Before ever seeing Charlotte de Tonnac and Hugo Sauzay’s work, Valéry Grégo of Perseus, the group behind such standout hotels as Le Pigalle and Hôtel Les Roches Rouges, fell in love with their home. Within the high ceilings and floral, ornate moldings of their Haussmanian apartment in Paris’s 3rd arrondissement, the architects known as Festen retained a sense of Parisian tradition while embracing the strong geometries of modern and contemporary design: Michael Anastassiades’s minimalist Tube Chandelier, Harry Bertoia’s wiry, gridded side chairs, and Sori Yanagi’s quietly sculptural Butterfly Stool, to name but a few of their eye-catching pieces.
“I liked their simplicity,” says Grégo. “I liked them as individuals, as a team, and as a couple,” he adds, “and I liked what I sensed could be the dynamic between us.” As a core team of only two, de Tonnac and Sauzay work directly with their clients, creating a spatial narrative that is infused with the identity of the property’s owner and the site. They based their designs for Perseus’s office in the London neighborhood of Fitzrovia on Grégo’s collection of midcentury furniture—an approach that recalls the late architect Geoffrey Bawa, one of their greatest influences. “If there’s a tree on site, Bawa would design the building around the tree,” Sauzay explains affectionately. With Prouvé and Saarinen as their starting points, de Tonnac and Sauzay built a mood board “that didn’t have a lot of references to an office, but more of the 1950s in general,” says de Tonnac, with a few of their own favorite things complementing the scene: Shaker furniture, Japanese minimalism, and works by Donald Judd. With its warm wooden elements and plush seating, the resulting space feels more like a home than a workplace.
De Tonnac and Sauzay met as students at École Camondo, and founded Festen (Danish for “celebration”) when they graduated in 2011. With a growing number of private residences and hospitality projects under their belt, they’ve become known for the incisive research they apply to each, delving into a site’s history and seamlessly blending it with their contemporary design.
“A big compliment for us is when people say the place looks like it’s always been there.” Charlotte de Tonnac, Festen
“We mix styles and eras in the furniture and artwork so that it doesn’t look too designed, and we try to do real things, nothing too decorative or too false,” says de Tonnac. “A big compliment for us is when people say the place looks like it’s always been there.” This approach is particularly evident at Le Pigalle, which Grégo had envisioned as a hôtel de quartier, a model that’s becoming increasingly popular in cities throughout the world.
“It’s a moment where travelers are looking for these neighborhood-specific experiences, and locals are looking for new hangouts,” he says. To fully grasp the area, de Tonnac and Sauzay began their research by interviewing area business owners and residents about their favorite parts of the neighborhood.
“Maybe it was a café or a little store or a wall or a painting that represents the area for them,” says de Tonnac. They peppered the interiors with references to what they found: neon, a nod to Pigalle’s history as Paris’s red-light district; terrazzo flooring like those in local bars; and leopard-print upholstery and oxblood carpets much like the ones you may have once found in a brothel. Their primary materials are plaster, stone, and marble. “Not a chic marble, but a matte one,” says Sauzay. “This hotel feels more like coming to a friend’s place.”
Le Pigalle’s ground-floor lobby is a welcoming hybrid of home and Parisian café, outfitted with a communal table, vintage furniture, local photographs, and a vinyl library. At Hôtel Les Roches Rouges, which was the subject of a magazine feature that we excerpted on this site, their goal was to create the same ease and relaxation but in the five-star, seaside setting of Saint-Raphaël, in Provence. The lobby was designed to invite guests and non-guests alike to gather for a drink amid interiors that highlight the nautical-modernist lines of classic French Riviera architecture in concrete, oak, and terracotta, materials native to the South of France.
Alongside its partnership with Grégo in the hospitality sphere, Festen continues its residential work. In Paris, in the 10th arrondissement, the pair demonstrates the range of their cross-historical approach by transforming the more austere architecture of a 20th-century former industrial space—one outfitted with steel-structured ceilings and wrought-iron fixed windows—into a home suitable for their clients’ family. At the centerpiece of the open-plan loft is the stainless steel furniture by Abimis, giving this project a strikingly contemporary look that stands apart from the firm’s portfolio.
What’s ironic about Festen’s rejection of fashion, and its timeless, intellectual approach is that the result is very cutting edge; de Tonnac and Sauzay seem most comfortable working in the hippest enclaves of Paris, from the casual lounges of Le Pigalle, to a production company office at Place Saint-Georges designed as a living space painted entirely in black. (Monochrome has proven a recurring theme, as seen there and in the black-and-white interiors of the 110-square-meter apartment that they designed for a client on Rue Marie Stuart.) Taken together, the duo’s work conveys a sense of luxury and sophistication tailored to a new generation of client, one that embraces both a laidback mood and a nostalgia for authenticity. They exude an effortless cool, which never goes out of style.
The preceding article is excerpted from the “Influencers List,” honoring five visionary architects and designers who are changing the face of contemporary hospitality, in the Design Hotels™ Book 2018. The book features 295 handpicked properties over 500-plus illustrated pages, with behind-the-scenes stories of the artists, designers, architects, and hoteliers who brought them to life. Click here for more information or to buy your copy.