Cover The interiors of famed restaurant Beefbar Paris; Humbert & Poyet has also designed the other Beefbar locations including Dubai and Hong Kong (Photography: Francis Amiand)

“We have a lot of fun dramatising the idea of luxury so that it becomes less austere, more fun and accessible,” says the co-founders of Humbert & Poyet. They share with us their idea of understated luxury while discussing their creative influences

When interior designer Christophe Poyet and architect Emil Humbert first met in 2007, the working chemistry between the duo was immediately apparent. A year later, their interior architecture studio Humbert & Poyet was borne. 

“We decided to work together because we share the same visions in arts and craftsmanship, both of which hold a very important place in our projects,” the design duo explains. “We don't work alone, we do our projects together, it’s a collaboration and its been that way since the beginning. We work together, forgetting individual ego.”

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They attribute their creative harmony to their passion and individual skillsets that they bring to the table; Poyet studied at the prestigious Académie Charpentier in Paris while Humbert is a graduate of the renowned Ecole Nationale d'Architecture Paris-Belleville. “(The partnership) is a real association that encourages debate; it fosters and nurtures a project’s conception and development,” says Poyet.

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Their vibrant synergy has propelled the Paris-based studio to great heights. Known for crafting luxurious interiors with bold designs and bright colours, Humbert & Poyet’s current oeuvre includes projects spanning from hotels and restaurants to residential homes belonging to the likes of fashion designer Alexis Mabille. The dynamic duo also recently designed the scenography for the auction setting of the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld's estate.

“The idea of ‘understated luxury’ is also the essence of our designs,” says Humbert. “We have a lot of fun dramatising the idea of luxury so that it becomes less austere, more fun and accessible. Above all, we aim to create an emotion that can be translated into features, volumes, materials and general aesthetics.”

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The design and fashion devotees attribute their love for designing to influential eras and figures, in particular the Art Deco period as well as the work of early 20th century Art Deco designers Jean Michel Frank and Emile Jacques Ruhlmann. 

Humbert adds: “In terms of designers, we both like French and Italian masters such as Jean Royere, Gio Ponti, Carlo Scarpa, as well as Mollino—he was a humanist and a genius; he had a unique and joyful vision of the world which we think comes through in all his work.” 

Heavily influenced by “the fashion industry as well as furniture designs and auctions”, Humbert & Poyet’s rich interiors are often defined by an elegant combination of colours and luxe materials like marble and brass. 

“A lot of our work is about selecting the right colour to tell the right story. The colours we use are also inspired by art, which we’re both passionate about,” says Poyet. “We take interest in paintings by artists such as Rothko whose canvas has inspired our colour palette. Pierre Soulage is also an important source of inspiration when it comes to creation of wall textures.”

“The materials that we use are at the heart of our practice as they lie at the base of the interior design,” explains Humbert. “We predominantly enjoy working with brass as it highlights other materials, such as marble, terrazzo, and wood. The materials we select are chosen for their character and harmony; wood for its warmth and richness and terrazzo as an accent and modern compliment.”

Citing the moment “when we met each other to create Humbert & Poyet” as the most memorable point in their career thus far, the designers dishes advice for those starting out in the design field: “Force yourself to go outside of your comfort zone—be creative and curious, explore the possibility given by all the innovations, new materials and technology.”

Here, we speak more to the design duo on their creative process, favourite artists, as well as noticeable works that currently on their mood board right now. 

Could you give us a brief overview of your design process? 

Christophe Poyet (CP): Our approach to a project begins with the source of inspiration. It comes from the building, the place, its relation to the location and the relationship with the client. Firstly, we let ourselves be inspired by the heritage of the place. We immerse ourselves in its history, its nature, its culture. This is where the work begins; being creative and inspiring.

How would you describe the studio’s design style?

Emil Humbert (EH): A signature of our studio, as you can see in many of our apartments, is the use of contrasting colours and balancing time periods through design details, choice of mouldings and decoration. We always work together with the client to incorporate our style into each proposal. 

Colours are very important. We often like to use strong and powerful colours whilst associating them with patterns. We also complement the composition with black and white to create a captivating highlight. 

What is the mark of a well-designed space to you? 

CP: A well-designed space creates harmony between the decor’s surroundings and history. 

Light and materials are also central elements; an interior is nothing without lighting and natural light whereas materials build depth whilst bringing textures and effects.

I understand that you are both art collectors yourselves. Do you have a favourite artist in your collection right now?

CP: Vietnamese visual artist Danh Võ.

EH: American artist Sol Lewitt.

Pick one: bright colours or neutral hues? 

EH: Why not both? Contrasts (colours, patterns and textures) are part of our core design concept.

What is one design trend you’re currently obsessed with?

CP: Our design ethos leans toward the creation of timeless spaces, therefore we tend to stay away from trends. Nevertheless, if we were to choose one, we would go for the ‘slow design’ trend that highlights the work of (small and well-established) artisans, which foster the preservation of savoir-faire and craftsmanship.

What are some inspiring pieces you have been looking at lately? 

Ceramics by Georges Jouve

EH: We are drawn to the mid-century ceramic pieces by French ceramist Georges Jouve. His take on natural forms is bold; he creates strong and sinuous shapes. Often asymmetrical with exaggerated proportions, the ceramic form is complemented by its rich enamel glaze.

Sputnik chandelier by Gino Sarfatti

CP: The rich materials that Italian designer Gino Sarfatti incorporates into playful designs render his lighting collections particularly striking. Ahead of his time with lighting design, his dual talent as designer and engineer gave him the tools to honour both aesthetic and function and create refined products. We particularly adore the Sputnik chandelier, an iconic 20th-century piece.

969 chair by Gio Ponti

EH: Italian architect Gio Ponti’s unique vision of the world is reflected in his furniture collections. His timeless designs are iconic; they exude sophistication and can enhance any kind of interior. 

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Trophy Long wall lamp by Humbert & Poyet

CP: Our Trophy Long wall lamp is from our Humbert & Poyet x Maison Pouenat collection. We drew our inspiration from the Art Deco period, the 1950s and 70s, evident through the details of design, particularly the use of texture. The textured plaster combined with the brass base with a dark patina demonstrates a contrast between the ornate and the raw.

Coffee Table by Sol Lewitt

We both have great admiration for the work of American artist Sol Lewitt, a leading figure in the conceptual and minimalist movement. Sol Lewitt’s coffee table is a significant example of artist-designed furniture, whereby the simplicity of the lined grid design reflects the artist’s body of work, which centres around simple geometric drawings.

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