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French decorator Sarah Lavoine generally doesn’t like street-level apartments. “I prefer to be up in the sky,” she asserts. She herself lives in a top-floor flat on St.-Honoré on the Right Bank. However, her clients Alix de la Comble and her husband have rather a different take. When they set out looking for a new apartment, they had one over-riding criterion: They wanted a garden. “It gives you the feeling of being in a house,” says de la Comble. “You forget there are other people around.”
The ground-floor, three-bedroom unit they acquired in Paris’s tony 16th Arrondissement was unprepossessing. Lavoine recalls it as being “old-fashioned and classical.” The garden itself was in a terrible state. “It sloped so much that you felt you were in a hole,” says de la Comble. There was also a “ghastly” pond, which would have been a logistical hassle to remove. They covered it with a wooden deck and, with the help of landscape architect Pierre-Alexandre Risser, filled the garden with as many edible plants as possible: besides apple, pear, and medlar trees, they grow squashes and black currants. “If ever there was a famine,” says de la Comble, “we’d survive for quite some time.”
De la Comble has a background in fashion: In the 1980s, she worked in the design studio at Christian Dior under Marc Bohan and launched a swimwear collection with Princess Stéphanie of Monaco. (Several of her sketches hang in the apartment.) Lavoine, meanwhile, has risen to become the It Girl of French interiors with a style characterized by bold color blocking, stripes, and geometric motifs. She even has a hue—a teal called Le Bleu Sarah— named for her. “There’s always something youthful to everything she does,” says de la Comble. “It’s very much of-the-moment.”
De la Comble had very firm ideas about what she wanted for the apartment. “She was very precise in her wishes and very hands-on,” says Lavoine. “In many ways, it was something of a joint project.” It was de la Comble’s husband, meanwhile, who decided to completely modify the entrance to the apartment. Previously, you entered through the foyer of the building. Today, you come in directly from the garden. Although left intact, the flat’s former front door can now be reached only through a hidden door— part of a bookcase in the study that pivots. The rest of the layout was revised as well, with long corridors eliminated, the kitchen brought to the front of the apartment, and an enfilade created along the wall overlooking the garden.
The garden itself provided significant inspiration for the interior, notably in the use of different shades of green. Thé de Chine, a color from Lavoine’s collection for French paint manufacturer Ressource, was used for the entry hall, and the kitchen cupboards were lacquered to match the verdant tone of one of de la Comble’s gloves. Another reference to the horticultural world is the use of canework for the kitchen and dressing room doors and the headboard in the master bedroom. The choice of terrazzo for bathrooms and floors, meanwhile, was inspired by de la Comble’s childhood in Morocco. “I was brought up in Casablanca, where you find it everywhere,” she says.
Much of the apartment’s furniture has been in her possession for a long time. “I’m not one for casting things off,” she says. She acquired the sofas in the sitting room more than a decade ago and bought the pair of circa-1800 Venetian consoles in the entry hall 30 years ago. There are also several family heirlooms, including an 18th-century clock in the study and a painting signed by the 18th-century artist François Lemoyne, best known for the ceiling of the Salon d’Hercule at Versailles. Believing it to be worth a fortune, her father had it assessed by Sotheby’s, which concluded that Lemoyne himself executed only part of the composition. “Unfortunately for him, fortunately for me,” she says with a laugh. “That meant he didn’t sell it.”
Other items were sourced especially for the apartment by de la Comble herself. She bought the Vincent Darré rug in the study at auction without taking the room’s measurements (fortuitously, it fit to the nearest inch) and discovered the chandelier by Spanish designer Marta de la Rica, which hangs in the kitchen, in a restaurant owned by de la Rica’s parents in southwestern France. One thing she was also intent on incorporating was the huge ant sculpture by her friend Fathiya Tahiri, a Moroccan artist. It is mounted on the sitting room wall. Her husband was initially reticent, but not Lavoine. “Alix likes to dare,” she says. “It really shakes things up.”