How did you come to be the man behind this design revival?
Without wishing to sound corny, I’ve always dreamed about restoring these French brasseries, which were tired even when I arrived 10 years ago. I thought to myself, 'who is going to be the guy who gets to do them?’ and fortunately it ended up being me. I suppose I willed it to happen by assembling a portfolio of historic design that put me in contention for these projects.
Is the Parisian artisan scene still alive, and how would you describe it?
There are signs that a mini-Renaissance is underway. A few young designers (myself included) are returning to traditional techniques and stimulating the demand for decorative paint, hand-sculpted plaster and wood, etc. It’s still niche though and there’s a long way to go before we return to the opulence of the pre-Modern era.
What (or who) is the most remarkable thing you’ve discovered about Paris during this project?
I became fascinated by the founder of Bouillon Julien, Monsieur Edouard Fournier. Not only did he open the restaurant (that featured one of the most ambitious designs of all time), he also designed and built the building that housed it. His vision was holistic, democratic and pioneering.
What inspires you about living and working in Paris?
I’m inspired by Paris’ past, not by its present, which is fortunate because living in Paris is like living in a giant museum. At every turn, there is evidence of former greatness right before your eyes, and this inspires my work.
What does this trend/movement say about Parisian culture and its evolution?
It says that Parisians are increasingly willing to entertain ‘concepts’ of the past, and that perhaps the culinary wheel didn’t need to be reinvented after all. Good honest French fare in a remarkably decorated interior and bargain basement prices is a formula that is hard to beat. Should this be read as evidence of the increasing rejection of pretentious post-Modernism in culture? I think so.
What ‘je ne sais quoi’ did you bring to this project as an Englishman in Paris?
When the restaurant reopened I overheard an American couple talking and the chap said to his lady, ‘Goodness, it’s like a Wes Anderson set in here’. I took that as a massive compliment as I’m a big fan of old Wes. His colors are always a bit wrong, but that’s what makes them so right. Is that the case here? Perhaps!
If you could sum up your experience as an Englishman in Paris in 3 lines?
A comedy of errors! Our approach to work is very different. Our sense of humor is very different. Our approach to courtship is very different. Living and working in Paris was a struggle, and fortunately, I was able to see the funny side as I frequently flopped. But failure allows one to grow, so I suppose it was useful.