Descending from a long line of experts and dealers in Old Master drawings, Emmanuel de Bayser tracks down famous names in French post-war design.
You’re the great-grandson of the painter George Desvallières, and come from a family with somewhat classical tastes – yet you became fired by design…
It's true, I grew up in a very 18th century atmosphere, but I soon wanted a different lifestyle. I got Ikea furniture for my first student room! Then I did my national service in Munich, working at Canovas, which naturally pointed me towards a much more decorative style. After returning to Paris, I became interested in Fifties and Sixties American design, especially Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson. I would buy things on eBay then. You could find some amazing pieces, and I would have them shipped from the US. In fact, I still have a sofa by Florence Knoll, which was my first buy. It's now in one of my shops in Berlin.
What led you to French designers?
In terms of investment, I should have started with them! I began by buying a small green desk by Jean Prouvé at a gallery, with a chair, also green. I followed it up with a day bed. I didn't put them in my apartment, but in a shop I had then, where I sold furniture. I then moved apartments in Berlin and broadened my range of acquisitions with pieces by Charlotte Perriand, Serge Mouille, Jean Royère, Mathieu Matégot, and so on. I find their designs very pleasing to live with. I don’t get tired of the pieces
I got ten years ago, which wasn’t the case with my American period. While all these designers have the Fifties spirit, there’s something more transient about the Americans. The French are more timeless.
I suppose that’s how I developed, unconsciously.
You’re also a collector of ceramics.
Collector is a big word. When I ran out of space for furniture, I took an interest in ceramic pieces – particularly Georges Jouve's. I like living with them, watching them, changing their position, creating dialogues. I’m very meticulous about their positioning. I like making compositions, and I immediately notice when something is out of place. And I'm the one who does the cleaning – that way things are always in the right place!
You’re the co-founder of the trendiest concept store in Berlin: The Corner. Does your business influence your collection?
Working in the fashion industry, I do like what’s à la mode. I don’t see myself living in a completely 18th-century interior! I often ask my gallery owner cousins if they know any young buyers of Old Master drawings. Not many, they say. With furniture, combining a fine Bergère chair with a beautiful fabric, or maybe a Lalanne console table, can work fine. But it's hard to achieve a total look. At first I was quite minimalist. I didn’t prioritise comfort. But I’ve changed, and now I’m careful to create a more comfortable atmosphere where I live. My work is very demanding, and I like being able to come home and relax, looking at my things. And I have my investments in front of me, so at least I can enjoy them! That’s what I always tell myself when I buy things that get me into trouble financially.
Do you prefer galleries or auctions?
They’re two different kinds of energy and emotion. I’m a calm person; I prefer galleries. I hate the stress of the phone at auctions! But I’m still open: when we’re looking for something specific, auction houses are a huge help. And I really enjoy looking at the catalogues. Drouot is an amazing source, but you need time to take it all in. I prefer buying from galleries, because I love chatting with art dealers, hearing about the works and where they come from. Every time I come to France, I look around Rue de Seine and Rue de Lille. Paris is truly unique for the decorative arts, and is still the global benchmark. But I'm sorry that professionals keep their best pieces for art fairs, which I never really have time to visit. Fewer and fewer people visit galleries, which I find astonishing.
What triggers you to buy a piece?
When I fall in love with it! I have made mistakes every now and then, but in that case, I resell the piece. And it’s very rare because, with time, the eye gets sharper: you know more, and become more discerning. I once bought a lamp that was supposedly by Jouve. It wasn't absolutely certain, but I got it anyway because I found it beautiful, and it didn’t matter much to me whether it was by Jouve or not. But there’s generally a famous name behind fine pieces. Brilliant pieces by someone unheard-of are extremely rare!
What are your most recent "loves"?
The problem is finding something new, since everything has been discovered, more or less. So I look at contemporary design. For example, I really like what I’ve seen at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, but to me their furniture is difficult to live with – more like works of art. Joseph Dirand’s pieces, on the other hand, chime perfectly with my world. I also look at more historical designers. These days I'm very keen on Jean-Michel Frank – whom I knew of course, but I’m rediscovering him, along with the whole world of that period. He worked with Adolphe Chanaux' studios, and I like that idea of a creative community. I've visited the Carpenters studios, where they work in various areas: parchment, bronze, and cabinetmaking. I admire that craftmanship-oriented approach. I’ve also recently become interested in Marc Du Plantier, whom I knew only superficially. I've seen pictures of interiors he designed during his Egyptian period, and there are some incredible pieces of furniture.
What’s the biggest compliment someone can pay you?
Telling me that my apartments, in Berlin and Paris, reflect me. I put a lot of myself into them, both in the way I search for pieces and the way I combine them. It’s highly personal. I can’t draw, but I'm good at creating combinations. That’s how I express my sensibility. You can’t furnish a home in two minutes: time is essential. You must be able to feel who lives there.