Under the rainbow: primary colours, gentle pastels and strong shapes collide in a flat in Lyon | Life and style

When we moved in here, we dreamed of making a home with plain white walls and a Zen-like atmosphere. But I guess that was never really going to be our style,” says Chloé Valentin. She and her husband, Thomas Valentin, live in an apartment in a late-19th century building in Lyon, France, with their children Isaac, five, and Sidonie, three. The idea of a serene blank space, interrupted by little more than a few fine linen curtains wafting in the breeze, has long since been shelved. But nobody minds, because in its place is a family home full of warmth, character and creative ideas.

The couple found this place just after Isaac was born and, at first, the neighbourhood was much more of a draw than the flat itself. “It’s in the Croix Rousse area of Lyon, which feels more like a village than a part of the city, set on a hill above all the noise and bustle,” says Chloé. “The streets are small and quiet and there are lots of parks, so it’s popular with families. In summer, the neighbours in this building come together and have picnics in the small shared garden.”

- Advertisement -

Joining the dots: vintage cabinet, home-made lamp and Marimekko wallpaper in the living room.

Joining the dots: vintage cabinet, home-made lamp and Marimekko wallpaper in the living room. Photograph: Frenchie Cristogatin

This apartment, however, didn’t have quite the same appeal – in fact Chloé wasn’t even keen on going back to view it a second time. The decor was unchanged since the 1950s – and not in a good way, with sticky vinyl flooring and faded wallpaper. But on that second viewing, the couple looked harder for redeeming features – and found them. The corners of the tacky vinyl peeled back to show floorboards underneath and all the original doors were still in situ, albeit caked in layers of gloss paint, some with nice fanlights above. The layout could be improved by removing a corridor wall, so that the kitchen would lead directly into the living and dining room, making it feel less cramped.

Features that had initially looked depressingly dated were restored (including the large enamel kitchen sink) or replaced, in the case of the kitchen and bathroom flooring. All of the work was carried out by Thomas and his father-in-law, toiling at weekends and in the evenings, in between life with a new baby and going to work (Thomas writes science-fiction novels, while Chloé is a psychiatrist).

When they got to the stage of decorating their home, the couple stuck with their plan A – painting the walls plain white – to make the most of the light-filled living spaces. But then they added a range of bright, upbeat poppy colours in the form of fabrics, wallpaper and painted furniture.

Bright space: mirrors and tiles in the bathroom.

Bright space: mirrors and tiles in the bathroom. Photograph: Frenchie Cristogatin

Their scheme took a big cue from Chloé’s longstanding love of vintage furniture and her finds include a retro stool in mustard yellow, kitschy-cool art and a set of chairs in pastel shades of Formica. “Colour is everywhere here, in the greenery of the plants, the fabrics, pictures on the walls, even in our books,” says Chloé. “I have nothing against monochrome decor, but I just wouldn’t know how to go about it. But colour, I know.”

She is a regular shopper at the Puces du Canal flea market in Lyon, and that was where she found two brightly coloured cut-out Butagaz signs that hang in the kitchen, no doubt dreamed up by some French Mad Men-era ad executives. “I go to the market a lot,” says Chloé, “but my favourite places for interesting things are the smaller brocantes and vides greniers [boot sales]. They are less trendy, but also less expensive and you never know what you will find: sometimes nothing and sometimes little treasures.”

Chloé deliberately kept her displays of smaller vintage items, such as bottles and ceramics, restrained. She arranged them over two areas of shelving in the family’s main room, rather than spreading them over every surface of the apartment. “I think it’s good to have a balance of old and new,” she says.

Sweet dreams: sunshine yellows and a homemade lampshade in Chloé and Thomas’s bedroom.

‘I have nothing against monochrome, but I just wouldn’t know how to go about it. Colour, I know’: sunshine yellows and a homemade lampshade in Chloé and Thomas’s bedroom. Photograph: Frenchie Cristogatin

The flat’s final scheme of bright primary colours and graphic motifs is announced as you enter the hallway, courtesy of the giant red dots of the Marimekko Pienet Kivet wallpaper (currently available at duluxdecoratorcentre.co.uk), which is also used on the chimneybreast of their living/dining room. “We spent a lot of time looking for a wallpaper, but couldn’t find one we both liked,” says Chloé. “I wanted flowers, but Thomas preferred geometric themes. With this one, we both loved the simplicity of the pattern. I like how the big red slightly irregular circles look as if someone has drawn them on by hand.”

In the living room, the bold red of the wallpaper is matched by an equally bright green furniture paint that has been used to brighten up an old chest of drawers – with the left-over paint used to outline several picture frames above it as well. The big dot pattern is also repeated underfoot, on inexpensive indoor-outdoor mats that have been made from recycled plastic, which are practical for life with two young children.

Several cushions on the sofa follow this graphic lead, while delicately decorated Japanese fabrics that Chloé bought many years ago hang under the bathroom vanity unit and at the kitchen window.

As if to provide a gentle counterbalance to the apartment’s busy colours, several lights have been constructed from large pieces of naturally pale and gnarly driftwood. These were all made by Thomas as a hobby, using stand-alone light bulb and cable sets.

Basic DIY skills and an insatiable appetite for riffling through the trash and treasure of local boot fairs have helped to make Chloé and Thomas’s apartment feel unpretentious and welcoming – far more so than an all-white, minimalist space ever would.

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.


- Advertisement -