Brandolini: Queen of Haute Bohemia

Muriel Brandolini is a decorator in her own world – where all is beauty, dazzling the eye and feeding the senses.  NY Times once crowned her “the newly minted arbiter of Haute Bohemian Chic”.

An emerald green silk velvet pouf centre stage in a living room.

Brandolini grew up  in war-torn Vietnam after her Father’s death age 3. Quite a journey then: from chasing GI troops in 60’s Saigon for sweeties (where my aim was to establish a candy trade monoply on my street) to the ‘World of Muriel Brandolini’ published by Rizzoli last year.

Along the way she lived in Paris, modelled, arrived in New York with her 1 suitcase, got hired  on: I can sell anything, married Italian aristocracy, worked for Vogue and  found herself a decorating career after her rental apartment was photographed 11 times in one year. It reads like the back cover of a best-selling Bonkbuster. So How does our heroine achieve her dreams? what makes a Decor Queen?

She loves jewellery (yeah), her 7 carat diamond earrings are part of Brandolini legend. Here jewels recline on the sphinx armrest of  an early 20th Century Hapsburg chair.

THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY (the making of her):

The Brandolini of today says: When I imagine a room, I do not limit myself to the practical or possible,  my only thought is to make it beautiful… I grew up on the edge of French colonial society, I turn my back on convention because I have felt what it is like to be on the outside of it…My lack of formal training has allowed me a certain freedom  to dream to be different. (Did you know Brit-hit Tom Dixon has no formal training either?)

so outside the box.

Brandolini’s transformed her 70’s holiday home, channelling Vietnamese countryside ‘over the rainbow’

Brandolini left Vietnam age 12 vowing to return as President.

see I told you it was a bonkbuster.

As a teenager relocated to Martinique she was a’ terrible student, resenting all figures of authority’ , desperate her Mother sent her to Paris age 15,  here the entrepreneurial ‘candy’ spirit kicked in, wheeling and dealing fashion garments back to her Martinique peers.  She recalls a mad windsurfing-inventor whose fearless surfing convinced her ‘anything is possible‘ and so ‘the suitcase  of dreams’ to America.  After  a successful retail stint she had a damascene moment (in the dole queue) ‘I realised that what I kept returning too in life and what interested me most was creating beauty’. (That and I AM NEVER going to be in this queue again!)

so self-aware, self-determined, brave. A great sales lady. Turns out she has serious ADHD, Brandolini can’t watch TV, read a magazine or book – ruling out school work (Did you know award winning journalist AA Gill is totally dyslexic?)

Brandolini embraces avant-garde designers: ‘Bibliochaise’ by Nobody and co, side table by Hervé Van der Straeten

She started styling,  Franca Sozzani of Italian Vogue hired her on the spot and ‘became and still is my mentor, she taught me to channel my frantic energy into discipline’. ‘I listened, I watched, I learnt’.

– so lucky (you gotta have a mentor)

I travelled Europe to New York, always via Paris –  the Louvre’s Cour Carree or the Flea market, I would arrive at the airport counter with an enormous armchair or coffee table as my check in luggage. (this has become part of Brandolini legend)

so Chutzpah

One her French flea market finds, not sure if this made it on board as luggage?

She started regular work with a photographer ‘who was so demanding he taught me to expect that same perfection from myself. He did not allow for a millimeter of mediocrity.’

so perfectionist (maybe read consumed)

She married.  Her mother in law had a grand Venetian residence decorated by Renzo Mongiardino, where  vast rooms were inviting and  charming amidst high drama,  the walls swathed in a profusion of fabric caught her imagination.

Becoming a mother made me want something more lasting than the latest fashions, I wanted to start building a home. 

Guessing between the lines, this selfish (yes this is plus)  self-disciplined, forcefully independent woman  found becoming a mother and family  DIFFICULT, after her second child she left the family including new-born and spent some months alone in India. On her return she certainly made ‘the home’ and family wise she is a lioness regarding her loved ones.

