Before the front door opens to Robert Couturier’s Regency-style commission just outside Atlanta, Georgia, two things are evident: its sophistication matches European manors, but its easy charm is as thick as thieves. Roman columns and statues stand before the immovable facade. Swirling around them in the hot, humid air is the smell of cut grass, horses, and dry hay. Couturier’s Parisian accent blends in with a hearty Southern welcome, and once we’re in the entry hall, serves to remind us of and connect us to “the houses that we descended from, all those European houses.”
“I love this home, it’s beautiful,” Couturier says as we enter the grand living room, with its signature French beauty — delicate side tables, a daybed, generous, columned panelling and formal drapery — light and unlined for summers here — and chaise lounges fit for Botticelli’s Venus.
“The fireplace is English, 18th-century,” Couturier says. “The mirror, Italian, 18th-century. We found four Italian antique statues, each one representing a different season, and placed the spring- and summer-themed statues in this room. The winter- and fall-themed statues are downstairs.”
Only one thing, well, two things, were certain about the living room from the start. “Those two incredible shell-shaped chaises were one of the first choices that we made, and they decided what sort of furniture we were going to put there. If I had decided something different for the centre of the room, then it would have changed how the room looked.”
Imagining a continent’s worth of antiques to chose from, I ask how he arrives at a design like this.
“The complete space is a result of waves of choosing things,” he says. “We choose 15 percent, then another wave drops another 20 percent, then another wave drops 10 percent… There’s never a presentation with all the things in the room. It happens touches by touches, bit by bit. That’s more interesting. I change my mind up a lot because life changes, life changes you, it changes your client, it changes everything. So you have to be open to change.”
The French doors open onto a veranda as wide as the entire 20,000-square-foot house, and we peer across five green acres before entering one of the most elegantly whimsical dining rooms in the South. As he tells me the story of its contents, I realize I’m wrong: it’s one of the most elegantly whimsical dining rooms in the world, thanks to Couturier’s four decades’ worth of European design knowledge, exclusive sources of materials, and after a childhood in Parisian manors, an innate sense of what the most elegant, well-lived life should look like.
The chandelier in the shape of a ship is from 1940s France, as is the table. The chairs have the same pedigree but were made a decade earlier. The antique mirror hearkens back to the time of France’s royalty, but the glass art below it is modern Italian — Chihuly. Couturier may have been raised amidst mid-century privilege, but he is not bound by it. The colour-blocked cotton drapes are proof of his deftness at planting an ornate room like this square in the realm of “comfortable” and “now” without sacrificing an ounce of beauty.
The next room we visit has a distinctly different feel than anywhere else we’ve been. At a glance, it’s more carefree than the upper rooms, and I half expect the esteemed designer to dismiss it. Instead, the opposite happens; his voice becomes molasses, he relaxes, and it seems Couturier doesn’t want to leave this downstairs den, with its low, time-weathered ceiling made of simple beams, its majestic fireplace, and rawhide laid over a reclaimed tile floor.
“All the other rooms could be anywhere, and they are very American in the way that they are conceived. I think this room is so French. I spent time in rooms like this growing up. Maybe not quite as pristine, but these are the kind of rooms that so many of us had in the country that we lived in — perfect when the weather’s bad, because you don’t need to see that the weather’s bad. It’s warm, cosy, inviting. It has this incredible character. It makes you feel at home.”
At home in this room is where the family of five spend a lot of their time in the winters, he tells me. All they asked for was a space with more character than the empty basement it was — they didn’t expect this room right out of a 17th-century French castle in the countryside, but they’re delighted with it. Resting deep in their home is a place that came from deep in Couturier’s heart, equal in charm as it is in elegance, a place that can be felt as much as seen.
Text by Brett Price
Translated by Rui Chen
Photography by Bruce Buck
Produced by Peggy Liu