Jacqueline Coumans

The brownstone parlor apartment of Jacqueline Coumans, designer and owner of Le Décor Français is without a doubt the essence of all that intrigues us about French style.

It’s a confluence of fabrics and furniture, most purchased years ago, which have somehow all landed in the right place. Mind you, this is not a haphazard mix but rather a reflection of a skillful woman with a trained eye who has plugged away as a both a businesswoman, designer and confidante since setting up shop on 72nd and Lexington some twenty years ago. Jacqueline herself is, as one would expect, charming and chic in very high heels. She is totally at ease with herself and has definite opinions which included at one point, suggesting she take me to Berdorf’s to try to convert me from my practical flats to Christian Louboutin heels.

I want to talk a little about your idea that as things age, they only get better. That’s a very un-American thing to say.

I think that new things are made to be with you for a long time—if you choose them well and if the quality is good, then you have accomplished something good.
A view of Jacqueline’s bedroom. The wall are covered in fabric by Le Manach.
A corner screen holds a collection of family photos. ‘Crazy Bull’ by photographer David Kennedy hangs above the bed.
Detail of corner screen. In a corner of Jacqueline’s bedroom, ‘Kenya,’ by African artist R. Mapuco hangs opposite a pair of drawings given as a gift on Valentine’s Day by friend and designer, Larry Lazlo.
Family photos are arranged atop a table from Sarajevo Antiques.
Luca perched atop the bedroom corner chair.
But the idea that something looks better as it ages is not an American thing. Americans tend to want something to be perfect-looking. The idea of something growing with you is not in the psyche. When it gets old, they want to replace it.

I understand that point of view also. But perhaps things are not considered part of the family, that you pass them on to your children. Perhaps also, we all came as immigrants with nothing and we are just not too attached to things, because we know that they come and go. We have the ability to start afresh.
A photograph by David Kennedy of an American Indian teepee hangs above a marble-top table in the guest bedroom.
Murano ashtrays were found at the 26th street flea market.
Luca looks out the window near the Suzani covered bed.
A screen made out of Braquenie fabric from Pierre Frey stands in a corner of the guest bedroom.
The walls of the cozy guest bedroom are covered in an English toile print fabric.
I do think there is something enchanting about an emotional attachment to things, that they are not just disposable.

I agree. It’s comfortable to age with your things around you. You have a lot of memories you share—for me it’s important.

It’s very French to feel confident about that, not to care whether something is in style or out of style.

I don’t believe in style – I mean I don’t believe in fashion … I believe in style, if it’s your style. Style is out of trends. Stylish women never really wear totally ‘fashion’.
A drop leaf cherry ‘ladies desk’ from Hudson stands in the apartment entryway.
Looking towards both bedrooms.
It’s disappointing to me, in a sense, to see how vulnerable people are to what’s trendy.

I think they probably also follow the dictate of some designer.

But the French really don’t do that.

They impose their own view.

When you walk around Paris, there are so many wonderful shops that remind me of your shop—they’re not even like shops, they’re like salons. Not everything is pre-packaged.

Yes, it’s a process. You come and you look around and you find something and then another time you find something else … you don’t have it all in a book ready to go. You let your imagination work. I think that the things that you buy and the things that you live with, should, in a way, represent you.
The bath.
A ‘Giacometti like’ coat rack is now a place to hang the bath towels. A mirror with a shell frame purchased in Sag Harbor hangs above a bathroom shelf filled with necessities, favorite objects and photos.
A former towel rack is now a practical place to display Jacqueline’s collection of necklaces.
Looking into a corner of the master bath.
So if you’re with someone and they really can’t express themselves in that way, how do you figure out the right way to express it for them?

I see the way they react. They say ‘Oh no, I hate orange,’ and by rejecting things, you get to know what you should present to them.

So you do it by process of elimination.

Usually it’s good to see what they have and what they want to keep.

Are people scared of color, of taking risks with color?

People have an opinion about color. I think the color should ‘fit’ them, that it should be their environment color. It should fit nicely with your skin …
A group of serving baskets from Asia covers the kitchen walls.
More views of the kitchen.
Clockwise from above: A crystal chandelier from an antique shop in South Hampton was one of Jacqueline’s first purchases for the apartment: Cooking essentials; The wine racks hold ‘not just French wine.’
That’s so funny you should say that because I once photographed a woman who had her bedroom painted so that her skin would look good against the color of the bedroom. To me that just seems like complete vanity.

It’s probably too extreme … but you want to wake up with a color that makes you happy when you open your eyes.

I love bright red, but I couldn’t wake up to it.

I did so once. I had red and orange in my bedroom and I felt really good with it.
Jacqueline’s parlour: A round 1960's coffee table found at the 26th street flea markets stands front and center. The stunning paneled walls are original to the brownstone.
Jacqueline’s parlour is a masterful mix of furniture and fabrics that never go out of style.
A large gilt mirror from India hangs on the wall above a pair of crystal sconces from Malmaison Antiques.
Looking across the parlour, a room that is often filled with close friends and family.
I was having dinner with a close friend in the real estate business and she often has to style people’s apartments prior to selling them. I said people would run in the opposite direction if they saw my apartment because it is so intense. She said, mostly we just have to paint everything white. I think that’s kind of sad.

I find white cold and boring.

Let’s stop talking about decorating and talk about other things that are fun to you. You like to read, don’t you?

I love to read, yes. There are two things I love, I love movies and I love to read. I also love to entertain. I’m enjoying reading in English. For a long time I just couldn’t read in English, but I decided to make an effort.
A window ledge is filled with more family photos and a unique 1950s light fixture purchased in a North Fork antiques shop.
A crystal lamp from Malmaison Antiques illuminates a corner of the main parlour.
The original tile-and-wood carved working fireplace gets frequent use during cold winters.
Jacqueline’s collection of white Milk Glass and Sèvres porcelain objects fill the shelves of the parlour bookcase.
The painted porcelain teapot and behind, a painting with the same porcelain teapot, were both painted by Jacqueline’s late aunt.
The stripe pattern covering the entryway hall is actually the reverse side of black and beige upholstery fabric.
The original floors only get better with age.
What do you like about entertaining?

I love people. I like the connection and I like hospitality. I like when people feel good here and they have a good time – it makes me feel really happy. I should have had a restaurant. But it’s not about food though, it’s about friends.

Do you like to cook?

I like to cook … but it’s so much work and it goes so fast! With decoration you work a lot and you have it for a long time.

• Sian Ballen • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch