Minimalism RedefinedT MagazineSeptember 27, 2015
how studio ko redefines minimalism
T | The New Times Style Magazine | Design & Luxury issue | September 27, 2015 | By Nancy Hass | Photography by Francois Halard
The celebrated design firm transforms the idea of spare elegance, with rich color and quietly luxurious finishings in a Paris apartment.
THE AESTHETIC of Studio KO is born of an intriguing paradox: What if you steep pared-down ideals in a brew of excess? For nearly 20 years, the Paris-based firm’s principals, Olivier Marty and Karl Fournier, have played with that dynamic, most notably for the holiday homes of Marella Agnelli and Pierre Bergé in Morocco — hardly a locale that calls to mind the unadorned. They have created deceptively simple and serene environments in the midst of the pattern-mad, color-saturated traditional culture of North Africa.
And so the pied-à-terre in the Eighth Arrondissement that they recently completed for a couple — one a financier and the other a fashion designer — may represent the apotheosis of their evolving approach. While edited to a fine edge, and full of the layered surface textures that are the studio’s trademark, it is more exuberant than much of their past work, even a bit zany — for KO, at least. ‘‘This took us further in some way than we had gone,’’ says Marty. ‘‘For years we stayed away from color, but as we go on, there is more and more confidence, and now we’re letting it back into our work.’’
The clients, who split their time between a townhouse in Manhattan and a high-rise in Hong Kong, sought out KO after seeing their interiors in magazines. They were so sure about the firm that they signed a contract after one initial phone conversation — a first, Fournier concedes. ‘‘We knew that they were very idea-driven, and so are we,’’ says the fashion designer.
At the beginning, there were challenges. The 1,800-square foot two-bedroom apartment is in a 19th-century building, a period that most French designers, including Marty and Fournier, generally do not care for, preferring the 17th and 18th centuries with their Louis pedigree and simpler lines, or the Modernism of such 20th-century Gallic idols as Jean-Michel Frank and Jean Prouvé. But this apartment was among the finest of its era, with disciplined lines and none of the over-the-top revival touches, and the designers, who are also partners in life, warmed to it quickly.
They started by asking their clients if there was an object or talisman that epitomized the feeling they wanted to capture. The couple, who love ’70s kinetic artists, sent a photo of a daringly curvy leather-and-brass contemporary chair by the British designer Mark Brazier-Jones. ‘‘It had all the flair we wanted,’’ says the fashion designer. ‘‘It was modern and beautiful and a little crazy.’’
Unlike some people with several residences who want a uniform style from place to place, the couple believes a home should uniquely reflect its surroundings. They’ve cultivated a cozy glow in their New York townhouse, and their Hong Kong apartment is made of steel and glass. For Paris, they wanted to allude to the provenance of the building, layer it with a modern sensibility and add a touch of surrealism. They come to the city a few times a year, simply to eat and drink and revel at their luck in living such a life, and they wanted to be surrounded by a dose of sophisticated humor. Even though the central room is nearly 600 square feet, they didn’t want to break it up into conventional conversation areas. That would feel too dowdy.
‘‘We thought it would be great to have it like being in the clouds,’’ says Fournier. Consequently, the living room is dominated by a massive curved sofa covered in vibrant blue velvet with a subtly celestial mottled pattern. The black and white rug emphasizes the geometry, as do the barrel chairs. The stained-glass windows in the master bedroom add another angular juxtaposition to the space’s ornate original ceilings: When the light shines in, it casts gridlike shadows on the carpet.
The apartment had a set of built-in vitrines, several of which the designers kept, lining the shelves with an unexpected tangerine velvet. Inside is a set of 19th-century ceramics that wink at the financier’s Chinese heritage: Upon close inspection the designs are cleverly ribald. The couple’s taste for strong statements and KO’s newly enthusiastic embrace of color are writ large in the guest room, which has Majorelle-blue walls — a Moroccan fetish — and a lynx-patterned carpet. ‘‘When you have eccentric clients, the telling moment about how far they will go is when you show them the lynx carpet,’’ Marty says.
As in all KO projects, which tend to contain a minimum of objects, many of the surface treatments are themselves a focus. The living room was originally lined in stenciled boiserie stained dark, which the designers removed; they then asked a decorative painter to preserve and emphasize ‘‘ghost’’ images of the paneling in what Marty calls ‘‘a dirty American way.’’ Adding layers of a sort of papier mâché — and then artfully distressing them — the artisans were able to create a custom pale gray surface that is as complex as an abstract painting. The baseboards echo the common areas of the building, which are done in an elaborate pattern of faux marble in a riot of shades common in the 19th century. ‘‘That is a beautiful thing, if it is done in the right amount, in the right way, in the right place,’’ says Marty. ‘‘We got really into it.’’
Perhaps the entire project — and the evolution it represents for the complex, intellectual Studio KO — can be summed up by a corner of the main room: The original posh gold-leafed fireplace is flanked by two huge brutalist sconces on the deconstructed wall with its elegantly marbled baseboards. ‘‘You get older,’’ says Marty, ‘‘and you get more wild.’’
Uncredited sofa building by Nuala.
Modern designers reinterpret the languid luxury of pieces popular in the 18th century
Photographs by Anthony Cotsifas | Styled by Bette Adams
Naula, $6,500, naulaworkshop.com