Guillaume Trahan and Michael Derlath: All in moderation

IMG_4219b_FotorThis week, I was warmly greeted into the apartment of Michael Derlath from Germany and Guillaume Trahan from Montréal. Michael is a former intensive care nurse now working as a marketing manager, and Guillaume an interior architect. This couple shares their apartment with Michael’s sister and lives with their dog, London in a lesser-known district in Berlin. Approaching their building from outside you feel an air of mystique. Two structural round towers sit either side of their top floor apartment giving you a sense of the architectural thrills that await you inside this castle-like exterior.4
When  Guillaume and Michael open their door, It is hard not to feel elated. This feeling is not that of victorious origins of having reached the top. Rather, it comes from the striking amount of light that greets you; an artfully rude reminder of the commanding power of nature. Their living room space is completely walled on one side by windows. Each bedroom is positioned in a tower; a curved snug to sleep in with beaming that creates abstract shapes overhead. A striking display of daylight and shadows trick the eye as forms and contours are fashioned on the impressive four-meter high walls and ceilings.

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5We begin our interview by discussing how this couple styles their home. Looking around, I see a balanced and sophisticated level of design executed to an astute degree of moderation. This moderation seems to be influenced by a mixture of the building itself, and the impact the outside world has on their inside world as Guillaume and Michael explain how they believe light is the only thing you cannot invent. They reveal you can always find an answer to a badly organised apartment by creating clever storage solutions, but you cannot get more daylight into a dark space as “the light has to be right from the start.”

 

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IMG_4149_FotorMichael and Guillaume choose to leave their windows bare without textiles, which they believe acts as a barrier between them and light. It is the architects’ job to place the building in such a way, to control as much light as possible. Guillaume comments that architecture is usually revealed in these spaces such as windows, where when you see the window, you see the detail of the architecture. To hide this behind curtains would be to loose its beauty as the room becomes a white box, deprived of its borders that catch shadow and light so charmingly. Being exposed to the outside world in this way doesn’t faze them, as they casually admit, “they must see us, at night we become a lantern”. 19

 

 

However, this absence of privacy is no price to pay for the display the rising and falling sun offers them. As the sun rises on the other side of the building, the morning does not blind them. Rather, they are gently awoken by daylight’s sensitivity, slowly streaming on top of them. Michael passionately describes how evenings are the cosiest times for him when the golden light of the dwindling sun floats around the room until its last beam retires. Amazingly, this is not the only light seducing them in this space. Lying in bed at night, the headlights of the outside cars circle in patterns on the high, curved ceiling of their tower, offering them a spectacle of illumination.

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IMG_4113_FotorThis relationship between the impression of external light (both organic and manmade) and an admiration for architecture has resulted in Michael and Guillaume taking a respectful approach to styling. Michael likes to reduce matter. When he sees too many details he will eliminate in order to diminish the complexity and weight of things. Guillaume, on the other hand, is a collector. He enjoys found objects like rocks and small collectables and when space looks too empty, he will add on to a vacant scene.
The disparity between the two amuses me. It feels like the sun plays tricks on this couple who are frantically adding and reducing matter, as light and shade occupy and vacate each corner.
However, the couple explains, “It’s not like cat and mouse where we go against each other, it is just a balancing act”.
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Certain pieces like dying plants and burnt out candles, Guillaume likes to revive, while Michael prefers to arrange their funeral. However, this is not a source of contention for either of them. They find their happy medium through an understanding of each other’s habits. Neither in the relationship are too precious about the order of things which allows for a great balancing act to result in a triumphant equilibrium. Michael and Guillaume painted their bedroom walls last year to create a new variation to the room. A very delicate, yet effective grey is painted next to white, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was this couple’s unconscious imitation of the light and shade that surrounds them.

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IMG_40894_FotorSigns of the characters of this duo are seen subtly planted around the interior. Their ‘Ceci n’est pas un bar gay’ poster was picked up at their local bar where they had a few posters to give away; an unexpected find from a quiet evening beer. Small frames are positioned around the bedroom with clippings from magazines or movies inside, belonging to Michael. When he comes across something he likes he often likes to place significance on it. Guillaume is less opportunistic when it comes to artwork and while he doesn’t decide he needs to fill up a spot, he takes pleasure in searching for his favourite pieces. An example of this is the self-portrait of Francis Bacon hanging proudly above their sofa.

 

Among the bought items in this home are also an amount of homemade items nicely balanced to the mix.

IMG_4123_FotorGuillaume enjoys making pottery seen through vases and abstract cone shapes with experimental blotches of paint. A portrait of Michael is propped on their living room sideboard which Guillaume made as a gift out of chopped up pages from National Geographic.

