They say opposites attract. And sometimes, when two extremes collide, the results can be exceptional. Alexandra and her husband Nicolas of French interior design company, Royal Roulotte, specialise in finding harmony in contradiction. Looking for a challenge, the couple bought a rundown building that had been carved up into bedsits and left to sit derelict for two years. After using their designer touch, the property was completely transformed. Now, it’s a sophisticated family home with gypsy charm.
Five years ago, Alexandra and Nicolas (along with their daughters Nina and Thelma) wanted a playful space to renovate and showcase their new architecture and design company. They found the perfect candidate in a small village called Rambouillet. The area is well-known for its castle and forest, plus it’s just 29 miles from Paris: “We instantly loved the Masart architecture and its Baroque style: the moulding, the wooden flooring, the fireplaces, the geometrically patterned cement floor tiles and especially the space. But the house was in poor condition. It took six months to refurbish the entire space and bring the original soul back. Keeping its period features while adding modern and functional touches was a challenge.”
“I love the blush pink Frame armchair. I completely fell in love with the velvet - it’s such a comfy and cosy fabric. I think the contrasts are really interesting: the cosy revival velvet and the contemporary metal. It’s both opulent and airy.”
“I organise my books by colour because I used to spend a lot of time searching for them.” says Nicolas. “As I’m a visual person, it’s easier for me to remember the colour of the spine than the title.”
Although the #Styleitdark trend is already huge in the UK, it’s still an upcoming trend in France, and the couple did in fact opt for a British brand of paint for their inky-hued walls. “The dark paint is one of the original touches of the house. It’s a bold but relaxing grey from Farrow & Ball which ages well and adds character.”
Alexandra collected a key piece on her travels: “Our favourite piece is the handcrafted Mexican Tree of Life. These trees often depict religious scenes like Noah's Ark or the Garden of Eden. We ordered a special design - made up only of sugar skulls, to protect us from bad luck.” She went on to use the pinks and blues in the piece as accent colours for the living space.
“I love hunting for pieces at flea markets because vintage furniture tells a story, it has soul. I like the harshness like our kitchen table which is a bit damaged.” A kitchen renovation project normally requires a substantial budget, but the couple found a way to save money on their makeover: “We used metro tiles because they’re inexpensive. They’re simple and white. We love how they’ve turned out.”
“What matters for us is that an object makes you feel something. We’re not interested in the ‘practical’ side. In fact, we don’t like the word ‘practical’. We don’t like fixed things like fitted storage. It might be functional but it’s also restrictive. We want to be able to move our furniture and take it with us. Our paintings are hung using a railing system so we can move them around without making holes everywhere and damaging the walls.”
The photograph of The Rolling Stones from the late 60s remind Alexandra of a special memory: “The day we got married, the guests thought Nicolas looked like Mick Jagger.” “It’s because I wore a white suit and had long hair,” adds Nicolas. Alexandra loves this picture because it’s rock ‘n’ roll: “When it comes to music, there are two schools. And I’ve always preferred The Rolling Stones to The Beatles.”
Giving items a second life is an art the couple have mastered: “I’m keen on using things in a different way than they were intended. For example, we turned old doors into a coat stand by adding hooks to hang our MADE Santorini towels.” Those doors aren’t the only things that have been given a new life. Alexandra’s bathroom used to have a different purpose: “It was a kitchen. We painted the room white and added a bath with lion claw feet which we’d always wanted.”
“In the bedroom, we paired the velvet Lorna cushions with the graphic-printed Axle cushions. I don’t like artificial things. Natural materials have more appeal to me,” says Alexandra. However, to balance the natural aesthetic, Nicolas added two brass Alana bedside tables to bring some sophistication: “The golden colour adds some depth and character to the room. This is the “Royal” side. We didn’t want to fall into the rustic look.”
It’s not just the interior of this home that’s full of charm: “We enjoy going for a stroll in the Rambouillet forest. Most of our friends live in Paris and when they come to visit us, they enjoy the fresh air and switching off for a weekend.”
Article written by: Manon Folligan
Photography by: Julie Ansiau