Articles about her warily announce, ‘she doesn’t suffer fools gladly’. Declaring her bullish, irreverent, daring. Extreme personalities invite extreme responses. She has extremely loyal friends, a loving marriage and a team of long term creative partners who translate her extraordinary vision. Brandolini’s realm is secure.


I love Brandolin’s quest, constantly seeking new creative  frontiers, queen of her destiny.  Her home is truly a magic kingdom,  people frequently talk of being ‘transported  to another world’ upon entering, how she has perfected the ‘art of living’.  Photographed over 20 years: 1993, 1996, 2006 and 2012 it showcases her creative evolution, she says the book was incredibly hard because she had never looked back in her life before, only forward.

1993 stands apart, it’s the rental apartment that launched her, 1996 – 2012 are the same Victorian NYC home with high ceilings  and ‘intricate detailing’ which perfectly partner her bold, complex schemes.

Famously she upholstered the walls, finding wallpaper cold, and continues to do so.  She created vast patchwork curtains. She put a bed in the sitting room-  why? she finds them more inviting –  Brandolini still puts beds and entrance hall poufs in sitting rooms, canopied temple beds in dining rooms.  Check out the Madeleine Castaing style black coolie shades on all her lamps she possesses several ‘Castaing’ pieces.

The Entrance hall 1996. She notes how her home in early motherhood harks back to her Asian and Caribbean childhood.

The sitting room 1996.  The Boat chandalier imagined by Brandolini and created by long term partner Claire Cormier-Fauvel, hand painted taffeta from Clarence House at the windows, Napoleon III sofa, mother of pearl and papier maché chairs, coffee table Madelaine Castaing, her signature slipper chairs are upholstered in antique fabrics by long term collaborator Gina Bianco – in the foreground. The mantel piece lamps from 1993 are now opposite the  fireplace.

Famously Brandolini ‘doesn’t do faucets’ she declines kitchen and bathroom design, here is hers with hand blocked fabric and Claire Cormier-Fauvel shell chandalier.

Coral and green bedroom with ‘custom armoire’ from R. Louis Bofferding –  topped by elegant pineapple. I love this.

In 1999 Brandolini discovered Galerie Kreo in Paris, a new world of experimental modern design, a continental drift occurred re-shaping her visual world. Martin Szekely, Pierre Charpin, Marc Newson and the Bouroullec brothers all become part of this.

Entrance Hall 2006: The papier maché and mother of pearl chairs have moved into the hall alongside a ‘radiant disk’ cast bronze table by Michele Oka Doner.

side chairs in 50’s needlepoint underneath the painting previously above sitting room mantel piece.

Sitting Room: The inviting boho aura continues, several key elements remain, but modernity has landed: the smartie coffee table by Mattia Bonnetti.

Master bedroom 2006 with camel coloured straw walls.  I love the strong visual zig-zag: ‘ via the gold bedside lamps, (right hand lamp rests on Masion Jansen side table),  to the top-right picture frame. Brandolini specialises in complex arrangements, rigorously underpinned by visual logic,  disarmed by the informal.

Her bedside.

1996 -The dining room has a late 18th C settee, Venetian Fortuny wall lights, copper Boulle chairs from mid 19th C, Martin Szekely table and walls upholstered in hand embroidered silk by Trin Ly Quynh Kim, a long term partner.

2012 – Perhaps in my old age I have become softer if not quieter,  wanting lightness and simplicity I redid my house in tones of silver, pearl, grey and gold.

Entrance Hall 2012: pearl grey, gold and black.

Sitting Room: The pictures by the window are both long cherished possessions, the wicker chairs maintain visual lightness, the light itself is  Galerie Kreo’s Gerrit Thomas Reitveld. Accessories in primary colours add pop and lashing of artwork always feel intimate.

in detail above and below, it’s beautiful isn’t it?

The table lamp is from her first apartment and the landscape was above the mantelpiece in 2006. Brandolini keeps her friends close.

The boat chandalier in library now.

Still got chutzpah – master bathroom.

Master bedroom with Radiance disk  now as bedside, beside 17th C Portugese bed.

