Every room tells a story in a glamorous home on the outskirts of Versailles, where history reigns.
Guillaume Féau has a passion for classical French architecture. After all, it’s in his blood. His father was an interior designer who worked for Stéphane Boudin when his legendary French firm, Maison Jansen, was enlisted by Jacqueline Kennedy to restore the public rooms in the White House. “Right after that,” Féau says, “my grandfather bought my father the company where I am working now.” Today, Féau & Cie provides the crème de la crème of the design world—including Robert Couturier, Peter Marino, and Michael Smith—with the most beautiful antique and reproduction 18th- and 19th-century wood paneling and fireplaces money can buy.
As a child, Féau would go to the Féau & Cie warehouse and spend hours exploring the packed storerooms of vintage panels, just as his children do today. “Many areas then weren’t even lit; it was a little scary,” he says. When Féau bought the business from his father, in 1999, he opted out of working as an interior designer as his father had. Instead, he decided to work for them.
The 20,000-square-foot showroom is located in the center of Paris, near the Arc de Triomphe. “It is a considerable mess, which is really nice,” says Couturier, describing the space. “It looks like all the remnants of a bombed-out castle have been thrown together in one back room. You have panels upon panels upon panels. It is overwhelming if you don’t know what you are looking at—it looks like a pile of wood. But if you know what you are looking at, you know you’re looking at something quite remarkable and poetic.”
The workshops are buzzing with more than 100 artisans, most of whom are dedicated to woodworking. Their labors can be seen in restoration projects in the Louvre and Versailles. The one Féau cites as his all-time favorite was the redo of Villa La Fiorentina in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, on the Côte d’Azur, in 2003. “There was an unlimited budget,” Féau says. “I was free to propose what I wanted to do. The late Alberto Pinto said that it is the most beautiful house in the world.” Current work includes the interiors of a private 350,000-square-foot residence in Moscow and the reconstruction of rooms in Paris’s Hôtel Lambert damaged during a fire in 2013, for the current owner, the emir of Qatar. Féau is also working with Karl Lagerfeld on the design of the five-room Royal Suite in the Hôtel de Crillon, overlooking the Place de la Concorde.
But what happens when you become your own client, having purchased a family home in need of a serious aesthetic makeover, as Féau did in 2003? “The house belonged to a TV star,” Féau says. “It was very”—he pauses to find the right word—“kitsch. It was tough for me to live there in the beginning because I did not have the money to do the work, and it was difficult to digest for a couple of years before starting what I wanted to do.”
Guillaume’s wife, Delphine, gives a more detailed description of what they found when they moved in: “The house was colorful, to say the least. Pink walls, yellow walls, very round shapes; the radiators throughout the ground floor had plaster coverings resembling igloos. The kitchen was charming, but in a very cottage-like manner.” One can’t really imagine an 18th-century aesthete waking up to this. “The house,” she continues, “was, and is, very big, and as a young couple, we had to swallow and rest a little before commencing any decor.” Their four children ranged in age from newborn to four years old when they moved in. “Guillaume didn’t want to just re-paint the rooms but rather change the floors, move walls, and basically gut the ground floor, which we did, slowly.”
The 5,000-square-foot three-story house, located between Paris and Versailles, was built in the early 20th century in a style known as meulière, after the particular stone used in its construction. It faces the Parc de Saint-Cloud, and, as Féau notes, “It is in a very nice area between two big forests.” A large dine-in kitchen was added to the house during the renovation. “Not the way of the classic French one,” Féau says, referring to the kitchen’s open plan. “But my wife is from Palm Beach, so it’s nice to have that room where we spend so much time.” It’s also a room—with ornate paneling concealing utilities—where you could imagine hosting a most romantic candlelit dinner fit for an 18th-century entourage.
This isn’t surprising, considering that the kitchen, formal dining room, living room, and entrance hall are all modeled on, or reference, celebrated designers and historical rooms. Féau’s heroes are the 18th- and 19th-century neoclassic designers Charles Percier and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine, whose firm, Percier and Fontaine, was favored by Napoléon Bonaparte, and also by Joséphine de Beauharnais, who enlisted them to work on her residence, Château de Malmaison. The cabinetry in the Féaus’ kitchen is based on a room that Percier and Fontaine designed for her to showcase a collection of Etruscan objects, says Féau. The formal entrance hall of the house is a copy of a lost room called the Four Continents that was designed by the 18th-century French architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Both the Paris and Abu Dhabi Louvre were interested in purchasing Féau’s re-creation, which was recently sold to a private client. “It’s a room that I copied for the Hôtel Lambert,” Féau says.
But Féau’s tastes aren’t limited to the 18th century. The living room contains furniture from Maurizio Gucci’s Place Vendôme residence in Paris, designed by Alberto Pinto. A 1940s coffee table was designed by Jean-Charles Moreux, and the fireplace was inspired by the work of designers Thomas Hope and Emilio Terry. “I like to mix classical and contemporary,” Féau says, referring to the bold columns that were created to resemble those in the Gucci residence, along with the Russian-style woodwork pattern of the floor.
The pale mint-green dining room is another reimagined treasure from the inventory of Percier and Fontaine. “This is a great room that I have,” Féau says. “I almost sold it to the Louvre, but they were too slow and I sold it to a private client for a beautiful palazzo in Florence. But before selling it, I asked if I could have permission to reproduce the room.” The flawless reproduction of the room—originally commissioned by Napoléon’s friend Louis-Vincent-Joseph Le Blond de Saint Hilaire for the private dining room in his country castle—features a set of nine 18th-century framed engravings from the Raphael Loggias gallery in the Papal Palace, in Vatican City. And those particular prints are from the collection of a private family of royal lineage. “I’m in love with Percier and Fontaine,” Féau says. “They created a new style: Empire. Their work is a very modern way to view classic design. They used flat surfaces with added ornament that was unusual for the time. I love to play with these kinds of details.” Spoken like a true designer.