Focus: François Champsaur, Designer
François Champsaur brings a love of fine art, craftsmanship and natural materials to the spaces he creates.
Just a few steps from the Champs-Elysées and Arc de Triomphe in Paris’ golden triangle lies the Hôtel Vernet, a post-Haussmann building that the Paris-based designer François Champsaur recently transformed into a contemporary haven.
Champsaur began by restoring the original detailing of the 100-year old property: the glass and iron roof in the restaurant originally designed by Gustav Eiffel, the checkerboard marble floor and the sweeping spiral staircase. He then enlisted local artists and artisans to make custom furniture, textures and materials. These are found throughout the hotel alongside one-off decorative details and unexpected color juxtapositions.
The entry area, now framed by shimmering glass panels hand brushed with blanc de Meudon leads to an airy lobby area where a large abstract carpet by artist Jean Michel Alberola unfolds between white columns and arches. The lounge area features hand painted frescoes, also by Alberola. Geometric forms, mostly black or white, float against a pale gold background echoing the room’s brass and copper tones. To counterbalance the room’s original marble and brass mantelpiece, Champsaur placed a pleated copper screen at the opposite end of the room and in front of the screen he designed a rippling marble bar that recalls the work of sculptor Jean Arp.
Artistic accents are characteristic of Champsaur’s work. The Paris-based designer eschews mass-produced furniture and products and tries to incorporate the craft of artisans wherever possible. “Paris is about the skills of our individual craftspeople,” he says. “The furniture-makers, the woodworkers, and the people who work with fabrics. In my small way, I try to stimulate their creativity and to revitalize their valuable expertise.”
Born in Marseille, François Champsaur studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before joining the Ecole nationale des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD). After working with various architects and interior designer studios he started his own firm in 1996 focusing on structural design, furniture and interiors. He has since transformed luxury hotels such as The Royal Evian and the Vernet Hôtel in Paris, private homes throughout France, and furniture lines in collaboration with brands such as Pouenat Ferronnier and HC28.
Champsaur’s lamps and furniture pieces for Pouenat Edition are mostly made of lacquered and brushed metals that oscillate between folding, fluid and jagged lines, while his product lines for Beijing-based HC28 feature lacquering, interlacing and geometrical forms inspired by traditional Chinese furnishings. “I like to combine the best of what I know from French and Chinese craftsmanship,” he says.
A love of craftsmanship also informs Champsaur’s residential interiors. Recently, for the renovation of a residence in Paris’ Trocadéro neighborhood, Champsaur was tasked with a complete overhaul of a 5,382 sq. ft. apartment that had not been renovated in 40 years. The designer balanced the client’s desire for a dramatic new look with respect for the original architecture by first removing false ceilings and walls. “I wanted to strip things back to basics by focusing on strong details which have more in common with architecture than interior design,” Champsaur says.
Much like a sculptor, Champsaur peeled back to reveal the essence of the space. Narrow corridors, thick walls, heavy doors and dark corners were replaced by light-weight walls and partitions, open sight-lines and minimal color. Champsaur replaced the parquet with long pine boards and concealed the wardrobes and televisions behind wall panels he finished in an ombré color effect.
He also adapted the apartment layout to suit contemporary lifestyles. “The kitchen has become a living room in keeping with the current trend of cooking, socializing and eating in a large open plan space; the heart of the home,” he explains. In the dining area a custom green bench in leather and lacquer surrounds a bespoke marble dining table, both designed by Champsaur, while black dining chars by Konstantin Grcic add a sculptural touch. The marble and brass accents throughout give the residence a luxurious feeling, but one that is offset by careful attention to light and proportion.
The same attention is evident at a much smaller apartment Champsaur designed at a former warehouse in Marseille’s La Joliette district. Here he also focused on opening up the living spaces and bringing out the existing architectural elements. He unified the space by using the same flooring throughout, and in the sitting room he cleared all fixtures and storage units. To counter balance the ceiling height, he selected just a few furniture pieces that are bold, but low to the ground. These include the Sonia stool, designed by Sergio Rodriguez, the Bluff coffee table by India Mahdavi, the Wiggle side chair designed by Frank Gehry and a ‘Roue De Clement’ mirror-light fixture by Pascal Michalou.
While Champsaur loves to fill his hotels and homes with art, as a designer, he is also focused on the art of living and he carefully considers the way a space functions for its inhabitants. “For both homes and hotels, I always focus on three essential elements,” he says. “The fluidity of the space, the spirit of the place and the modernity. I try to create a lifestyle, not just a style. I believe a person’s home should be as much of a haven as a hotel is.”
Q & A
Can you describe your path to design? What and who were your major influences?
I think for me it was a bit like how chefs always say they had a grandmother who inspired them. In my case, it was the different houses that I grew up in, the taste of my family in general for design, lifestyle of course and a Mediterranean kind of simplicity. Within this process there was also variety, hence why I like to have many sources of inspiration around me at all times – books, images of design and art…anything visual.
What came first: designing furniture or interior spaces?
They both came together on my first project, The Café de l’Alma in Paris. It was a fantastic experience. The owners of the restaurant didn’t want to buy any of the furniture or anything that was going into the interiors – they wanted everything to be created especially for it. So I had my work cut out for me but it was fantastic as a young designer to have such a wonderful opportunity to really put my stamp on every aspect of the project.
Did you always have a love for metals?
Yes, I love working with metal. That’s why I take so much joy in my work for Pouenat Ferronier. According to the nature of the project, I tend to prioritize natural materials. I never choose pieces made of plastic and industrial materials. I much prefer oak, birch, Tavel stone or Burgundy, marble.
You are known for designing the homes of art collectors. Do you also collect?
I personally collect art and sculptures from the 1960’s. I like this period and also the 1950’s. The 50’s for me reflect a period of savoir-faire, craftsmanship, the individual, atypical furniture.
Have your tastes and design ideals changed since you started your career?
I am sure that my work has changed over time, however not dramatically as I am not a believer in trends. Of course they exist, but I think ‘trends’ can do more harm than good, so I choose not to follow them. Thinking has been globalized and savoir-faire is disappearing.
What would you like to work on next?
A venue that will gather all of my passions; wine, food, music and the Mediterranean art of living.
Text by Sophie Kalkreuth
This article was originally published in PALACE 15