Barbara Boccara, whose knack for translating casual French style into marketable looks is well known to international fashion watchers, is wearing jeans, an olive-green hoodie with jeweled buttons at the shoulder and soot-black eye makeup as she gives a Zoom tour of her new home in Paris. The apartment, on one of the broad avenues radiating from the Arc de Triomphe, is a five-minute walk from Boccara’s office at Ba&sh (rhymes with “posh”), the French fashion label she founded in 2003 with Sharon Krief, her best friend then and now.
“Ba&sh is a very colorful, happy brand,” Boccara says as she spins through the airy arrangement of rooms spread across just over 3,000 square feet, with treetop views. “But I need serenity with my family. This color is not fashion,” she notes of a not-quite-taupe, not-quite-grey bedroom. “My apartment is not fashion. Do you think it’s fashion?”
Earlier in the day, Boccara, who is 51, had gathered the Ba&sh design team here to work on a new collection, one of four the brand produces each year (every season is sold online and further spliced into several merchandise drops as dictated by retail location). On the kitchen counter, some French-girl flair is visible in a vase overflowing with cherry blossoms. But otherwise, Boccara’s chosen palette would make a flock of sparrows feel at home. The apartment’s walls and furniture are cirrus-cloud white, and its honed sandstone kitchen is the color of dry leaves. Oak floors—wide-plank, distressed, brushed, stained, oiled—resemble a silty river bottom.
In 2018, when she settled on the place, she concluded that it wasn’t in terrible condition, but it lacked an identity. So Boccara did what her customers often do: She went on
There she spotted a house with exactly “the style of material, of color, of touch” that she wanted, she says. It was on the Côte d’Azur, though its strict cubic volumes and cement surfaces might as well have been on Omaha Beach. Designed by Belgian architect Nicolas Schuybroek, the seaside getaway had racked up likes among #minimalism followers across social media, where projects by John Pawson, Joseph Dirand, Studio KO and Vincent van Duysen, Schuybroek’s mentor and fellow countryman, had already set the tone.
Boccara looked Schuybroek up online and introduced herself. “When I called him, I fell in love,” Boccara says. “He’s so humble; he’s so nice. He listens to you.” The last quality was critical, she says. Schuybroek already knew Ba&sh; he’d seen the black-and-white shopping bags show up in his cozy Brussels townhouse on the arm of his wife. And although Boccara had navigated a few prior renovations without hiring an architect, this time it felt essential—and yet she wasn’t ready to give anyone carte blanche. “I am a stylist also. I have my opinions,” she says. “I am also very busy; he is very busy. He lives in Belgium; I live in Paris. So I need to feel some very good feelings with my architect.”
Schuybroek, 40, has built a thriving business in his hometown of Brussels by delivering a typically Belgian sort of luxury—high-brow, low-key, evoking a simpler time and place where sunlight through a window was all the decoration a room required. Not for him the chest-thumping expressionism of bookmatched-marble bathrooms or scenic wallpaper. Studio KO’s Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty admire his material honesty. “Schuybroek’s minimal architecture is never slick,” Fournier says via email. “He knows how to tame the elements to respond to the rigor of his drawing, but without ever losing their poetry. In this, for us he is a virtuoso.”
After spending five years working his way up in van Duysen’s office, Schuybroek set up his own firm in 2011 and soon landed a major project in The Robey, a Grupo Habita hotel in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood that opened in 2017 and on which he collaborated with designer Marc Merckx. He’s done a few retail and gallery projects as well, and work these days takes him as far afield as Indonesia and Dubai. But most of his commissions are residential, and chiefly in northern Europe, where the low-country landscape suits his restraint. “We have this low gray-blue sky, the colors of the North Sea, very desaturated colors in a way, and that’s really part of who I am,” he says.
Schuybroek was surprised at just how game Boccara was to abandon polite codes of Parisian decorating for his weedier vision of refinement. But she didn’t hesitate. “The idea was to extend the rough, tactile materials through the furniture and the artworks,” he says. “There is a certain rawness to the furniture pieces, and I think it really enhances the whole project.”
As an example, he calls out the dining table of sandblasted Afrormosia wood custom-designed by his studio. It’s encircled by grass-seated chairs from George Nakashima Woodworkers and topped with a bamboo basket by Japanese master weaver Iizuka Rōkansai. Nearby, a lithograph by Jan Schoonhoven, a founding member of the midcentury Dutch Nul Group, hangs on a wall faintly scored with a clay finish—the Belgian answer to Venetian plaster and the apartment’s leitmotif.
In a previous incarnation, the elegantly scaled rooms had gone mod, burying their filigreed moldings beneath wallboard. “It was done with really bad taste,” Schuybroek says of the black-and-white-themed décor. “But was it in bad shape? No, not really.” Once the walls and ceilings had been restored, craftsmen from Antoine Architectural Finishes in Waregem, Belgium, unpacked their brushes to give the Right Bank beauty a more time-ravaged look.
Schuybroek is a start-to-finish man, supplying everything from the floorplan down to the wine glasses if a client will let him. Changes to the layout were simple but profound: He moved the kitchen from the back of the apartment to the front, freeing up space that had served as a snaking corridor to yield two walk-in closets and a utility room. Boccara already had wineglasses, but Schuybroek advised on bed linens (Society Limonta) and a fruit bowl (When Objects Work).
For two years, the architect and members of his eight-person team hopped down to Paris a few times a month to check on progress. Schuybroek helped Boccara choose a few final objects, including art by Harold Ancart and Richard Nonas in the entrance hall. It was Boccara’s idea, though, to organize the living room around a sprawling Italian sofa the size of a hay wagon. This time it was Schuybroek’s turn to be the game one. He draped the sectional by Living Divani in milky Belgian linen and scattered some trophy pieces around—Le Corbusier’s LC14 wood stools, Serge Mouille’s Totem column light, Jean Royère’s Ours Polaire armchairs—to give the locals some familiar coordinates. “He proposed for me the things I love,” Boccara says. The sofa is now her favorite spot for lounging and makes her unaccountably content. “I never understand the people who buy a very small sofa just because it’s fashion,” she says.
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