Posted in News, People on 12 November, 2019

French interior architect Sybille de Margerie is renowned for creating beautiful bespoke interiors for world-famous independent and international luxury hotels and contemporary private homes. SPACE’s new Deputy Editor Victoria Noakes gains further insight into her fascinating career on the 30th anniversary of the design studio she owns and manages with her husband and partner…

Trained in Paris at Ecole Boule, the esteemed college of fine arts and crafts and applied arts, after studying for a master’s degree in Law, Sybille de Margerie made the decision in 1989 to create and run her own design company. Now, Sybille leads a 30-strong design team from her offices in Paris, Florence and Dubai, whose credits include the Mandarin Oriental Paris, the Cheval Blanc in Courchevel, Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa in the French Indies and the luxury Royal Atlantis Residences in Dubai. Celebrated for balancing tradition and modernity, Sybille’s work brings together intellectual rigour and feminine elegance.

Sybille cites a specific aspect of her childhood as a major source of inspiration to enter the world of luxury, high-end design. For a long time, her family owned the Hotel de Crillon, then one of the most beautiful hotels in Paris, and Sybille had the privilege of growing up in an environment in which tradition, fine service and savoir-faire were regarded with much importance. “When I chose to become an interior designer, I recalled the sense of wonder I had felt so early in life and set out to recreate it,” she tells me.

Today, Sybille characterises her design style by the attention she pays to detail, the careful and thoughtful selection of materials, and the harmony of colours used. A self-confessed architect of a particular ‘art de vivre’, Sybille blends tradition and creativity in a characteristically French luxury spirit. The varied nature of Sybille’s work is to thank for inspiring her style: “I love to do something different each day – to discover other cultures and work with multicultural partners and suppliers. It is also an opportunity to challenge my taste for noble materials and sense of detail,” she states. “Travelling, as I do most of the year for my projects, is a great source of inspiration. Art exhibitions are another refreshing way of keeping a creative mindset. Being curious in general, open to new techniques, listening to ideas my team’s ideas, are other key elements.”

Sybille attaches great importance to fluidity of spaces and light when approaching the design of a hotel, whilst never compromising comfort. She believes strongly that a luxury hotel should be timeless and transcend trends, offering a singular experience. She approaches each project on the base of a unique and strong concept which originates from observations of the environment and the cultural background of the place. “Storytelling is our keystone,” Sybille explains. “Our goal is to provide guests with a luxury experience that is refined and timeless, to create an intangible dimension that speaks about emotion. French Culture is part of our DNA, and there is no luxury without culture.”

When it comes to what constitutes effective design in hospitality spaces, Sybille maintains that first and foremost a hotel has to offer functional spaces. For her, interior design is about inventing the layout of a place – it focuses on finding a balance and ensuring the easy flow of people through spaces. The market needs and business plans of the properties she works on play a more vital role in the conception of the design than purely focusing on decorative aspects. For Sybille, to elevate the space to the level of a luxury hotel, it must exude a feeling of grace and elegance – achieved by the smallest of details – in addition to evoking emotion. Good and intuitive design offers hotels international recognition and client loyalty, she claims. In spite of a growing number of brands and operators’ business models placing the focus on lobby and F&B spaces, Sybille maintains that the bedroom prevails as the key element in hotel design. After all, this is where comfort and attention to detail can be truly showcased, and ultimately, is the most significant aspect of the guest’s stay.

Sybille acknowledges the benefits and challenges of working both on the refurbishment of existing hotels and starting with a blank canvas with a new build, and how they are equally rewarding pursuits: “A new build offers the great opportunity to imagine a breakthrough design. We appreciate being involved from the very beginning with architects and owners to find the perfect fit between spaces,” she comments. “Refurbishment requires in addition a perfect knowledge in building. Projects in listed buildings like The Old Cataract in Aswan, The Grand in Amsterdam or The Norman in Tel Aviv enriched our savoir-faire and expertise in renovating. In the end I like to live by the motto by the great choreographer Twyla Tharp – ‘no constraints, no inspiration’.”

In terms of what guests are looking for in a hotel in the 21st century, Sybille reflects that she has seen a shift in consumers’ priorities as they demand more personal experiences, which encourages her design team to conceive meaningful spaces. She envisages hotels becoming a destination in their own right, and as such, providing a strong connection between the consumer’s experience and the destination is increasingly crucial. According to Sybille, the ‘soul of a place’ emerges when the team anticipates the needs of a client and offers them the unexpected. The ‘emotional and intangible elements’ constitute a unique language for a bespoke project.

Another trend Sybille believes will remain strong is the predilection for smart, melting-pot designs: “Barriers are taking a step back – outdoor is indoor, bathrooms are living rooms, hybrid is vital. Public areas are more open spaces and lobbies and F&B are even more connected.”

A particularly exciting project for Sybille at present is her involvement in luxury cruise line Cunard’s new ship. Relishing working with an iconic and forward-thinking brand, she enjoys challenging some of the norms associated with shipbuilding, and as a result, guiding and fine-tuning the look and feel of the ship. The team’s expertise helps elevate the distinctive signature of the ship interiors, taking into account the complexities of Cunard’s international guests and the brand’s interpretation of what luxury means.

Although she places equal amounts of energy and soul into each one of her projects, Sybille looks back on Cheval Blanc Courchevel with particular fondness. “For Bernard Arnaud’s group, I created the spirit of its Maison and its first Palace-rated luxury hotel. Working continuously for 12 years for this exceptional place remains a rewarding challenge.”

For Sybille, the enduring success of her design studio is a result of an ongoing commitment to creativity and evolution, with each project an opportunity to discover new artisans and suppliers. The team pays special attention to international fairs and exhibits, understanding that creativity associated with craftsmanship and legacy is essential in the realm of luxury interiors. Sybille’s team collaborates with artists and workshops for unique bespoke pieces as well as designing its own furniture and lighting collections.

But with the industry full to bursting with so many talented designers and studios, what continues to make Sybille and her team really stand out from the rest? “With our 30 years of expertise, we have become truly renowned for the accuracy of our service, from conception to inception. Beyond what was signed in the contract, passion and high level of requirement are essential to succeed,” she states.

Sybille has carved out her illustrious career over the past 30 years by taking existing hospitality spaces to new heights whilst retaining their unique character, in addition to bringing impactful, evocative design to new luxury design projects. Managing to exude a feminine and poetic style, which is also functional and contemporary, it is clear to see why Sybille and her design team continue to go from strength to strength, and this trend will surely endure.

Sybille’s highly-anticipated book Signé Sybille de Margerie will launch internationally in February 2020, which, in eight evocative themes, takes readers behind the scenes, exploring the art of living which closely mixes tradition and creation in the spirit of French luxury.

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