Michael comments that he loves to read, and brings my attention to the bookshelf in their bedroom. When Michael moved to Berlin from Copenhagen he had with him only a desk, sofa and mattress resulting in books piled on the floor and all extras standing just, somewhere.6 He explains it takes him a long time to make a commitment, and whereas when he was in dire need of a bookshelf, he did not invest in one until he found his perfect design which came from HAY. He enlightens me with his policy that an unread or partially read book never earns its space on the shelf. It goes there only if it has been completely read.  He refers to himself as a neurotic book reader and tells me his books must remain good-looking and in pristine condition to enter the shelf. It became apparent to me that within this methodical practice of book maintenance, and the patience possessed to wait for quality born from a need, Michael sets himself up for long lasting pleasure with a sense of pride for the condition and quality of things.

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This sentiment seems to be shared by both Guillaume and Michael, seen through their Eames chair project; a growing collection of DAW chairs around their dining table. They aim to slowly replace their ordinary chairs with a much-loved DAW, to achieve a complete collection of mismatched colours in time. To Michael and Guillaume, it is well worth the wait as they feel when quality is good they are guaranteed enjoyment for a long time.

Not only is this couple prepared to wait for as long as it takes to find and afford their perfect furniture, when they do find it, a process of labouring takes place. They will visit the piece several times over a series of weeks and if they are still in love by the third visit, it is at high risk of being initiated into the family. They like to go on day trips to shops like Vitra or Minimum on the weekends, observing species of furniture in an imitation of their natural habitat as they consider taking them into their environment.

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With Guillaume’s architectural background and Michaels quest for beauty in simplicity, it comes as no surprise to me that their favourite elements of this apartment are the windows, light, and high ceilings. It seems that this couple honours a code of quality with an appreciation for the beautiful, the functional, and the slow release of pleasure. I admire their perseverance to take their time and to put their object choices to the test, to ensure their further standing in the test of time. A lesson can be learnt from Michael and Guillaume in that commodities in their abundance do not mean everything in the quest for aesthetic balance. While they believe in paying good money for the value they receive, they teach us that money cannot buy everything, nor can human talent overpower the beauty in the setting nature styles. Negative space is just as important as filled space, and shadow is just as important as light.IMG_4182_Fotor

The act of reduction to seek simplicity creates a harmonious place to live amidst the complexities of life. Guillaume and Michael play a game with nature letting the intangible shapes, lines, and vignettes it forms tiptoe around them as they pay homage to the building, homage to the sun, and homage to the architect. It would be a crime to over-style such a beautifully formed space that invites so much of the outside in, and Michael and Guillaume have applied their sensitivity, intuition, and taste just so. I have always believed in the expression ‘if you have something to say, say it well’, and I believe this couple make the best, understated statement through their preference for quality that screams out a thousand words, modestly.

Linnéa Norman and Santiago Brotons: The science of home

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I invite you to peek into the captivating domestic world and design minds of Linnéa Norman and Santiago Brotons. Both interior architects, Swedish-born Linnéa currently works as an interior designer and Spanish-born Santiago as an interior and concept stylist.

Linnéa and Santiago live in a beautiful and old feat of Berlin architecture, bursting with history, painstaking detail, and charm. Upon entering their building, you already get a sense of this duo’s careful consideration. The battle scenes in the coving overhead and the koi pond fish in the hinterhof offers you a hint of the sophistication that might unfold behind the door of their threshold.6

 

As predicted, entering their apartment is like walking off a plane in 40-degree heat; you immediately get struck by its impact. You are absorbed by 86 square meters of interesting objects, design classics, late and mid-century artefacts, a mix mash of different cultures, old and new, and everything in between. Objects that have no connection to each other are composed in some kind of absurdity, yet arranged so artfully, that a profound sense of order, logic and beauty is created.

Preoccupied with everything around me, we sit for tea and homemade cake and begin discussing Santiago’s achievements in the world of social media. It would be wrong of me not to mention Santiago’s impressive Instagram success under the name of mrbrotons with an astonishing 86,000 followers. He has been top listed by Instagram twice as his styling projects go from real estate to social media campaigns. As Santiago uses their space as both a living and studio space for styling, this topic is an important one to consider.

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One might jump to the conclusion that dividing the space between working and domestic life, along with an Instagram status could be a stressful pursuit, potentially impacting the sanctuary of home. Santiago however, has it down to a fine art of making sure the lines between the two are never blurred.  His Instagram account started as a personal profile until he made the conscious decision to make it a professional platform, using strategy to build an online portfolio for his career. Santiago and Linnéa’s private lives are never disturbed or correctly portrayed as Santiago’s Instagram success is not an honest representation of his life. Rather, it is an invitation to see the world through his eyes with an appreciation of frame, angle and balance between objects.
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Santiago and Linnéa are not afraid of hard work as they move everything from small objects to sofas and entire room schemata on a weekend or daily basis.
They don’t like anything to be fixed or a commitment to permanency. These are the very reasons this couple love old buildings as the proportions are so flexible they are offered the possibility to be versatile in their space as Santiago summarises, “proportion is key”.

