French lessons: a family apartment in Paris

Nell Card

When Géraldine Octernaud was 18, she swapped a pair of vintage trainers for a red Eames rocking chair. She had never heard of Charles or Ray Eames before, but it marked the start of a new obsession, becoming the first piece in her ever-evolving collection of vintage design.

That collection – which spans the second half of the 20th century – is seen here in Octernaud’s Art Deco apartment in the 7th arrondissement in Paris. She moved into the apartment six years ago with her husband, Stephen, and three children (the couple now have four, aged between five and 13).

It was the generous entryway to the apartment, built in the 1920s by the French architect Jean Walter, that first attracted Octernaud. “So many of the 19th-century Hausmannian apartments have one long, dark, scary corridor,” she recalls. “This felt much more inviting.” When they first viewed the apartment, it was home to a single man. “It was decorated in the style of the French interior designer Christian Liaigre,” remembers Octernaud. “Clean, white and minimal, but not very practical for us as a large family”. Octernaud lived with it for two years before enlisting the help of the Parisian interior design studio, Transition ID.

Together, they have transformed the apartment into a playful yet hard-working home, introducing a bold profusion of colours and pattern. Black, gold, pink and lush botanical prints provide the backdrop to family life – and to Octernaud’s eclectic collection, which includes pieces by some of Europe’s most celebrated designers: among them Gio Ponti, Patricia Urquiola and Willy Rizzo.

When Octernaud had her fourth child, the design studio suggested they create an additional bedroom by moving the kitchen and dining room into the living space and dividing the room with oak panels. The panels are based on the curved timber screens created in the 60s by the Czech designer, Jindřich Halabala – a shape echoed in the hallway shelving. “My son is like a monkey,” Octernaud explains. “Rather than have him climb all over original, fragile pieces, we had everything made from hardwood. It’s important my kids don’t feel as if they are growing up in a museum,” she explains. “I don’t want to be constantly shouting: ‘Be careful! It’s a masterpiece! Don’t touch!’ Everything has to be functional, too.”

The Mickey Mouse cupboard in her son’s bedroom is a case in point. Designed by Pierre Colleu in the 80s, it is made of laminated wood and plastic and, so far, has survived life in the company of a five-year-old. The seating in the living room – including the Elda leather armchair by Italian designer Joe Colombo, and the fuchsia Culbuto armchair by the French architect Marc Held – have also been chosen for their robustness as much as for their iconic shape and status.

Octernaud’s collection is seldom static. She is continually searching online for new pieces, which she will swap out for less loved items. (Three of her favourite Instagram accounts are @galerieglustin, @galeriemuscariadrienterret and @thegoodolddayz, which, she says, “is like a vintage dictionary to me”.) Once a month, the family will scour the flea market at Saint-Ouen. She is careful to respect her husband’s taste in interiors: he will tolerate a pink kitchen, but not so much her passion for 70s tapestries, for example. “When we go to the flea markets together,” she explains, “we each have the right to say no to each other. It works.”

Octernaud’s commitment to design has, at times, caused more than a mild marital rift. The solid eucalyptus washstand in the couple’s ensuite bathroom was first glimpsed by Octernaud in a post on Instagram. She pursued the designer until he agreed to part with it. But it was too big to fit through the bespoke doorway –which had to be knocked through and remade. “That is one piece I will be keeping,” says Octernaud. “That and the red chair.”