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Inside Pierre Frey's Normandy Retreat

At Frey's family retreat in Normandy, generations of the clan behind the lauded Parisian fabric house find solace—no shoes required.


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For Pierre Frey, work is a family affair: Along with his two brothers and their father, he runs the interior textile business started by his grandfather, Pierre Frey the elder, in Paris in 1935. Minus a stint in New York, the young Frey, now the communications manager, has lived above the corporate offices in the First Arrondissement since he graduated from college—a benefit of being the eldest. His studio apartment gradually expanded to fit his wife, screenwriter and director Emilie Cherpitel, and four-year-old son, Georges. Another child is on the way. Now his weekend home is never without at least one brother and a handful of nephews—not to mention dozens of cushions and throws.

Even the decor in the country is multigenerational. The week that Pierre and Emilie found the cottage-style five-bedroom house in Louye, at the eastern tip of Normandy—immaculately restored, says Pierre, by a “maniac” retired couple who didn’t tolerate a single chip in the paint—his 103-year-old grandmother passed away. An antiques dealer and collector, she left him a home’s worth of treasures.

That wasn’t the only reason the house was filled in a matter of weeks: He can select his favorite pieces from among the furniture at the Pierre Frey warehouse; and of course, “I was able to have curtains right away,” he says with a laugh. “We’re a fabric business!” He tosses up his hands. “We use it for our decoration.”

About those curtains, cushions, and throws: The rich velvets, light wools, and playful modern toiles found throughout the home—not to mention the bold Indian-inspired textile, Indore, behind the master bed—all epitomize the Pierre Frey aesthetic, which uses classic techniques to reflect the moment in fabrics, wall coverings, rugs, and furniture. In its eight decades, the company has become synonymous with luxury textiles and has even acquired smaller houses that make similar products. No wonder it was tapped by the Louvre to contribute fabrics to a massive renovation project, including the 18th-century decorative arts galleries.

According to Pierre, his grandfather couldn’t even draw a flower, but he had an eye for color and proportion, as well as the taste to commission patterns from the best designers, painters, and illustrators. That tradition, along with a stable of in-house artisans, continues to this day in the five-floor atelier near the Palais Royal, where they make almost everything in-house. The company issues two collections a year, adding 80 patterns and a resulting 800 potential color combinations to the archive.

One recent collaboration, with celebrated interior designer India Mahdavi, resulted in brightly patterned velvets. Abstract images derived from old posters found on the streets of Paris by a young artist named Art Tatter inspired another collection. As Pierre says, using one of those untranslatable French phrases that’s still perfectly understood, “We have always been in l’air du temps, and that’s how we try to be today.”

At the cozy and welcoming house, l’air du temps is always easy in the summertime. The home is in the lush Vallée de l’Eure, a picturesque region where châteaux from the 12th to 20th centuries are a draw (especially the Château d’Anet, built for noblewoman Diane de Poitiers but perhaps more famous as a location for the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball).

After they arrive Friday night, Pierre takes his flashlight into the vegetable and herb garden to see what’s new, a tendency he acquired from his father, whom he describes as “a garden freak.” On Saturdays, Georges follows in the footsteps of his father and uncles, taking horseback riding lessons at a nearby stable.

Afterward, colorful fabrics are thrown on tables set for adults and children, then covered with a Franco-Italian feast that can be nibbled as guests and relatives come and go: charcuterie, tomato salad, French cheeses, grissini, and baguettes, plus rosé, of course. Emilie does the cooking; Pierre does the shopping at organic markets and helps out, with an assist from their son, as well as Pierre’s brother Vincent, who comes almost every weekend with his wife and two boys. “We leave the door open so the kids can run out and play,” says Pierre, revealing every urban parent’s fantasy.

It’s all very barefoot and blue jeans, the opposite of stuffy. Pierre describes the mood they’ve achieved in less than a year as “welcoming, charming, cozy.” While Pierre looks thoroughly 21st-century in his unbuttoned chambray shirt and just-so faded jeans, he defines his decorating style as “eclectic and classic with an ethnic feel”—much more traditional than his friends’. As he sees it, “I was raised with classic furniture. When we traveled, it was to classic environments,” what his father and grandfather naturally gravitated toward.

And so there is a distinctly old-world French look to the rooms, with their weathered wood furniture and formidable stripped beams, terra-cotta floors, and a chic jumble of heirloom and modern art. (And no one minds bare feet on those white slip-covered chairs.) While he likes to mix design and vintage furniture, he’s sitting out the current fad for pieces from the 1940s and ’50s that are favored by his generation—minus, perhaps, those retro sconces in the master bedroom.

Even though each home is well stocked, the Freys always return to Paris Sunday night with a full car: “Food, flowers, leaves, chestnuts, branches....” And sometimes an extra throw pillow or two.


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