Easy living à la Liaigre by Michaela Cordes | 16th June, 2017 | Personalities
In his beach house in St. Barts, Christian Liaigre enjoys a simple, elegant life, which, like the Liaigre designs, is reduced to the bare essentials. After selling his company in May of last year, the iconic master of omission plans to devote more time to art – his passion for the past 27 years.
Light, air and space. These are all the luxuries that Christian Liaigre needs and he finds them here on the island of St. Barts. The warm wind on your skin, the cheerful Caribbean colors and the close proximity to the sea. The well-known Frenchman has designed elaborate houses on the island for famous American art dealer Larry Gagosian and Russian business magnate Roman Abramovich. Liaigre is also always welcome on board the massive 60-meter Pirini Navi “Seahawk” when its owner moors at the Port of Gustavia. The elegant superyacht belongs to the former owner of Esprit, and is also a Liaigre custom-interior design with its cedar and ebony furniture, teak ceilings and rosewood panelling. Judging by the names of his clients, you might assume the Parisian designer is irresistibly drawn to the world of ostentatious luxury. You only realize how totally mistaken you are once you have been invited to visit Christian Liaigre at his beach house in Marigot Bay.
“Intellectually, my priorities have changed. I have no time to lose.” Christian Liaigre
The cabana he built on this bay, right beside the Le Sereno hotel, another work by the minimalist master, celebrates the simplicity of an earlier time on the French Caribbean island. Its interior reflects Christian Liaigre’s love of nature, his appreciation for raw materials and his eye for the essentials. The famous French designer enjoys spending time here with his 10-year-old son Léonard. “We cook together when we’re here, and Léonard likes to go fishing with the local children and swimming in the sea. The only thing he hates is the jetlag after the eight-hour flight from Paris.”
How did you originally find this spot? Twelve years ago, I happened to stop my car on this property to take in the beautiful view of the bay. It had a small restaurant on it at the time, and a local man sat down next to me with a beer in his hand. We just sat there together for a while looking at the sea. Eventually, he started talking, and told me that, twenty years earlier, his grandfather had acquired this very piece of land in exchange for a truck. “Do you want to buy some land near this bay?” he suddenly asked me, and I told him that I was planning to have a a look around, but he shot back: “Well then, you’re sitting on it!” So I bought the land and built a simple cabana on it like the ones people used to live in on the island years ago. That was before all the big houses were built. St. Barts is only a three-hour flight from New York City, and things have changed a lot here. Back then, there wasn’t even one big house, just simple Swedish-style cabanas. Now, it seems I do own the very last cabana.
“I am in the privileged position of being able to do what I want, even if I don’t make any money.” Christian Liaigre
How do you explain the magic of this unique island to someone who has never been here? I tend to stay away over New Year’s because that’s when the Americans come to celebrate, and it’s just far too loud. In the summertime, it’s actually also too hot for me. My favorite time to come to St. Barts is in the spring or after hurricane season in the fall. When the parties are over, that’s when the island regains its original charm and is much more easygoing. St. Barts is still very much influenced by the reggae musicians and bohemian artists who used to live here, and there is still a thriving creative scene consisting of European and American artists. Lola Schnabel, for instance, the daughter of the painter Julian Schnabel, is my neighbor. She recently completed a portrait of my son Léonard.
You grew up on the island of Île de Ré, which is situated off the coast of La Rochelle in France. Does St. Barts remind you a little bit of your childhood days on the Atlantic coast? I think there might be a connection. Many sailers from La Rochelle also live on St. Barts today, so I really do feel quite at home here.
“When the parties are over and the peak season has passed, the island’s true spirit returns.” Christian Liaigre
Isn’t living on this island – where life is reduced to the essentials – somewhat representative of the Liaigre style? Does it not perhaps reflect your creed, according to which you strip away all that is superfluous to focus on materials like the most exquisite leather or the most beautiful grain of wood? Yes, there is certainly something to that. I’m currently working on a new furniture collection, which I am planning to launch in 2020. Unlike the collections I have done in the past, which were more commercial, the new line will consist of unique pieces and be much more radical. I want to venture down new paths and only do things that really speak to me – like working with artists. I am in the privileged position of being able to do what I want, even if I don’t make any money.
You have always stated that you prefer working with clients who own an impressive art collection. Why? To me, it is a sign that they have good taste, which is important for the job. It is much easier to work with clients who have a sense of aesthetics.
Wealthy clients have been “purchasing” your good taste and seeking your advice on how to live for nearly thirty years. I can imagine that that must become quite tiring, eventually. It does, and it has also grown a little bit boring after all these years. Intellectually, I have other priorities now, and would rather work as an artist than a designer. It feels like a natural change, like an evolution.
“I’m redoing my garden – with the help of a philosopher landscape architect.” Christian Liaigre
Was this one of the reasons you decided to sell your company last year? (Editor’s note: The Christian Liaigre Group was sold to Symphony International Holdings Limited in May 2016 for an undisclosed sum) Yes – because my time is very limited now and I cannot afford to lose any of it.
Even before you launch your new furniture line, you intend to complete another big project next year – the spectacular extension of the legendary Hôtel Costes in Paris, which is known for its eternally booked patio restaurant, its unmistakeable and internationally famous music compilations and last but certainly not least, its red plush interior by the designer Jacques Garcia. How did this collaboration come about? I had already done the interior of La Société restaurant in Saint-Germain-de-Prés in Paris, which was owned by the same person. Back then, I was inspired by the fine arts academy just down the road and decided I wanted to design a bistro for the artists. The owner loved the spirit of that place. What I enjoy most about the Costes project is being able to work with one single person as opposed to a big hotel company where I would be working on a project with ten different people, none of whom would understand much about design. Here I’m collaborating directly with the owner, and that is a real pleasure. We meet every other day or even several times a week to exchange all kinds of interesting ideas, which we then put into practice without much discussion. The new Costes hotel will be very different from the old one. It will have large, comfortable suites on each of its six floors, suites in which guest will want to spend much more time than just a few days, even with small children. I think we are building the first hotel ever that put any thought into children’s bedrooms.
And what about you personally? Where do you go to unwind and regenerate body and soul? I come here to St. Barts where I want to feel far, far away from Paris or New York, and where I live a completely different life. I want to be able to walk around barefoot and enjoy the feeling of the wooden floors and the sand beneath my feet.