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Beautiful Rebellion: Le style Castaing

“Beauty in a room derives from a touch of mystery”—Madeleine Castaing

Before the Second World War, Madeleine Castaing was a wealthy lady of some standing, living in a
large house she called la maison de Lèves, just outside Paris. She’d bought it as a ruin in the early
1920s and spent two decades lovingly renovating and decorating it with a mixture of antiques, flea-
market furniture and eclectic bric-a- brac – infusing every inch with her fondness for the style of
Napoleon III, a love of nature, and an affinity for mixing patterns. The façade and ceilings were
painted white and blue like the sky, the floors covered in leaf-patterned carpeting, and the walls
adorned with garlands of ivy or palm fronds on hand-painted fabric. Slowly, as the years rolled on,
the rooms began to fill with the idiosyncratic mix of colours and patterns, shapes and textures that
were to become her signature style.
In 1940, German officers requisitioned her house, and so Castaing fled to Paris to set up shop in rue
Jacob, eventually moving into the apartment above the boutique, where she remained until her
death in 1992. She decorated it the same way as her house at Lèves, using her incomparable taste to
combine beautiful furnishings and original objects, fabrics, and colours.
When it comes to Le Style Castaing, if you prefer your interiors flawlessly neat, angular and
dichromatic, then steer clear. Not only did she design her own flamboyant carpets, wallpaper and
fabrics (most of which are still manufactured and sold today!) but she mixed them together in a riot
of patterns, colours and of styles – an irreverent touch which particularly tickled Jean Cocteau,
prompting him to commission her to decorate his country house at Milly-la- Forêt.
Marrying English regency with antiques from Russia and the Napoleon III period (criminally
unfashionable in France at the time), Le style Castaing counterbalanced regal formality with wall-to-
wall leopard-print carpets, faux ivy leaves strung from chandeliers, or banana-leaf wallpaper. She
also loved to use trim, which she often cut out of her fabrics and applied directly to walls or
upholstered furniture to add decorative borders. Her signature hue, a light turquoise shade of blue
which she thought of as the colour of the sky, was present everywhere in her work.
Castaing loved excess, but it is a testament to her canny eye that her rooms were by no means
cluttered or claustrophobic. Windows and beds were hung with white muslin adorned with simple
tassels, curtains fastened with her trademark high tiebacks, and Castaing’s loyal adherence to
certain much-loved colours, gave her rooms coherence and integrity. The lady was as shrewd as she
was original.

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