"I like a white wall," says . It's a surprising statement for the French-born designer, who is known for his luxurious and meticulously wrought furniture and lighting. One signature project: the striking liturgical furniture he created for the 17th-century Église de la Madeleine church in Aix-en-Provence, France, including a 12-arm chandelier handblown in Murano glass.
The study of an 18th-century 'haveli' in Udaipur, India, which was restored by French furniture designer Paul Mathieu; the copper-clad teak cocktail table and chair and the hand carved marble side tables are his designs for Stephanie Odegard.
Given his penchant for sinuous lines, plain white walls might not seem quite his style. But consider the ones in the Indian haveli that he restored in Udaipur. Local stone was swabbed with multiple coats of machine-ground lime left to cure for three months, then brushed with a milky layer of limestone, rubbed with coconut oil and finished with agate — a process that was anything but simple. "I didn't go so far as to have the lime hand-ground," he jokes. But fresh coconuts were cracked to draw out that oil.
The sitting room contains a traditional daybed from Rajasthan, and an ebonized-teak side table by Mathieu for Stephanie Odegard; the brass chair and bronze pendant light are prototypes.
The 250-year-old townhouse had gone untouched for decades and was on the verge of collapse when Mathieu discovered it. "It was just the way I like it," he says. He had decided to buy a home in the city, which is considered the crown jewel of the Rajasthan region, after working on designs there with the American rug-and-furniture entrepreneur . Hotel stays had left him feeling uncomfortably distanced from the place and its people. Mathieu, who also divides his time between New York, Aix-en-Provence and Murano, Italy, longed to experience Udaipur more intimately. "I wanted to cook for myself, go to the market, and engage with the people who live here," he says.
The sitting room's settee and side table are both by the designer; the shutters are rosewood.
For the prolific designer, who also creates for and , it was important to live with his own furniture in a space he was passionate about. "Most of the pieces in my home are prototypes of my work," he says. He judiciously deployed marble, bronze and wood furnishings and lighting in the whitewashed rooms, preferring to let the architecture and natural light make the stronger statements. Local artisans rehabilitated the stone roof and restored the teak arches and doors.
In the kitchen, a stone wall retains its original decorative openings; the baskets and brass serving dishes were found at a local market.
Mathieu resisted any major reconfiguration of the rooms, which ring an interior courtyard that must be traversed to get to the bathroom. "You wrap a towel around yourself, look at the night sky and wind up in a gorgeous bathroom," he says. "Who would complain?"
The terrace was hand-carved of local stone by master artisans; the chairs and copper-clad teak table are by Mathieu.
The master bath's floor and hand-carved sink are of local Kota stone; the chair, tall side table, and carved-stone step are all Mathieu designs.
Indeed, Mathieu let the traditional stone niches and decorative wall openings guide his aesthetic decisions. "I kept them all and decided that the light playing on the surfaces would serve as art," he says. He rotates a beloved collection of saris, shawls and textiles throughout the rooms. "I'm always having a conversation with this house," he says.
A guest room's custom bed is dressed with a silk sari, the floor is rosewood and the marble side table is by Mathieu.
But even more satisfying, he says, is the way he experiences it. There is morning yoga on the roof while listening to the sounds of the city waking up. Vendors selling everything from vegetables to brooms to knives to flutes push their carts along the streets below. On some evenings, Mathieu hosts Su musicians atop his residence, luring neighbors onto their own roofs to enjoy. He has become a familiar figure riding around town on his motorcycle and shopping at the local markets. "People know me now," he says.
In a guest bath, the chair and side table are Mathieu designs for Stephanie Odegard, and the walls have a traditional finish of limestone, coconut oil and agate.
Mathieu's neighbors never had any doubt that the haveli would provide him with the serene, inspired and intimate experience for which he was searching. One day, when the renovation was winding down, a baby cow was born at Mathieu's doorstep. "The locals told me it was good karma," he muses. "Imagine if I had been holed up in a hotel instead."
Mathieu in his study; he designed the blackened-teak table and rosewood-and-teak chair for Stephanie Odegard.
This story was originally published in ELLE DECOR India, and appears in the January/February 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.