While Linnéa thinks along practical lines, and Santiago considers his styling shoots, they engage in good healthy debate fuelling discussion for home style revolution. Considering their professions and how much treasures they gather as a result, I was amazed to find their space uncluttered. Linnéa explains, “we rotate everything, we have full storage in the basement” to which Santiago replies, “rotate? We rotate almost every day! Everything you are seeing now will be changed next week.”

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39When asked what drives their motivation for such constant change, they explain change is often born from the moment they acquire a new piece. They are compulsive buyers whereby when they fall in love with a piece, they simply have to have it. Santiago and Linnéa are not the kind of people who plan where they will place an object. Rather, they are sure they will find a perfect spot for their perfect piece. In this couple’s case, it is a striking notion to me that the object comes before the décor and it dictates how they change the space. They explain this often helps drive their next redecoration operation, as they like to move everything around to make the new piece feel comfortable. I love this idea of a dialogue35 between this couple and the objects they fall in love with, as the objects surprise and inform them of their next move. Three beautiful African mask sculptures are seen hanging on the living room wall, one of which they stumbled across in a flea market. This motivated them to search for two more to create an interesting collection; a fun and arduous project, and a bold and eccentric addition to their space.

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However, the idea of strategy is not alien to this couple as with being educated architects they understand the importance of planning and know what is necessary. Not always are elements presented to them by surprise and like any good designers, they pour their heart and soul into the skeleton and core basics of the space. This act affords them more freedom and spontaneity in their approach when it comes to embellishment. Their kitchen was meticulously planned with space drawings and their marble counter top and wall paints were specifically hunted for and customised.

Asking where this couple look for their treasures, the answer is quite simply, everywhere. Right now they are loving online auction houses but can find their wares anywhere from flea markets to travel finds, friends, inherited pieces and good old-fashioned furniture shops. Despite their passionate tendencies when it comes to seeing, loving, and must-having, they never buy anything if they cannot see a chance of selling it again. At the end of a sale driven by impulse is consideration.where they show realism and modesty in evaluating the value of what they are buying. They will offer their furniture to the streets if they feel certain it will be taken before it has a chance to be harmed, knowing it will make somebody happy that day. They found their Thonet-inspired kitchen chairs on the streets giving us a sense of that lovely Berlin full circle of street-giving/taking.

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In terms of style influences, they never follow one particular style. By no means would they describe their style as trendy as their broad, informed and particular taste boasts an eclectic style across all movements. Of course, with their vocation they must educate themselves on trends and they humbly admit they may be more influenced than they think. Linnéa comments on their current obsession with painting walls- seen through the dramatic dark walls of their hallway, bedroom and kitchen- and acknowledges it is a movement swept across interior design platforms at the moment. However, none of us can ignore being influenced by trends, it is something that happens by default. When Linnéa and Santiago respond to something on-trend, as soon as it is taken into their timeless space it blends into the rest of their diverse backdrop to become acquainted with the non-trendy, the weird and the wonderful.

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An example of this weird and wonderful is the large-scale, monochrome painting of an animal skull that came into their lives while on a stroll. They stumbled across an art sale in a church where various artists had taken to huge expanses of MDF and passer buyers were invited to request the size they wanted to take home for free. Some people may call this luck but I strongly feel it is a good mixture of chance and intuition. One too many lucky things have happened this couple, but it takes a good eye, taste, and knowledge to see the opportunities that other people walk by.

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When I asked the challenging question of what makes a home, Santiago and Linnéa had no quick answer. Concerning their apartment in Berlin, Linnéa describes it not as a place of total relaxation, rather a place of security but also a constant project. Santiago describes it as a laboratory for different experiments; they are always trying new things, creating no real cohesion between rooms as they experiment with different techniques. The couple both agree that home can be related to family and friends, where people make the home rather than commodities. Confused to think of the boundaries of home when Berlin is an unsettled and transient place, Linnéa and Santiago feel the people they travel home to in Spain and Sweden every three months are what offer home comfort ultimately.

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Coming away from this couple’s apartment I felt inspired and touched by their contagious and down-to-earth appetite for interiors. The passion in which they spoke about their home reminds me almost of the furore of a Greek tragedy. As Oedipus yearns to gouge out his eyeballs, and Medea kills her offspring, Linnéa and Santiago buy furniture!

