Sarah Lavoine: La Femme

The Paris-based interior designer, Sarah Lavoine, brings a fearless graphic edge to her work – including her own grand apartment, an art-filled family home overlooking the Tuileries

Words Natasha Inchley

“Having confidence in your own sense of style is key,” says the in-demand interior designer, Sarah Lavoine, when describing her rule-breaking aesthetic. The sexy-rebel thing is ingrained: her father was the former Chief Editor of Vogue Paris during the Guy Bourdin era, her mother is an interior decorator and she counts Emmanuelle Alt and Yves Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane as friends. 

Based in Paris, the busy working mother lives in a grand light-filled apartment with her three children Yasmine, Roman and Milo and her husband, the French singer Marc Lavoine. It's here, she combines her love of modern art with signature irreverent touches and unexpected hits of colour. The designer also recently opened the doors to her second eponymous store, a glossy black-walled space in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. It's the ultimate showcase for Lavoine's organically-shaped mirrors, sleek tableware and bold linens – pieces that are just as covetable as Slimane's own.

Say chic! Main picture top, the interior designer at home; Rebel, rebel: above, Lavoine in the art-filled living room accented with her signature wall stripe, and the entrance foyer decorated with a montage of portraits.

Your aesthetic is charged with a rich kind of sexiness – how do you approach a new project? I like to think I use similar principles when it comes to my interior design as I do when I dress myself. Firstly, to never look vulgar; secondly, never work the total look; and finally, know how to mix and combine different items. There is nothing I hate more than when an entire room – or worse, an entire house – is designed with one theme all over. Honestly, I just find it awful. It looks forced and not genuine. How can that be a real reflection of your personality? The best homes are an organic collection of things that have been put together either over a period of several years, or simply by having a coup de coeur as we say in French – you know when you just see something and fall in love with it, and you have to have it.

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  2. I follow my instincts a lot when I design and I think that’s what maybe makes me look like a rule-breaker, as you say. When I see something I like, I just go for it – whether it’s a colour I’m obsessed with at the moment or a particular piece of art or furniture that I simply have to buy. If you love it enough, you can always find some way to make it work somewhere.

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  2. Black is your signature and yet you work with colour in such clever and unique ways – how do you strike a balance? I love to play with colour; my preferences are white and black with certain touches of strong colours. Black is my favorite – I like its impact and depth. It is soothing, and above all you can pair it with bright, bold colours. It is important to play around and you shouldn’t be afraid to be daring and try different combinations. I always tell my clients if they are too scared to commit to one entire wall in a bright colour, to just add a little, such as one stripe across the middle, just to see how much they can handle. People are not daring enough with colours! I like unexpected combinations such as turquoise and plum; blue and khaki; and black and yellow.
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  4. Your personal style is supremely chic – how do you put your look together each day? To be honest, I just stick my hand in my closet and it’s more my hand who chooses for me. It’s usually boots, jeans and a tailored blazer for a working day – the typical Parisienne wardrobe. For designers, I adore Hedi Slimane, first of all for his kindness. Emmanuelle Alt [the Editor In Chief of Vogue Paris] introduced me to him years ago, and I have always really admired his intelligence and creativity. I regret not having bought more jackets at the time when he created his small women’s collection at Dior Homme. But now I am probably one of his biggest buyers at Saint Laurent.

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  2. As a mother, how do you nurture your children’s creativity? I encourage my children – Yasmine, Roman and Milo – in the same way my parents encouraged me: to be imaginative, a dreamer but also to be disciplined. As a child, I received a good mix of two different sorts of education. My mother was quite strict; she is an interior designer herself, so I think she gave me a good feel for this profession. My father, as Chief Editor of Vogue Paris, gave me my taste for travelling, for having an interest in other cultures and art. I would go to fashion shows with him all the time and I’ve always felt very lucky to be immersed in the fashion industry from such a young age. My husband Marc is a singer and also a some-time photographer.  We try to expose our kids to our respective creative industries and then just see what they respond to. We would never force them to follow either of us, but as they are exposed to so many different forms of creativity in our house, they are all definitely developing creative aspects to their personalities, which I love. We travel a lot as a family, too, and I think exposing your children to different cultures is one of the best things you can do for them.
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  4. And how do you advise other young families? Is it possible to live with high design when you have children? Absolutely! Nothing is more chic than a house full of life, people and laughter. I find houses that are designed to be showrooms – where everything is too precious and perfect to touch – to be so depressing. Life can be tough so it's important to feel good in one’s home.

Nothing is more chic than a house full of life, people and laughter.

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  2. What is your secret to striking a work-life-family balance? My mother worked very hard and very often, my sister and I hardly saw her. I’m afraid sometimes I do too much as well. But the good thing is that my office is so close to my children's school and the house, they can always stop by and be with me. Roman particularly loves my office.
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  4. And finally, a typical weekend as a family involves ... We have a country house that is only 40 minutes from Paris. We spend so many weekends there. It is a total tranquil paradise and we go for long walks through the wonderful woods that surround it, I love it. It’s always filled with friends and children. It’s so close to Paris, I can easily go back and forth, even for a dinner. If we stay home in Paris, we usually visit museums or new exhibitions in small galleries with the children, my favourite is the Galerie Kamel Mennour. Then in the evening my husband and I will go out with friends or just the two of us – one of our favorite places is l’Atelier Robuchon in Saint Germain because the food is consistently good.