“The more a space keeps your mind free, the more it will travel through the ages,” says Luc Berger, one-half of French design studio Lally & Berger. Berger and fellow principal Margaux Lally—partners in life and work—met 10 years ago while attending the École Supérieure d'Architecture Intérieure in Lyon. Together, they then went on to Paris, to study under celebrated French architect and interior designer Charles Zana, who they attribute for a passionate attention to detail and collaborations with craftspeople.
Returning to Lyon in 2013, the duo set up their studio. “Lyon is the center of France – with Paris, the Alps, and the French Riviera ranging from two to three hours away,” Berger explains. “Around Lyon, there are a lot of really high-end craftspeople with great knowledge, which is really good for us,” adds Lally. The firm regularly collaborates with artisans such as upholsterer Jouffre, textile manufacturer Declercq Passementiers, and the Ateliers Saint-Jacques, a local wood, metal, and stone workshop. Le Yule Hôtel & Spa in Val-d'Isère, France is one project that demonstrates a talent for mixing styles for a timeless dialog.
Most recently, Lally & Berger completed the Belle Etoile Suite for Le Meurice, a Parisian hotel dating back to 1835 with a history of royal cliental. While the designers have been heading up the renovation of the hotel’s rooms and suites since 2016, this sumptuous seventh floor suite is particularly well situated. Perched on the roof of a 1950s addition, the 6,500-square-foot penthouse captures sweeping views of the French capital.
Interior Design sat down with the two principals to hear more about the Belle Etoile Suite, an influential grandfather with a portfolio that includes two houses and two boats, and an all-things-truffle hideaway hidden in Provence.
Interior Design: What was your overall design goal for the Belle Etoile Suite?
Margaux Lally: We wanted to create a penthouse suspended on a Paris rooftop, one that makes visitors feel at home. The incredible positioning of the suite—on top of Le Meurice and in front of the Tuileries Gardens—takes it out of time. We put all the focus on these Parisian monuments, so that the client feels them as if they are pieces of art dedicated to the suite.
Luc Berger: Le Meurice is an institution in Paris, very famous for its wonderful service and the spirit of the French way of life. Our aim was a Parisian townhouse—yet with a contemporary vision of the spirit of the Meurice. With furnishings, we pushed for contemporary lines and more comfort—the Meurice is 18th century after all—keeping the Meurice spirit in the fabric. Working with Jouffre, a high-end upholsterer headquartered in Lyon, we designed a low, modular sofa that’s comfortable yet still allows good posture and elegance when you sit on it. The sofa’s layout can change depending on the needs of the client—a European client, for example, might want a daybed. We also designed a unique fabric with metallic gold thread, produced by Toyine Sellers, for armchairs in the bedrooms.
In the living room, there’s a big cabinet with a lot of beautiful plates and glassware—and that’s something really French. The entrance feels like an apartment with its corridor, and has a big sculptural chandelier in Murano glass.
ID: How does this project meet current demands and stand out in a competitive hospitality market?
LB: People now prefer to discover new experiences when they travel. It’s exciting to live the same way as the people in the country you are visiting, so to have the opportunity to live in a grand townhouse or a hôtel particulier on a Paris rooftop, to feel alone in what feels like a palace, now that is something unique.
ML: In this suite you can experience both the historical and contemporary way of French living.
ID: What else have you completed recently?
ML: The Sully sofa, with marshmallow-shaped cushions, upholstered by Jouffre. We wanted to make a sofa which highlights incredible fabrics—such as those from Metaphores. We have it in the living room of our home with Le Manach fabric and the wood feet recall our French ceiling. We also intend it to help our little girl with her first steps.
ID: What’s upcoming for you?
LB: We are working on a series of wall sconces called Memories. They make a parallel between rare French savoir faire and endangered animals, and the result is really sculptural. The sconces look like fossils or totems and entertain the memories of these two worlds. The first one, an Emperador marble wall sconce crafted by a stone carver, gives the perfect illusion of a green turtle shell. We also have 20 bedrooms under renovation for Le Meurice.
ID: How do you see the hospitality market changing over the next decade or two?
LB: The hospitality market is turning towards heritage—so new or conceptual boutique hotel projects will be increasingly rare. Hotels will become more projects of rehabilitation, in historic and character-rich places, in order to show the culture of a location. The dialog will address both past and present culture and be more a story on the art of living in the region you visit.
ML: When I look at the success of Airbnb and online rating or comment systems, I think hotels in 20 years will look more like guesthouses with wonderful service.
ID: How do you think your childhood or formative years influenced your design thinking?
ML: I always painted when I was a little girl. Ten or so years later, I looked at the old drawings and only saw buildings or these incredible houses. So I thought, maybe that's what I want to do.
LB: I always have been creative because I grew up around a lot of craftsmanship, in northeast France, where you have crystal from Baccarat and Saint-Louis. When my grandfather—who worked for SNCF, the French rail service—wanted to do something, he just did it. He built two houses and two boats and taught himself everything. That was really impressive. He would say, ‘If you want something, you just have to understand how it works and then you can do it.’ I think that’s how I work now.
ID: In what kind of home do you live?
LB: We live with our daughter in Lyon in a duplex suspended from the corner of an old building. It’s called a canut apartment. The district, L’Atelier des Canuts, was the place in Lyon where silk workers lived and worked in the 19th century. To access the third floor—where our apartment is—you must climb a wonderful typical staircase of Lyon organized around a peaceful inner courtyard. The workers lived below a mezzanine and then worked above, in the higher space under the ceiling, where they had their looms. That higher space is where we have our living area and workspace.
With the exception of our bedrooms, our entire home is open. We wanted to keep the maisonette spirit and feel the height and depth of the high ceiling. The configuration of the layout partitions the rooms.
ML: In our bedroom we have 19th-century furniture from my family. Each piece is well-designed with style, reflecting excellent craftsmanship with a beautiful patina, so can really fit into any contemporary space.
ID: Is there a person in the industry that you particularly admire?
ML: The fast and incredible path taken by Pierre Yovanovitch is really impressive. He’s always fair with himself, his team, the craftspeople with which he works, and the client and their projects. He’s an example for our generation.
LB: Andrea Branzi, who I took classes with in Milan. I admire the easy flow he has in explaining his intellectual process and design vision, and remember how this genius was listening with respect to the project I showed him. He taught me that what I thought was ‘instinctive design’ is always ‘sensitive design,’ or a story of memories, dreams, or fantasies.
ID: What are you reading?
LB: “Forgotten Kingdoms: From the Hittite Empire to the Arameans,” the guide to the exhibition of the same name at the Louvre. Stories about past civilizations really inspire me because of the situation of our civilization now. Sometimes you can discover small, timeless details that can be really modern now. I also read a lot of graphic novels that inspire my sketches, and my most recent recommendation is “Bezimena” by Nina Bunjevac.
ID: Have a secret you can share?
ML: In the French Riviera, in a small village near the Esterel Mountains, you’ll find Restaurant Bruno. It’s in Lorgues, a small village lost in Provence, and Bruno is the chef. All dishes on the menu are focused on truffles, from starter to dessert. In the garden, between olive trees and sculptures by Bruno’s friends, there is a wrought-iron arbor arching over a big table. This is where we spend a delicious time each year. Bruno is an incredible character and his restaurant is in his image. We share the same values when it comes to the art of hospitality.