Sotheby's: Can you tell us a little about your route to where you are now?
Antoine Simonin: I have been working in Paris as an interior architect since 2006. After spending a few years with Andrée Putman and Jean-François Bodin, I founded Studio Asaï in 2014. The studio principally focuses on residential and hotel projects – for private individuals in France and abroad.
Yann Siliec: With a double background in Architecture and graduate from the French Institute of Fashion, I began my career in luxury (YSL, Ralph Lauren). I was then Artistic Director for the Danish Silverware company Georg Jensen (from 2006 to 2008). For 20 years now, I have enjoyed a dual career as freelance journalist (Vogue, Vogue Hommes International, Intramuros, Le Fooding, Air France Magazine, AD, Stiletto) and Artistic Director. That led me to join Studio Asaï five years ago.
Where do you begin with a scheme? Do you do plans and sketches or is it more intuitive?
AS: Our approach is not based on a formula or automatism. Each project is specific to an encounter, a place, and context. From this departure point, the only guideline is to tell a story. We build that story together, in images and in words. And that allows us to zoom in from the spatial scheme to the details, taking a 360° view of each concept.
YS: Each project is before all a matrix. A matrix for fantasies, ideas, intuitions. The advantage of working as a duet on these creative phases is, of course, being able to question the other one’s view. This never ending ping-pong game is not only inspiring; it is the safeguard that precludes frivolous postures and flourishes… It keeps us from being tempted to go off on unjustified tangents.
What is your most reliable source of inspiration?
AS: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Ancient Egypt revealed through sculpture in the mass, 18th century interiors embellished by the light, the English Arts & Crafts movement: a decompartmentalised and uninhibited interaction among different genres, styles, and periods. Anything that defies the test of time. I appreciate the radicalism of a space that remains coherent despite its incoherencies. Contradiction is foremost important.
YS: A spontaneous word, an unexpected eclipse that becomes a mantra, an unlikely source of inspiration. Always unexpected, since each source of inspiration is, by definition, variable. Creativity allows for no dogmatism or certitude. It is precisely the surprise that occurs at a given moment in time, in a certain context, that makes things an omen for that situation.
How do advise and steer clients when selecting artwork for their home?
AS & YS: The artworks that we recommend for our clients are never gratuitous or simply decorative. It is always the reflection or necessary counterpoint for the story that we are telling. We like to think that each one falls into place naturally, that each one occurs and forms an easy transition with the spaces that we suggest. This spatial metaphysic makes sense each time that the dialogue between antiques, designer furniture, and the works of known and emerging artists become obvious choices, like a mother tongue, erasing the markers of time, making the whole thing coexist, inextricably.
Are you an active collector, and if so, what do you collect and why?
AS: I follow my 'loves at first sight', and I am convinced that anything can be combined as long as the boldness of a combination does not inhibit any emotion. You have to know how to collect with ease, with quirkiness, in a completely open-minded approach. That is what I do when I personally mix-and-match photos by Malick Sidibé with Dogon masks or works by Loïc Le Groumellec with English Arts & Crafts pieces, and then light them with ‘70s fixtures by Gino Sarfatti and Gae Aulenti. My ultimate dream as a collector would be to unearth an old English manor. And to settle there without erasing whatever should remain.
YS: I have the same mind-set as Antoine when it comes to collecting. The only pitfall that I try to avoid is over-accumulation, the frenzy of the “spoiled child” that wants more and more until indigestion ensues. A certain asceticism makes true choices shine through. That doesn’t keep me from succumbing to kachinas or Native American works of Art. Or from dreaming of photos by Jeff Burton, Nadia Lee Cohen, or Herb Ritts. From combining the furniture of Naoto Fukasawa and Marc Newson with designer objects by Mackintosh or Otto Wagner. But before all, the most important thing is the collection of desires. The idea of a collection of dreams that allows the mind to wander. Something that guides, inspires, or leads the way, without ever becoming tangible.
Do you draw on tradition in your work, or is it more important to break rules?
YS: Today’s traditions are yesterday’s broken rules. The best approach is to not impose any boundary, to allow ourselves the liberty of explosive and unexpected combinations. Tradition always makes a nod to irreverence, innovation. Our work always flirts on both sides.
What is the project you are most proud of to date?
AS: I always say that the best one is the next one to come. The one that often miraculously happens and sweeps me away to a new territory, to turn a page I hadn’t dreamed of turning. Looking back, a few come to mind: a house that we did in Quiberon for a private client, or a lodge at the edge of the Sabi River in Kruger Park, South Africa. A childhood dream that only comes around once in a lifetime, where my fascination with wildlife and the savannah inspired an orchestration filled with colour, light, and eco-friendly choices, executed through an anthology of well-suited construction techniques and materials.
What does it mean to you to be honoured on the AD 100 list?
AS: It is always a great pleasure. And, above all, it is a point of pride for the Studio, highlighting my team’s infallible patience and involvement. It comes also to thank, with gratitude, the trust that clients place in us.
Which of the pieces in the sale resonate most strongly?
AS & YS: The feline bronzes by Rembrandt Bugatti – leopards, a jaguar, a lion and a puma – which, through their grace, would certainly find their rightful place as part of the lodge project in Kruger Park that we just delivered. The surprising Eye See You by Olafur Eliasson, like a cross between a sculpture by Tinguely and the famous light projector of Mario Fortuny. The animal explosion of the Beautiful Mid-Air Flying Duck Collision... Ow by Damien Hirst. The atavistic triptych of silk-screen prints by Andy Warhol. The Louis XIV desk in marquetry that Alexandre Dumas certainly would have liked. The delicious, delicate jewellery box straight out of a Disney fairy tale. And the pair of Xiangqi vases in Chinese porcelain that send us shooting straight backwards through time. The pursuit of time, as ever, and a shared attraction to bestiaries, the open door to every tale and imaginary world.
Can you see ways in which you would use some of these pieces in a space? What’s their potential?
AS & YS: As always, by resuscitating each piece from its museum torpor. Bringing it back to life, giving it a voice. Each one is there for its character, its personality. Decorating a space is, above all, setting a scene, like a little theatre that sparks life when the interaction between all the elements resonates according to the magic of controlled improbability. It is that search for connection points – happy marriages – that makes a story surprising. And by creating a rhythm that makes it bigger than life.
Are there any exciting projects you are working on right now that you can perhaps share with us?
AS & YS: We are simultaneously working on the renovation of a Provence-style Mas which has been a sleeping beauty for twenty years, across from the village of Ménerbes in the Luberon. On a beachfront apartment, in an emblematic Belle Époque villa of Biarritz. On the renovation of a post-modern house in Paris. And on the conversion of a former bell-tower/chapel into a chalet in Zinal, a Swiss ski resort. All are projects of varying scales... And beauties snatched from the past that are incredibly exciting to reinvent.