"Be audacious, but with taste," advised legendary French antiques dealer and decorator Madeleine Castaing. It didn't get any bolder than her severe red lipliner, exuberant false eyelashes, and pageboy wig secured with a black chin strap—a look that has become as much a part of her legacy as the inimitable interiors she designed. That , a fashion editor and stylist with a theatrical streak, fell under Castaing's spell isn't surprising. "I've had a design crush on her for forever," says Astier, whose edgy fashion choices are well documented on Manhattan's social circuit. "She personified individual style, which is the only kind I go for. I've always been obsessed with her outré color combinations—and the way she used them."
Astier fondly recalls her maiden visit to Castaing's Paris shop, where she won a rare invitation to poke around the tiny back annex. "It was such a down-the-rabbit-hole experience. The space was packed with lacquered tables and chairs—my idea of a wonderland."
Indeed, Astier loves nothing more than the hunt. She credits her early career, when she was the reigning stylist for bands including Pearl Jam and the Spice Girls, for developing her feverish hunter-gatherer side. "It was all about telling a visual story and setting a mood, and I would obsessively track down exactly what I needed to create original looks," she explains. Astier's gone digital now, both professionally and at home. In the works is Liaison-Magazine, a website featuring influential tastemakers. "There will be videos and interviews with the chicest people on the planet—with the intent of showing how they put themselves together every day," she says.
As she scans the rambling Upper East Side apartment she shares with her husband, Jean-François, and their two preteen daughters, Astier gets an adrenaline rush just ticking off the source of every single piece of furniture, much of it nabbed on eBay. "I live with some of the world's finest furniture boutiques right outside my door, but buying retail really isn't that meaningful or interesting," she says. When Astier first began shopping on eBay, she failed to realize how ferocious the bidding can get and lost a longed-for Willy Rizzo cocktail table. "I figured out a strategy fast, and it never happened again," she says wryly. Digital scavenging, however, is just one of the unapologetic bargain huntress's methods. While walking down Madison Avenue one day, she spotted sleek patent-leather panels languishing on the sidewalk in front of an Armani boutique. She lugged the window display home and turned her daughters into a couple of graffiti artists, setting them loose on the patent leather with fistfuls of permanent markers. Astier proudly displays the artwork in a hallway, in full view of anyone rela in the living room.
For someone with a gift for the dogged pursuit, landing the perfect apartment in Manhattan's cutthroat real-estate market would present a welcome challenge. But in an only-in-New York arrangement, Astier swapped her family's classic six for a place almost double the size four floors below that belonged to a seller who was looking to downsize. "We sold, bought, and moved on the same day," she says with a laugh, betraying the intrepid spirit with which she tackled putting together the apartment's 10 rooms. Two swank William Haines button-tufted lounge chairs were among the few pieces that made the move downstairs; Astier was ready to trade in the minimalist Christian Dior–gray walls, black floors, and 1940s French furnishings that defined the smaller space for a less uptight, less formal look. "I wanted the place to have an easy glamour about it, more Paris in the 1970s than the '40s," says Astier, "so that it was comfortable to hang out in as a family and chic enough to entertain in."
To wit, her daughters—and at least six of their friends—habitually take in movies on the exuberantly tufted 11-foot-long chesterfield in the library and find the brass Mastercraft cocktail tables there make excellent desks for doing homework. Low-slung furniture, heavy doses of lacquer, and a moody, jewel-tone palette keep the vibe just this side of sexy. "I really only did a texture-and-surface renovation," she says.
But it went well beyond fresh coats of semigloss. The library's ceiling shines like a new car—because it's been sprayed with automotive paint. Almost every wall is papered in nature motifs—winter trees surround the kitchen cabinets, faux-bois planks clad the library, and grass cloth envelops the living room and master bedroom—an expression of Astier's salt-of-the-earth side. "I'd rather die than do anything typical," she says.
To be sure, it's a safe bet that hers is a home unlike any other in this prim neighborhood, a place where Astier's design hero Castaing might come to smoke a cigarette—because she could find one in the sterling silver case on a cocktail table in the living room.