Interview: Designer Bruno de Caumont
Bruno de Caumont speaks with Form magazine on La Villa Verte, the designer’s refurbished home in Ho Chi Minh City.
The inimitable Bruno de Caumont opens the doors of La Villa Verte, the refurbished house in Ho Chi Minh City that serves as the designer’s home and office, to Form magazine.
Although within walking distance from the heart of the city, La Villa Verte has the same peaceful atmosphere of a botanic garden or a convent. Built by a French architect in the 1950s, it had empty for over 35 years when Bruno found and renovated it to be his home and office. Filled with fine examples from his brand, Caumont Interiors par Bruno de Caumont, La Villa Verte is a gallery for inspiration.
The Villa’s stunning renovation retained the long and deep structure but introduced a new layout. Spaces were reallocated for living and working; a garden was revived and replanted, and rooms were swathed in vibrant colors typical of Bruno’s original pieces. Period architectural details, including the artisanal tiles in the courtyard, were retained while new conveniences were introduced. “It has been completely renovated and redecorated in my idea of Saigon interior design style during the 1950s. I wanted to bring back life to this house, after such a long sleeping period,” the designer declares.
Within the Villa, little of the city’s hustle and bustle can be heard, except for the hourly ringing of the bell from the Catholic church some distance away, which Bruno claims reminds him of his childhood in the French countryside.
La Villa Verte is singular in its design, proportion and, of course, style. I hear that it was an abandoned house when you found it. How did you go about its renovation?
La Villa Verte is very spacious and calm and I wanted to fill it with beauty. However, I did what I always do to my interior design projects – respect the house and bring out its history and charm. I kept all the metal railings and the pastel green and pink tiles outside of the house, which inspired the theme of la Villa Verte. Grey became the signature color for all windows, doors and stairwell guard rail. I found different ways to associate pink and green in the living room using darker colors.
The layout stayed pretty much the same, but some rooms where re-purposed. Downstairs is a very welcoming open space that is used as a dining and living room. On the first floor are two bedrooms – one grey and one yellow – a bathroom inspired by Andree Putman’s black and white bathroom, and an intimate reading room in burnt orange. The latter can also be used for tea with a few friends while enjoying the view of the inner garden, an outdoor area under the shade of palm trees.
On the second floor is the office and the spacious guest room in blue and grey, with some touches of brighter colors (purple side table, orange lampshades), and another bathroom. The 50’s inspired me a lot in the choice of colors but also in the choice of patterns like the houndstooth on one of the sofas, or the black and white cement tiles that cover the entire ground floor.
Living in a place where you also work must be challenging. How do you keep the public and private domains of the Villa separate? Do you entertain here frequently?
The Villa Verte has been designed as a house first and foremost, as my furniture is best displayed in a real home. Each piece is designed to be used in everyday life and I don’t want to display them in a showroom space or a shop that would be full of furniture. It’s important to be able to feel how having them in one’s home would be, how they look with some decorative items, how they complement each other. The office and working areas are part of the house but without strong separation, and decorated in the same way as the rest. All the furniture are pieces that I designed. I love hosting intimate dinner parties or after-dinner drinks, usually for eight people so that they all really can interact with one another. The garden on the first floor, or the reading room, are also perfect for tea parties with a few friends.
I notice that each room has deliberately strong theme and color. Are they also dedicated to specific collections or pieces?
In the living room are tables and stools from the Bruno de Caumont collection with touches of Asian or Asian-inspired furniture. A pair of pedestals and china vases decorate the wall by the dining table. A Vietnamese antique wood and mother of pearl console greets the visitors. The wrought iron set in the garden is a reinterpretation of Art Deco seats that I redesigned and asked a local craftsman to build. Vietnam is full of small workshops and skilled craftsmen, some still using traditional French techniques that were passed on during the Indochina period.
This will sound commonplace to you, but what inspires your collection? What are their distinct characteristics?
The ANNAM collection was inspired by a console table that I saw in an antique shop in Saigon that I found very elegant; it was made of plain wood with a very simple carved ridge running along each leg. Also the legs had a little recess instead of being straight with some ornament at either the top or the bottom – which is unusual. From that, I designed my collection, making the legs as thin as I could without weakening the structure, making them lighter and simple, associating two colors on each piece like with my former collections.
Designers pick their manufacturing base for very well-defined reasons – labor pool, central location, artisanal tradition, even cost of production. In your case, what do you find advantageous being in Vietnam? How are your furniture manufactured and finished? Do they require machine and hand-crafting? Are there special techniques involved in their manufacture?
Each piece of furniture is custom made to fit the customer’s interior; the colors are also customized. Most of my furniture is made of wood, with some carving for the ANNAM collection, and then a lacquer finish is applied following techniques inspired by the traditional Asian technique of lacquer ware which, in my opinion, gives the color more depth than a simple paint, and a satin-smooth feel. (I favor matte over glossy finish.)
Most of us got to know about you through major international exhibitions, trade and lifestyle publications, and by seeing some of your pieces in very upscale homes. How do you want to position your brand? What is your target market and how are you reaching out to it?
We have distributors in New York (21stTwenty First Gallery), Los Angeles (Blend Interiors), Paris (Galerie Nine) and Singapore (Museum of Art and Design).
Our aim is to deliver personalized pieces to each customer, with a very high level of quality. Our products are made to last a lifetime. We are mostly targeting homeowners, interior design enthusiasts, and art collectors. Playing with the colors can make our items either classical or very modern so they appeal to people with different sensitivities and tastes.
Nevertheless, I’ve designed the ANNAM Collection with the hospitality field in mind; it can meet the special needs of designers who are furnishing a “modern-traditional Asian inspiration” hotel or similar establishment.
Explore Caumont Interiors par Bruno de Caumont here.
This story was first published in FORM.