9 Lessons To Take From Renowned Interiors Photographer François Halard’s Provençal Home
May. 27, 2020
By Aimee Farrell
Until now, the Provençal bolthole of photographer François Halard has been little more than a glorious footnote to his shots of private homes belonging to everyone from Yves Saint Laurent to Antony Gormley.
While self-isolating in Arles under lockdown, however, he’s finally allowed his lens to linger on his own 18th-century hôtel particulier – with spectacular results. What began merely as a record of his days in confinement (typically spent arranging garden flowers or decorative objects) has evolved into an all-consuming artistic pursuit, and an addictive drip feed of décor and design details that’s eagerly devoured by his social media followers.
“I’ve never spent five weeks in the same place in my entire life before,” says Halard, who, for the last 40 years, has travelled the world shooting for publications such as Vogue. (When I spoke to him last autumn, he hadn’t been home for more than a handful of days in all of 2019.) “It’s allowed me to both see the space with fresh eyes, and to take my work in a new, more intimate direction. It’s so personal, but it felt like the right time to share it.”
Notably, soon after he started posting his vignettes on Instagram, Halard joined forces with his friend and frequent collaborator, curator Oscar Humphries, to release a single Polaroid of the house for sale each day. Even as restrictions are lifted and the series draws to a natural close (the final Polaroid goes on sale this weekend), its impact lingers. There’s both a book with Libraryman and an exhibition at Avignon’s Foundation Lambert in the works – and a sense that Halard’s own creative perspective is forever changed.
Though we can’t all live amongst such enchanting faded grandeur, there’s much to be gleaned from Halard’s way of living; below, nine lessons to take from his stylish déshabillée aesthetic.
Make your home your muse
“It’s like another member of our family,” Halard says of the space he shares with his wife, Isabelle. Not only is the entire ground floor dedicated to his creative endeavours – there’s a library, print room, two archive rooms and a painting studio – but it’s his greatest subject. “It’s my inspiration,” he says. “I use the whole house like an artist’s studio.” Follow Halard’s lead by dispensing with distinctions between home and office – work wherever inspiration strikes, and cover your desk with a decorative display worthy of your mantlepiece.
Remember perfection is boring
Though the 22-room house was in complete disrepair when Halard bought it in the ’90s – the roof was so leaky, he had to literally camp out in one of the bedrooms – he was instantly besotted. “It reminded me of Horst P. Horst’s 1966 pictures of [the artist] Cy Twombly’s Italian house for American Vogue that I’d fallen in love with as a teenager,” he says. “It was totally decaying.” Aside from renovating the kitchen and bathroom, surprisingly little has been reconfigured. Far from pristine, the interior’s charm lies in its imperfections. There are Matisse-style swathes of paint on the bathroom wall; everything feels wonderfully undone, and that’s precisely the point.
Be fearless with colour
Banish greige. As calming as a clean palette can be, Halard’s home is a celebration of colour. Even in cool English climes, a bold blast of blue in a bedroom or ochre in a kitchen can bring pure joy. Take Halard’s liberal blending of sorbet orange and pink with grey woodwork on the landing – or the corridor he limewashed in the intense tone of a toreador’s cape. Reminiscent of Schiaparelli’s “Shocking Pink”, the bullish hue adds punch to an otherwise simple space.
Let it breathe
So many homes are speedily styled to within an inch of their lives. It has taken close to 30 years for Halard’s home to attain its current state of decorative harmony – and even now it’s still in a state of flux. Instead of rushing to get it “done”, give a space time to settle.
Treat books like ornaments
The library at Halard’s home is overflowing. In the absence of extra shelf space, his solution is to display these books like ornaments – whether splayed out on tables, stacked on the floor or employed as plinths. Take the leather-bound, gold-embossed beauties below the Italian 18th-century table in the main entry room. In fact, this set of Description de l’Égypte, 1802-1822 commissioned by Napoleon is his most prized possession.
Make the ancients modern
Much like Twombly in his aforementioned Italian home, Halard displays antiquities such as Grecian amphoras and Roman busts, positioning them freely on mantlepieces and atop ionic columns. Treated with the same casual nonchalance as his eclectic array of paintings and objects, they take on the fresh air of modern art.
Hang a canvas in the kitchen
Never one to be too precious about his art collection, Halard hangs some of his best loved works in surprising spots – namely, where he’s most likely to see them. Take this bull painting by his artist friend Miquel Barceló, which hangs above the stove in the kitchen.
Perfect the art of the assemblage
A master of photographic composition, Halard treats his mantlepiece much like his pictures, applying his astute visual eye to create clever montages of art and objects. Follow his lead by gathering and grouping some of your most precious possessions. It’s not about monetary value – a pebble is as good as a pearl – but objects that speak of your taste.
Consider a canopy bed
Amongst the five bedrooms on the top floor of the house, two make a serious case for the return of the canopy bed. One is an 18th-century daybed with rich plumes of fabric in contrasting colours; another is a more structured floral statement piece. Much like the house itself, these canopies lend a sense of comfort, sanctuary – and serious drama.