting paintings again, mostly twentieth-century French an oversize ceramic pot by Grayson Perry, and, naturally, there are Eiffel lowers everywhere.
Upstairs is the bedroom, a study and dressing room, and a small bathroom. In the basement, a kitchen and dining area lead into a garden planted with bamboo. The house is small, well planned, comfortable and fun to be in: therea place for everything and everything is in its place. It is, in fact to use an appropriate, neatly packaged French phrase-the perfect pied-a-terre.
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