40I admire their relaxed approach to pleasant surprises, allowing life to present them with opportunities in which they use their knowledge, expertise and innate skill to compose this treasure trove of a science lab. What I find most endearing is the respectful way in which they approach the subject of home. They remain totally unaffected by pretention and trendiness, and whereas they feel unsure if the word home can be applied to their Berlin apartment just yet, I very much felt like I was in the presence of a home. Just as Santiago and Linnéa agree that home is about the people who make it, this home to me felt humble, warm, and honest; a reflection of, and a true testament to the characters of the apartment scientists who made it.

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Laura Dunne and Edward Coombe: What goes around comes around

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I introduce you to the home of Laura and Edward; an Irish and English couple living in Berlin and working as internet police- as I believe is the official term- (policy manager and community support manager) for Soundcloud.

Laura welcomed me to their home for this feature on a home office Monday morning, with Pink Floyd playing from the kitchen and the kettle in full swing. Their apartment contains all features for a typical Berlin architectural paradise: tall ceilings, intricate coving details, and an abundance of light through double doors and windows. Ed and Laura have been living in this apartment for ten months, but have already developed character making the interior intrinsically theirs.

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Laura describes how she and Ed first met, conversing over a mutual love for terrible pop punk and emo music. They innocently went to a gig together, later realising they were there on a date, and have been basking in each other’s kindred musical taste ever since.

There is a strong connection to music in this interior, attributing to cohesion between all rooms. The music prints as posters, record players in both main rooms, and musical instruments give you a hint of what this couple are about as soon as you enter the door. Another excellent example is a charming old magazine stand sitting proudly in the living room, housing a collection of LP’s. They found this abandoned outside an Ubahn station while Ed’s parents were visiting and didn’t need much convincing from their visitors to take it home.

 

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5Laura and Ed gather most of their wares from flea markets, classified adverts, friends, and from finding abandoned treasures on the street. As a result, a strong mid-century Berlin aura is apparent in this home. Tapered legs peek out from beneath sofas, tables, and chairs and pops of massiv teak bring an air of maturity amidst the playful decor.

When it comes to buying furniture, Laura and Ed usually need something first to obey a policy of ‘one in, one out’. They must let go of something before they put something new in its place. They rarely shop for furniture online, instead preferring to let a piece grab their attention by chance. If it lives up to function and budget, then they’ll take that bad boy home.

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When I asked Laura if living in Berlin has influenced her style, she commented that because Berlin apartments offer so much space and natural light, she can strategically use negative space for the first time, and her home never feels cramped. Living in Dublin and London previously, she often had to contend with fully furnished small spaces where she used to admire other people’s fancy furniture. Now, Berlin lets her be one of those people to be admired where a great feat of design can be found on local eBay, or in a market, for no more than twenty quid.

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Laura used to work as a fashion stylist before she moved to Berlin some years ago. Because of the city’s laid back attitude, Laura has stopped obsessing with consuming media and has pared back her own personal style. Because there is no occasion to ever dress up in Berlin, Laura showcases some of her prettiest garments as exhibition pieces in her wardrobe, and on walls, giving us a sense of Laura’s past.

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While this couple loves all things old and wooden, what seems to be a striking aspect of this home is the playful use of colour. Laura explains, “I like things to be fun” and whereas she appreciates the minimal look, she prefers to be surrounded by bright prints and pops of colour in unexpected places. The chest of drawers in their bedroom is jazzed up with alternating splashes of red and blue paint against the originally conservative pine. The kitchen boasts a bright green kettle, confidently exposing flashes of its gang members, the primary colours.

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Ed and Laura love to cook and the theme for their kitchen is quite simply, food. This room is where colours are introduced the most, a playground of sorts for letting yourself go wild. Intriguing and fun vignettes occupy every corner, which make you feel relaxed and a little carefree in this space.

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Laura is a fellow introvert and confesses she loves cooking for people as it offers her a way to slightly feel like she is in control. She feels useful by being functional and can feel at ease with her social performance. It is no wonder this haven for cooking comes with lots of scenes with stories to tell; another gift Laura can entertain her guests with, as she herself becomes a functional object in the home.

 

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There is no doubt you get a sense of fun, youth, and practicality from this Berlin apartment. The pops of colour, tongue-in-cheek prints and quirky vignettes bring vitality while a sense of appreciation for function, as much as aesthetic, is clear.

Because Laura and Ed have gotten so many precious objects from the streets of Berlin, they plan to give back to the city the generosity they were given when they migrate again. Sacrificing their mid-century classics to the streets is a thought that terrifies me to the core of my existence, but then again, there is that saying, ‘if you love something give it away’. We all know it’s true that you get what you give, and the furniture that has come around for this couple will go around again for another person, who once admired those faraway people with their fancy furniture.
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