The dining room walls hand embroidered by Trinh on white corduroy with ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ quotation.

Visitors are met by a shimmering hand beaded entrance.

Finally the kitchen, vividly monochromatic with a 1940’s marble table by Jean Dunand. Put the kettle on.

What of her commissions? The work that has culminated in the title, the book ‘The World of Muriel Brandolini’, the fabric collection and a Barney’s product line.

Brandolini says she freefalls  fearlessly as she starts each project, thousands of ideas bombarding her brain.  She edits and distills over 2 months into 3 different client options. For each project she produces one of her signature slipper chairs customised to encapsulate her client vision. She then takes her clients on an intense creative odyssey to give them truly unique homes, Wendy Goodman who published the ‘epiphany-apartment ‘says: I used to think that Muriel’s clients were very brave and very lucky. But now I think that they are just very lucky.

Gino Bianco chairs

The client’s say:

She has an originality that no other decorator has.

She has gone from being a natural talent who works from her gut to a much more mature and educated person. Her early work, was bohemian and hip, it is more layered and thought through… When I look around my house I never get bored.

She has had to compromise to be successful, to have a second look,  I think this has enriched her.

She is more of an artist than a decorator.

She is a combination of extremes, of ying and yang. It’s this constant tension that allows her to produce such original things.

I think she gets the same pleasure out of plexiglass as velvet.

Shopping with Muriel was extraordinary, I think she deserves a Harvard MBA for negotiating.

She truly is one of the most hardwoking people I have ever know, she never feels sorry for herself. She only aims to get better and better.

With every project she leaves the last one in the dust. I think she is a genius.

THE PROJECTS … snapshots

‘Slice sofa’ by Pierre Charpin, smartie coffee table, Claire Cormier Fauvel chandaliers, Marc Newson chairs in foreground.

Her signature shelving with a 60’s Ico Parisi chair softening the geometric lines.

Piet Hein Eek kitchen island, Oskar dining chairs under Fontana Arte chandaliers in New York kitchen.

Famously she commissions walls embroidered in client’s favourite songs, in this case the Rolling Stones.

Pouf again in New York high rise

Her playful creativity definitely gives children space to dream.

And adult spaces dreamy-wow-factor

I think her work fits best amidst richly detailed architecture, which can stand upto her bold work  or blank canvases where her creative overhauls give them soul. For me fine-boned Georgiana and clean lined architectural styles are overwhelmed by Brandolini, unable to breathe in her multi-layered Asiana. Her interiors are a world apart rarely connected to the reality around them.

There’s no denying her power, when you commission her you are changing your living place and way of living, according to clients.  Again and again she creates scenes of beauty and nowhere more so that the client’s house she describes as a milestone because she learnt so much from the clients:

Brandolini designed the stair rail with Federica Tonato and the bronze pastille light is Hervé van der Straten

The sitting room, hugely elegant with Martin Szekely  chrome ‘Flat’ coffee table and those patchwork curtains, here in linen.

In all its glory…

The master bed

They even persuaded her to do bathrooms…

So there we are: Muriel Brandolini, the queen of Haute-Bohemia, living in rarefied world of her own creation – forged in exotic fires, diamonds gleaming, trailing the scent of fleur d’orangier – constantly extending her frontier. I am a member of her court.

All images from ‘The World of Muriel Brandolini’ published by Rizzoli

5 thoughts on “Brandolini: Queen of Haute Bohemia

  1. The armoire, in fact, was designed by me, although it was commissioned by Muriel. I was credited as the designer in the Phillips de Pury auction catalog of Muriel’s collection last fall. Just for the record…

  2. Apologies for the delay, end of school year this end. I dont know any forums but there are some blogs where there is a lot of chat eg. Ben Pentreath, Slim Paley, Little Augury, peak of chic, French Essence. Anyway these are my favourites, so if you like A Decorative Affair… You will probably enjoy them and the commentators. All the best j

  3. Pingback: Autumn Mood | adecorativeaffair

  4. Pingback: The Infinite Structured World of Vanderhurd | adecorativeaffair

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