The interior designer Dorothée Delaye spent two years searching for what she calls “a village life in Paris”. She and her family – husband François and children Faustine, 11, and Jules, nine – had outgrown their apartment in the central Marais district. “I really wanted to have a garden – that was my priority,” says Delaye. “A place where my children could have their friends over to play. I also wanted a large entertaining space where my husband and I could gather with friends.”
For Delaye, a chance for “village life” showed up a few kilometres east in the 12th arrondissement, at the back of a courtyard that once housed a mirror factory. “I immediately fell in love with its volume and its factory elements,” says Delaye of the cavernous, open-plan workshop. “It was such an unusual space – the perfect challenge for a designer.”
Delaye’s eponymous design studio specialises in bringing buildings out of hibernation. She has spent more than a decade transforming hotels and restaurants into “places where people come to love, dance, eat, share, reflect and get emotional…” (She has just completed the interiors for Mimosa, Jean-François Piège’s latest restaurant at Hôtel de la Marine in Place de la Concorde, as well as the interiors for Sookie, a Marais hotel and coffee shop she likens to visiting a friend’s house.)
“A project begins by immersing yourself in a place, in a neighbourhood,” explains Delaye. “By listening and interacting … I find creativity begins to bubble.”
With a self-imposed deadline of just eight months, Delaye restructured the 200-square-metre space, creating a large, open-plan central living area plus three bedrooms and a home office. One of the two internal garages was converted into a master bedroom with en suite, and a previously roofed courtyard garden was reimagined as an enclosed paved patio, now thick with foliage.
With the floorplan set, Delaye focused on fixtures and fittings. “My main decision was to give the space a countryside feel,” she says. “I didn’t want it to feel like a new house, built from scratch.” Delaye sourced a variety of reclaimed materials for the interior. The panelled doors and herringbone floor are from a Haussmann apartment in the 16th arrondissement; the red marble fireplace came from a grand house in Belgium; and the shutters are from a villa in the south of France. “Each item brings it own story,” says Delaye. “They give the impression that they have always been there.”
Though the apartment is open-plan, transitional thresholds have been created through the clever use of texture and colour. The wall surrounding the fireplace has, for instance, been painted a rich shade of burgundy (Farrow & Ball’s Brinjal). “This was a way of setting the decor around the fireplace in the same tones,” explains Delaye. “It makes the living room warm and – at the same time – very different from the kitchen and bar area.”
The baroque mirror above the mantle once hung in Château de Chantilly, north of Paris (Delaye was partly inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film, Barry Lyndon), and the patinated pillars have been left in situ as a reminder of the building’s industrial past. “With each project, I get very attached to the history of a place,” Delaye says. “I like to imagine that time will continue to pass through it, intervene in my work and eventually appropriate it.”
In the kitchen, the leaden walls pick up the grey finish of the marble splashback, while the change in flooring (a marble mosaic designed by Delaye) demarcates a change of use. Similarly, in her daughter Faustine’s country-style bedroom, various shades of blue on the walls and in fabrics create layered interest. “I like things that last,” Delaye says. “You can be bold in your choice of colour without falling for the latest trends.”
Paris’s famous flea market, the Marché d’Aligre, is next door to the apartment and Delaye has reflected its vintage eclecticism by mixing secondhand pieces with contemporary furniture. In the living area, a series of chairs – Faye Toogood’s Roly-Poly, a classic bentwood Thonet and a pair of 1950s Danish designs – create an inviting scene. “I enjoy mixing periods, styles and materials,” says Delaye. “I think it brings real warmth to the house.”
At the start of any project, Delaye asks: “Would I still like this decor in five years?” Having lived in the mirror factory for five years, she still finds her richly layered home fresh and functional: a countrified corner of the city that is a true reflection of the people who live there.