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Remembering François Catroux

by habituallychic

11 . 09 . 20

The design world lost a legend on Sunday with the death of French interior designer François Catroux. He and his wife Betty Catroux, a muse of Yves Saint Laurent, made a striking couple and very much fit into the world of his incredibly elegant clients. He brought a contemporary breath of fresh air to many of their homes while respecting the architecture as he did for the Paris apartment of Beatrice and Julio Santo Domingo. Years later, he would do the same for Lauren and Andres Santo Domingo when they purchased the upstairs duplex in the same hotel particulier on the left bank.

Lauren is often photographed for articles about her and Moda Operandi on the stairs in the 18th-century hotel particulier “thought to be the work of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who designed significant parts of the Palace of Versailles” according to a Vogue article.

When I was living in Paris in 2014, Lauren invited me for a visit and tour of her apartment. I will always consider seeing François Catroux’s work in person a special treat.

I did not get to see her mother-in-law Beatrice Santo Domingo’s apartment but luckily there are a few photos that François Halard took in 2002 online including the very elegant entry. I think it also appears in the book François Catroux by David Netto who pursued him for two years to let him write his story.

Thanks to his well-connected grandfather and his wives (there were eventually three), the young Catroux was exposed to the finer things. “They were the first ones to show me good-quality architecture and design,” says François. “They took me to the best houses in Paris . . . the Rothschilds, the Dreyfuses . . . I saw room after room.”

Via Vanity Fair

Greek and Roman sculptures atop a 16th-century table in the first floor Paris apartment of Beatrice Santo Domingo, 2002.

Catroux clients tend to remain Catroux clients, and their offspring follow suit. “It starts with the parents,” he says, citing the example of Beatrice Santo Domingo and her late husband, Julio Mario, the Colombian billionaire, for whom, he says, he has done places “everywhere”: New York, Paris, Madrid, and Colombia. Above is Beatrice’s dining room photographed in 2002.

Via Vanity Fair

The back garden of Beatrice Santo Domingo at the hotel particulier.

“The Santo Domingos—they have taste, class, no vulgarity . . . real chic,” he says. “Lauren’s taste is totally different from Beatrice’s. [Lauren] is a case! She covers a lot of ground. I see her as future queen of New York.”

– François Catroux via Vanity Fair

“A Parisian apartment, with its gracious scale and proportion, is always infinitely better than one in New York,” said Lauren Santo Domingo in Vogue Hong Kong.

To decorate, Lauren and her husband commissioned designer François Catroux – a connoisseur of Parisian decor, who also designed Andres’ mother’s apartment downstairs. “For us, it was just about figuring out how we were going to use the space since we don’t live here year-round, but, being here for fashion weeks, we definitely had entertaining in mind,” explains Lauren. “We didn’t want it to be too formal or grand. We wanted it to have a little bit of cool, while also ensuring it would be catastrophe-proof, as a lot of my friends at midnight are more destructive than my children! So it was accidentally well-designed for when my children came along too,” says Lauren, whose two children study at a French school in New York.

Via Vogue Hong Kong

“It was in such a shambles, but it was impossible not to see the potential,” says Lauren, who met her husband in Paris in the late eighties. “It had to be completely renovated from top to bottom but we were so happy.” To help with the initial reconfiguration of the space, Lauren and her husband called upon a local construction firm, the owner of which happened to be related to the man who had originally installed the building. “I couldn’t believe what a coincidence,” says Lauren, who explained how, miraculously, they were able to dig up the original plans of the house at their studio. The walls were uncovered to reveal boiserie in perfect condition, and the original floors, fireplaces and mirrors were also restored. 

Via Vogue Hong Kong

“The architecture was beautiful; I didn’t want to change that,” Catroux had told me earlier over an espresso at his studio on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. “But instead of gilt everywhere, I wanted to purify the space, so I used a gray patina throughout. Lauren and Andres live a life that is a mixture of grandeur and bohemian style—which is right.” Catroux’s most important task was to remove, renovate, and reinstall the entire apartment’s paneling while preserving every original bit of architectural detail.

Via Vogue

Lauren Santo Domingo‘s apartment hosts many parties during Paris fashion week. “It was at one of her fashion week gatherings that the late Karl Lagerfeld recognised the apartment, having attended a party there when it belonged to an American ballerina. ‘There’s a lot of people that come in and have a feeling that they’ve been here before,'” Lauren told Vogue Hong Kong earlier this year.

In this photo from Vogue in 2012, you can see some of the old furniture that has since been changed, while Open in Ultramarine with White (1973), by Robert Motherwell, anchors the room. The Louis XVI sofa by Jacob was bought by the couple bought in a sale from one of the Rothschild estates.

