A Taste of Italy, France

January 3, 2018

Emilie Bonaventure designs a Parisian bistro with a Milanese twist in a classic Art Nouveau property in the heart of Paris.

At 17 Rue Oudinot, hidden away amongst the Parisian bustle of the 7th arrondissement, there is an exceptional Art Nouveau building that is now home to Calabrian chef Denny Imbroisi’s latest restaurant. EPOCA was formed through a partnership with Micael Memmi and Denny Imbroisi who collaborated with interior designer Emilie Bonaventure, the talent behind ‛Frenchie’ in London’s Covent Garden.

Imbroisi crafted his culinary skills in the famous Northern Italian San Domenico and Corrado Fasolato restaurants. The turning point in his career came after he took part in the French TV show Top Chef; he gained insight into the culinary world whilst working alongside renowned Chef William Ledeuil before joining Alain Ducasse’s team at the renowned Jules Verne as sous chef.

Memmi is a serious foodie who left his job as a grain trader to become a restaurateur in 1997. He has since opened many eateries including Le Zo in 1998, a concept restaurant that fused Japanese and French cuisine with an Italian touch. In 2003 he launched II Caffe in Paris, which has since grown into a famous Italian restaurant chain, serving dishes that are made in the kitchen and delivered to five retail outlets in the French capital.

In October 2016 Memmi met Imbroisi at the Joel Thiebault stand at the President Wilson market. As Micael had dinner at his beloved restaurant Ida on several occasions, and Denny often lunched at Le Zo, their friendship blossomed and the idea of opening EPOCA was born.

“Micael appeared one day in my agency,” Bonaventure says. “He was a huge fan of Frenchie Covent Garden, the restaurant that I had designed in 2016 for Greg Marchand and asked me if I wanted to design the next Italian Bistro of calabrian Chef, Denny Imbroisi. I, of course said yes and the project was born.”

As this was Bonaventure’s first Italian-inspired project, she sought to design an interior with a unique personality whilst also drawing inspiration from both the features typical to a Parisian bistro and a Milanese design emphasis on warmth and function in a colourful, graphic style.

Equally passionate about ancient and contemporary objects, Bonaventure sets a scene for the vintage features in the space, such as the suspension lamps and wall sconces. Lights in chrome metal, stainless steel or aluminium interact dramatically with the brass features.

“We decided to preserve the original 1930’s light fixtures. To complement them I added discrete spotlights to the suspended ceiling, in order to enhance the general lighting level.”

Bonaventure chose not to work with a lighting designer, instead she used the already formed design and built on it, tying it in with the space flawlessly.

“Light is something I love experimenting with,” she explains. “For me light is the most important material and I do consider it to be a material. Conceptually I work with light as I would any other material. Its design is fully formed and integrated into the project from the very beginning.”

Bonaventure’s focus on the precision of design comes to the fore in this project through the presence of geometric shapes in black and yellow, accompanied by modernist influences. Unusual yet effective, the focal point in this design is the floor mosaic. In EPOCA, saturated tones in ochre, mustard and bronze add colour to the otherwise monochromatic scheme. The striped wallpaper lends a cinemascope depth to the room, which is enlarged through the tactical use of mirrors.

In keeping with the historical resonance of the building, Bonaventure chose a marble bar, however, she exerted a distinctive individuality over the space with veins running throughout the stone and up to the base of the vintage lights. Another reference to Art Deco is in the seating designs, which revitalise the traditional Thornet style with velvet booths.

For the tableware, Bonaventure herself designed the black lacquered wooden table tops and chose earthenware plates with black edges that perfectly echo the spirit of the restaurant. As a quirk against too much formality cutlery and accessories in aluminium were added.

The result is a vibrant and welcoming space in which lunch, dinner, or even just an apperitivo becomes an authentic escape to Italy in the heart of Paris.

“Denny and Micael were wonderfully enthusiastic about the original briefs and goals,” she says. “Interior design is all about that delicate balance between fulfilling a client’s aesthetic and technical expectations with the harsh reality of economic and architectural constraints, and at the end of the project we were all so delighted and proud with the finished project,” she says. “I think this project definitely has the strongest décor of all my previous designs – the smaller projects can result in a much stronger design.

EPOCA is Bonaventure’s second address in the Left Bank, a mere few hundred metres from her first, The Rose Bakery tearoom at the Bon Marche.

“It has been a real opportunity to carry on exploring my roots and the legacy that has made me who I am today; the spirit of the Left Bank lends itself perfectly to my values. I keep coming back to the dream of a literary and fashion Intelligentsia so the desire to welcome lost icons is a definite part of the atmosphere.”