Karine Köng and her sister are real connoisseurs of chic, so their interiors website BODIE and FOU is an essential stop-off for style lovers everwhere.
'Chic' is a tricky concept: hard to define but easy to spot. It's less assertive than the wow factor and it's certainly not bling - more the new Mrs Sarkozy meeting the Queen. Though it's openly flaunted on the catwalk in France, chic is equally at home behind closed doors in fashionable interiors. So when thirtysomething French sisters Elodie and Karine Köng describe their online home furnishing business as a 'chic boutique with our take on French lifestyle and contemporary modern living', their website BODIE and FOU is where chic meets tongue in cheek.
Paulistano chair by Pritzker Prize-winning architect (the Pritzkers are the Oscars of architecture) Paulo Mendes da Rocha sit next to a playful blind striped with sky-blue birds sitting on telegraph lines. Two headed milk bottles that pour beautifully, swan-necked bulbous vases, day-glo soft rubber bowls and white china egg cubes all put the fun back into functional.
'Your space has to feel like home, not a contemporary museum', says Karine. She and her sister launched BODIE and FOU with 50 home furnishing products in 2005. At the time, Karine and her partner, Steve Kirk (who also invested in the company), were expecting the birth of their daughter, Mila Sienna, in just three weeks. Now they have more than 500 products and a second website called www.wheredidyoubuythat.com - a question you'll be frequently asked if you shirk the high street and shop there online.
Why the name? Elodie has been nicknamed 'Bodie' since childhood, Karine explains 'and Fou is what Steve called me when we met. He thought I was crazy but his French was a bit rusty, so he said "fou" rather than "folle" and it just stuck'.
The best way to appreciate the BODIE and FOU look is to see Karine and Steve's holiday home in France. One Summer while holidaying at Karine's parents, who had retired in Cazaux on the south-western Atlantic coast, they walked into an estate agents with the idea of 'having enough space for friends and family to hang out together'. On the spur of the moment, they bought a seventies 'maison de plaisance' (literally a 'pleasure house' now used to mean a holiday villa) and set about thinking 'how we could bring together our tastes to create a welcoming, child-friendly home.'
That simple move opened up the house. Architects always talk about the blurring of divisions between inside and out, but to Karine it came down to a simple craving for natural light. "I can suffer from SAD syndrome during winter so I need as much light as possible to survive the British winter. Everywhere we move, my first plan of action is to paint the walls white then live in the house for a while without doing anything else, just to get a feel for the light in the space."
The airy, summertime feeling that radiates through the house is thanks to the French doors and those walls. Everything that didn't move was painted white. The paint was distemper, the most environmentally benign paint around. What's more, when mixed with milk powder, it's allergen-free to boot. Karine followed a local tradition of slapping the wet plaster with branches to create lively patterns. Then, with the sweep of a wide brush, these textured walls were washed with a mixture of lime pigment, milk and water - a secret recipe of Karine's father. As it dries, the walls turn almost bone white. By night, they're warmed up by candles carved out of pebbles from BODIE and FOU.
For Karine, white has become the equivalent of the little black dress, "simple, practical and chic, yet also relaxing". White walls, ceilings and furniture - everything pale and interesting - comes close to defining chic. Even the accent colours are those of stone and putty. Floors consist of original tiles in the corridors, seagrass in the bedrooms and oak in the living space. Floor-to-ceiling linen curtains are white, cream or beige. All the tableware is white, with summer salad bowls and platters mixed with clear glasses - never coloured.
Karine's inspiration is French interior designer Jacqueline Morabito, who designs clean-line, modern tables and chairs then accessorizes them with rococo flourishes. Morabito uses natural materials like limestone, concrete, linen, cotton and wood in hues of white, cream and stone to turn her interiors into what Karine feels are 'amazing havens of peace and detente".
'White can be sterile if it is all edgy, hard surfaces without texture or personal touches. With a white background you can easily create an amazing contemporary, minimalist or vintage look by mixing and matching modern pieces with treasure finds from flea markets', Karine says.
That old-school, shabby chic, English decorative way of scumbling paint, pickling furniture and distressing surfaces is not in her repertoire.
'My interiors are always contemporary, and I add warmth with touches like family pictures or an old, bashed-up piece'.
Therein lies another surprise. Karine likes to mix designer pieces from BODIE and FOU and flea-market finds with inexpensive items from Ikea - including her kitchen units. Stylish but inexpensive is a look she favours - old or new, contemporary or classic. Since childhood, she and Elodie joined their mother rummaging through stalls at French flea markets. That undoubtedly shaped her ability to make her mind up snappily and edit collections for her business.Bringing together different tastes is what stylists do, often quite ruthlessly, and Karine admits she prunes all the time, using a critical eye to identify junk. 'You need to step back once in a while to see if the house really needs that something extra - or less', she says. This winter the fireplace will slim down, losing the vases and clutter in nooks either side in favor of a more modern surround.
There are three large, wooden outdoor dining tables to seat 10 made by a local carpenter, set about with metal chairs. Hammocks swing in the cherry trees and there are deckchairs in the apple orchard. 'We breakfast in front of the house in the morning where the sun rises' she explains. 'At noon, when it's really hot, we take lunch in the shade among the pine trees. By the end of the afternoon, when the sun is at the back of the house, there's a table next to the barbecue. One weekend we had three families staying, all of them eager to go to the beach, but in the end no one left the garden!'
Back at the desk in cyberspace, Karine describes her business as BODIE and FOU as 'keeping the personal touch'. She and Elodie offer style tips, publish designer biographies, write blogs and field queries, most of which are from fans asking if they want another sister.
To keep the contemporary lines - and clutter - at bay, storage is mostly behind closed doors. 'Anything on display has to be nice to look at, like the mood board in blue and sand that I put on the crockery cupboard doors', Karine explains, 'they are just magazine cuttings but they have a happy holiday vibe'.
(c) Grand Designs magazine, Words: Nonie Niesewand, Photography: Chris Tubbs and Karine Köng
Photo 1: vintage crockery cupboard painted in blue grey inside and white outside, Familia mugs from BODIE and FOU, plates from Ikea, white bowls and dishes from local market. Photo 2: Elodie and Karine in the lounge, diner table from Ikea, white chairs from AM-PM at La Redoute (I wouldn't recommend them, most of them fell apart!). Picture 3: Tylosand sofa from Ikea, white Paulistano chair from BODIE and FOU. Picture 4: Cote Bastide silver candlesticks, Familia mugs from BODIE and FOU, clear pendant light from Baileys home and garden.
Picture 5: children beds are vintage (bedheads are actually the top and end of antique French bed found in my mum's garage which I then painted blue grey), the side table between the beds is a mandarine crate found at a flea-market, the Fairy wall sticker is from L'Atelier des Pieds et des Ailes.
Picture 6: children yellow gum boots from Aigle , wooden trunk is from the army found at a flea market. Picture 7: ABC Love print from BODIE and FOU, walls light from Artemide.
I will finish this off on later on........