In photos taken in 2019, it appears that the Hervé Van der Straeten chandelier in the sitting room was removed although I can’t see the replacement. The linen curtain fabric is from Pierre Frey.

The fuzzy armchairs that look to be from Fritz Hansen were moved from the salon to the sitting room.

You can see the wonderful architectural details in the sitting room here.

The apartment is the perfect backdrop for Lauren to be photographed while she’s in Paris.

“Artwise, Lauren has been fortunate. She has “inherited” the family gallerist, Waring Hopkins of Galerie Hopkins, who has helped source some extraordinary pieces.”

Via Vogue

In a old selfie Lauren posted, it looks like the furniture was perhaps moved for a party or it was taken before the furniture was installed many years ago.

In this photo from 2012 you can see the Fritz Hansen chairs in the salon that were switched with the Warren Platner chairs that were also reupholstered.

The Warren Platner chairs that were reupholstered in tan leather now reside in the salon. As does Man Ray’s Image à Deux Faces (1959) that was seen in 2012 in the master bedroom.

Lauren photographed in the salon.

An Instagram photo of Lauren in the salon with a missing side table and console.

When I saw the library in 2014, it was only partially filled with books.

“To me, libraries aren’t all about decorative first editions and bindings. I actually read these books. When I am in Paris, I read a lot. I can really disconnect here. I feel like when I’m in Paris, people assume one is looking at beautiful things and can’t be troubled by this tedious e-mail.”

– Lauren Santo Domingo, via Vogue

A floor lamp by Giacometti illuminates the library and where new artwork has been hung since the 2012 photos were taken.

In this photo from Vogue in 2012, “the library table is by India Mahdavi and the painting is L’Offrande (1950), by Wifredo Lam.”

The dining room looks like it’s been redecorated since 2012 when Lauren was borrowing chairs from her mother-in-law.

I love photos of Lauren’s tablescapes on Instagram and they inspired her to launch homewares on Moda Operandi.

François Catroux has lent the couple some extraordinary pieces of modern furniture from his own collection while they gradually furnish the whole apartment. In the dining room, there is an ultraglamorous round, steel-framed table with a black mirrored top that Catroux designed in the 1970s. “It splits into four and becomes a bar when we have a party,” Lauren says. The chic little Louis XVI upholstered chairs she has borrowed from her mother-in-law downstairs add a feminine touch to the room, and in an alcove Andres has installed a favorite Marc Quinn sculpture of an orchid.

Via Vogue

The terrace, brimming with purple salvia, bay, jasmine, and roses, was designed by landscape architect Madison Cox as seen in Vogue, 2012.

“I love the terrace,” says Lauren. “We have breakfast here every morning.” Designed by Madison Cox, the stone-floored terrace boasts huge Versailles planter boxes, a pretty gray-striped awning, columnar olive trees, climbing jasmine, and even pots of wild strawberries. “The inspiration for the garden came from taking a traditional French context and adding a slight twist to it,” says Cox.

Via Vogue

This photo of Lauren and Bianca Brandolini d’Adda shows a details of the outdoor furniture on the terrace.

With the imminent launch, it’s a wonder Lauren manages any time to herself, but Paris is the place she comes for a month each summer to relax with family, taking long lunches on a pretty garden terrace designed by Madison Cox, who contributed to the designs of Yves Saint Laurent’s famous Majorelle Garden in Marrakech. “We overlook at least five gardens at the back so there’s always birds and sunlight,” says Lauren. “It’s really, really quiet. One almost feels like it’s the countryside, in a way.” 

Via Vogue Hong Kong

A trio of nesting tables beside the bed in Lauren’s bedroom.

“The master bedroom is understated and cool, and dominated by a favorite Jean Cocteau and a newly acquired Man Ray,” according to Vogue in 2012. The Man Ray has since been moved to the salon.

The master bedroom “leads to a super modern bathroom opposite Lauren’s dressing room. With three-way mirrors, eccentric “bubbled” glass closets, and geometric carpet, it’s a dream dressing-up space.”

“Guests are treated to a pretty bedroom with hand-painted green-and-white striped wallpaper and geometric side tables upholstered in green velvet. “It’s my jewel box,” says Lauren. There is a hidden office, a tiny kitchen, and the elevator comes straight up here, so friends staying over can have complete privacy if they wish.” When I visited Lauren, Derek Blasberg was staying in the guest room and he posted the photo above from one of his stays on Instagram.

I feel like we are losing a lot of old school elegant icons this year but I know Lauren Santo Domingo will be the one who can be counted on for modern elegance since she learned from all the best including François Catroux.