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Parisian tradition meets modernity
By Patsy Yang

PARISIAN spirit pervades designer Hubert de Malherbe's four-level house in the heart of France's capital; from its 18th-century curved facade to the interiors filled with French flair and quirky designs.

The designer, who has run Malherbe Design Agency since 1992, discovered this 300-square-meter house five years ago on the famous Boulevard Saint-Germain in the 7th district.

Immediately, he envisioned it as a perfect family space.

Once school offices, when Malherbe bought the home, it was in a poor state, a mess of fake ceilings and small, divided spaces. An expert in space design, Malherbe knocked down all unnecessary partitioning, maximized space and relocated the staircase.

In doing so, he transformed a challenging space into a stylish urban oasis which the designer, his wife Sophie and their three children call home.

As the building facade is curved, Malherbe has incorporated curved lines and circular designs throughout the interior, creating a welcoming, feminine feel.

The intriguing interior that he designed from scratch is full of innovative design and detail; ambiguity and the unexpected.

The designer said he brought to the project the same philosophy he brings to retail design - which means breaking with old methods.

Traditionally, people use the best area for their living room, relegating the kitchen to a lesser space. Yet Malherbe went against this.

"I used the best space on the ground floor for the kitchen and dining room, with a total space of 80 square meters," he explained.

"We French are traditionally fond of food, so everything happens around the table. And as I work a lot, I like the family to be home for dinner. This ensures we can spend time together around the dining table," Malherbe said.

The dining area is designed to be reminiscent of a chic Parisian restaurant, composed of three bistro tables.

"If we invite people, we just stick the tables together and make a long table. I wanted to make the dining space very welcoming. I love the idea that when I invite people for dinner, it's just like inviting them to a nice restaurant," Malherbe said.

The chairs and sofas are the same as ones he designed for a famous Paris restaurant.

Malherbe also stresses the importance of mixing styles. "My home design is extremely diverse, not only in one functional space filled with a mix of old and modern, but even in a single piece of furniture.

"For example, at the entrance, there is a Louis XV style chair with sheepskin rug on top of it," explained the designer.

Malherbe seeks to create a mix of art, furniture, colors and finishes that feels truly personal. Design reveals the way he wants his life to be, he said.

The designer has eclectic tastes but what is constant is an appreciation of objects that are well-made, artistic and reflect his personality. He looks for beautiful proportions, colors, and patinas and he loves a mix of new and old furniture with the connection of seeing history all around them.

Coming from Parisian nobility that had fallen on hard times, these are the kind of objects Malherbe was surrounded by when growing up. He once said his inspiration comes from his grandparents - very French, very elegant and romantic.

Though inspired by traditional elegance, Malherbe says he could not bear living in an 18th century style. Instead, his work embraces modernity, such as whimsical furniture items he designed for the home which evokes fantasy and fun.

He has honed his talent over the years, becoming a master at tastefully mixing not only traditional and modern but elements from different cultures and religions.

Likewise, the home's palette combines strong tones - blue shades in the living room, the dining room's burgundy chairs and lots of sexy black in the master bedroom - with a host of soft neutrals.

Malherbe also stresses the importance of the master bedroom in the home. "Its so important to be able to come home to a place that's serene and sensual. That's what I have tried to create here, a cocoon shared with my wife."

The designer says shaping the home is a continual process and that Sophie reins in some of his wilder design impulses.

"If I was on my own in this house, it would be much more outrageous and crazy, but my wife calms me down," Malherbe admitted.


Hubert de Malherbe

Q: What's the best thing about living in Paris?

A: The best things about living in Paris are leaving Paris and coming back to Paris.

Q: Describe your home in three (or so) words.

A: Sophie, Chine, Alma, Artus (my wife and my three children).

Q: What's the first thing you do when you get home?

A: In winter: I sit at the fireplace.

In summer: I watch the light on the church facing south.

Q: Where do you spend most of your time at home?

A: In the kitchen and dining room, which is set up like a restaurant.

Q: What's the best view from your windows?

A: It's the view of the church, built at the beginning of the 17th century.

Q: How do you scent your home?

A: With Dior candles. My favorite is "Montaigne."

Q: What's your favorite object in your home?

A: It's a pair of vases given to my family by the Fersen family. Axel de Fersen was said to have been a lover of Marie-Antoinette.

Q: Where do you source furniture in Paris?

A: Most I design, but I also love the work of Hervé Van der Straeten.


Who are they?

Together with architect Bjarke Ingels, Lars Larsen and Jens Martin Skibsted are co-founders of Danish design group KiBiSi, one of Scandinavia's most influential contemporary cross-disciplinary groups, which creates everything from furniture and household objects to bicycles, aircraft and signature designs. Larsen's straightforward approach to industrial design, merging disparate elements, has earned him acclaim as one of Scandinavian design's fastest-rising stars. Meanwhile, global design elite member Skibsted applies branding, fashion and culinary concepts to new concepts. They were honorable speakers last month at the Business of Design Week, in Hong Kong, the largest design event in Asia.

Tell us about some of your work, and name of the ones you're most proud of.

We've designed bicycles for Biomega and Puma; sofas for Versus; lights for Louis Poulsen and Lightyears, utensils for Muuto; an aircraft for Terrafugia; electronics for AIAIAI; chairs for Hay; wallpaper for Quinze Milan and much more. We are very proud that the Puma bike - it has an integrated lock that if destroyed also destroys the bike - and headphones for AIAIAI have both been collected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Recently, we've designed an office desk for Holmris that is height adjusted with a hand crank - saving energy, weight and money, and a magnetic bicycle light that automatically switches off when you remove it.

What projects are you currently involved in?

Many. We have three projects involving ceramics, but can't really disclose them.

Describe your design style.

We try to avoid having a style. We want our shapes to be guided by the right, big idea - not just by taste. That said, we obviously carry some Scandinavian heritage and keep things simple.

Where are you most creative?

We are most creative when we have our partner weekends in a summer house by the sea, north of Copenhagen. This is where we rethink, reshape and refine our practice.

What do you collect?

Collectively we collect good ideas for reuse. On a personal level, it is different. Jens collects kaleidoscopes.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group, one of the founders of KiBiSi) designed the Danish pavilion for the World Expo 2010 - KiBiSi designed the chairs. Bjarke would probably have liked to see the pavilion, except it's been dismantled. Jens would like to visit his best friend who lives in Pudong. Lars might want to dine in one of the excellent restaurants.

What will be the next big design trend?

We are not big believers in following trends, but one is merging high-tech with local crafts from all over, Scandinavia, Africa, China.

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