There was no playbook for blending traditional decorating with bold new forms. Sevigny pioneered this aesthetic with his intuitive sense for a certain voluptuous spareness, and his rejection of the idea that design should stay faithful to just one style. His rooms were both generous and meticulous. They were wide-ranging combinations of materials, periods, shapes and provenance that felt at once startlingly original and effortlessly organic.
Perhaps the best expression of this was in Sevigny’s own homes, which he shared with Yves Vidal, president of Knoll International for twenty years. And what homes they were. At Le Moulin des Corbeaux, a converted 1480s mill on a tiny island just outside Paris, an 18th-century Aubusson tapestry hung behind chrome-and-wicker Marcel Breuer chairs. At York Castle, a crenellated 16th-century fort on a cliff in Tangier, a Saarinen Tulip table was framed by Moorish arches and set beneath an enormous Moroccan lantern.
In an image from a 1973 Architectural Digest story, the grand salon of Charles Sevigny and Yves Vidal’s 15th-century home, Le Moulin des Corbeaux, was arranged into four distinct seating areas. Antique parquet floors and 18th-century oak-paneled walls were juxtaposed with cocomats, chairs by Mies van der Rohe and Warren Platner, and an improbable towering cactus. One of the distinguishing traits of the three-story home was that it had no corridors, so there were no unused pass-through spaces.Jacques Primois/ Courtesy of Condé Nast
In the main bedroom at Le Moulin des Corbeaux, the suede-draped bed was set directly on the floor. The antique lapis lazuli mantel came from a Roman palazzo. Sevigny and Vidal’s homes were exquisite but decidedly unprecious. Sevigny, a life-long lover and owner of whippets, told The Chicago Tribune, “I have no patience with people who tell me dogs have dirty paws and they chew things. Such people have what I call clinical houses, and who wants to live in a clinic?”Jacques Primois/ Courtesy of Condé Nast
Both homes were featured prominently in magazines and brochures, but they were also robustly lived in, the joint epicenters of Sevigny’s and Vidal’s busy, social lives. They underscored the couple’s shared conviction that history is ever-evolving, to be respected but also engaged. Introducing new things and ideas to the mise-en-scène wasn’t a threat to what had come before, but a recontextualizing and fresh celebration of it.
Sevigny and Vidal’s other, much smaller but no less fascinating residence in Tangier, Dar Zero, is where 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys is alleged to have stayed while in town, and in more recent years it has hosted everyone from Cecil Beaton to Hamish Bowles. In 2018, it was the backdrop for Sevigny’s glittering 100th birthday bash, thrown by Dar Zero’s current owners, Jamie Creel and Marco Scarani, and attended by a who’s who of design cognoscenti such as Madison Cox, François Catroux and Jean-Louis Deniot. Sevigny passed away in 2019. Vive le maître.