© Photographs by Matt Writtle
Surrounding the Maison dining area is a mix of antiques, accessories, lighting and contemporary furniture — all available to buy. It's a simple but smart concept: why sell only cake when customers might also want to take home the plate on which it is served?
"People think our projects are very high-end and glamorous so we wanted to reveal our rugged, urban side," says Malaysian-born Abdullah, who moved to London to study law before switching to interior design. He is sitting in a space that resembles a chic living room in Maison Trois Garçons, on a turn-of-the-century Swedish sofa next to his business and life partner Lasserre. A neon "BABY" sign glows behind them and a candy-coloured light installation hangs from the ceiling. Modern pieces offer a striking contrast, from red velvet French period chairs to custom-made Portuguese-tiled tables, Thirties butterfly mirrors and Sixties vases.
The building was purchased nearly 12 years ago as a warehouse for Abdullah, Lasserre and their business partner Stefan Karlson (the third Garçon) to store their furniture. But locals who peeped through the windows would ask whether they could buy the items. Before branching into restaurants and bars, the garçons were antiques dealers — with stalls in Camden Market, then Alfies, followed by shops in Kensington Church Street, Westbourne Grove and Islington's Upper Street — so they couldn't resist turning the front section of the Redchurch Street property into an antiques shop. "It worked well but the building was really decrepit so we decided it was time for a complete overhaul."
They hand-stripped the walls (sandblasting would have been “too Shoreditch House”) to reveal five layers of paint and floors were levelled but left “unfinished looking”.
The outside will be ever-changing. "We want it to look different every time people come in," says Abdullah. "Whenever we find something that we adore we add it to the collection but we won’t stock things for too long. It’s easy to become lazy and keep re-ordering things because they sell well but it begins to stagnate.”
Much of their homeware is sourced from trade fairs, antiques dealers and markets in Newark, Stockholm, Gothenburg or the south of France. Paris, they say, is too expensive. They also seek cool but commercial pieces from young designers and are animated to show me a Calf & Half jug with "udders", Stuart Gardiner's hand-shaped oven gloves and a nifty adjustable candlestick with a springy arm by Suck UK.
These bubbly forty-somethings cater for all ages and budgets. “Shoreditch is very trendy but the problem is trendy people have the taste but not the money,” says Abdullah. “Frustratingly, people with money sometimes don’t have the taste. If we were in Knightsbridge we could probably sell things for a lot more but people might think our pieces were too outrageous for their home.”
With that in mind, next month, they launch their debut furniture collection as part of London Design Festival. "We want to make the prices accessible," says Abdullah. "Our sofas will be about £3,500 with fabric. We will have a very quick lead time and our furniture will be made by a family-run Portuguese company that has been doing it for three generations."
If there is one piece of advice they would give interiors novices, it is "buy less but buy good". You can purchase a reproduction sofa for £600 instead of £2,600 for the original but if you take the original to auction, you get your money back and sometimes more.
Abdullah bought a chandelier for £6,500 that he later discovered was by Sciolari. It’s now worth £85,000. And a Falguière sculpture found for £2,000 in a Parisian flea market would fetch more than £12,000 at auction. The same mid-18th century commode that the Garcons purchased from a warehouse for £15,000 was spotted at £176,000 in a recent design fair.
Their homes in London and France are filled with treasures. The Shoreditch flat above Les Trois Garçons "was once a derelict pub squatted by 30 people". Now it is a four-storey, three-bedroom wonder with planning permission to build another floor. Their Château de la Goujeonnerie in south-west France is "more grown-up". It previously belonged to a family with eight children but it has been turned into an 11-bedroom castle that can be rented as a holiday home.
Later this year they will work their magic on some of the spaces in Prague’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, located on a UNESCO World Heritage site. And there’s talk of hosting a design-led television programme. Don’t expect another Hollywood Me with Martyn Lawrence Bullard though. Let’s just say they aren’t big fans.
So where in London do they seek their style inspiration? "Museums and galleries," says Lasserre. The Soane Museum, the V&A, the Wallace Collection, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are favourites. And "there's something quite beautiful" about the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern.
"The capital is always reinventing itself," adds Abdullah. And so, it seems, are the garçons.
To discover more about Les Trois Garçons, visit lestroisgarcons.com/shop.
Photographs by Matt Writtle