At Home With Betsy Kasha, Co-founder of A+B Kasha

Monday, 28 September 2015

American export Betsy is one half of A+B Kasha, an interior design and real estate agency based in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which she founded ten years ago this month with her husband Alon. The agency specialises in pied-a-terre properties in the Saint-Germain area on some of Paris' most charming streets. After moving to London from New York for Alon's work, they visited Paris for a weekend and fell in love with the city. They decided they wanted a pied-a-terre apartment of their own, so they bought an apartment with beautiful bones, but one which needed gutting and renovating. With the skills and experience they learnt from managing such a huge project, they decided to establish A+B Kasha and move to the City of Lights permanently. Today they create beautiful pied-a-terre apartments - apartments that have all been hand-picked by Betsy and Alon and then thoughtfully and beautifully restored to their natural glory. There is nothing too ambitious for this design duo, which you can see from their apartment below - it too was gutted, renovated and restored, to create a beautiful two bedroom apartment in one of Paris' most sought-after neighbourhoods. 

Scroll down to read the interview.

Why did you move to Paris?
I moved to Paris in 2004 from London with my family to start our company A+B Kasha now celebrating its tenth anniversary!

What inspired you to establish your own real estate and interior design agency and how did you get there?
It was more of an evolution than an inspiration.  And that’s usually how life is…we had just moved to London from New York when we were invited to use our friend’s apartment in Paris for the weekend.  After a great weekend, I knew I wanted a Paris pied-a-terre of my own, and we ended up buying one in Saint Germain-des-Pres that had great style but needed a ton of work.  The process of buying and renovating an apartment in Paris turned into a bigger project than we expected, and showed us all the inefficacies of the Paris market.  This gave us an idea that turned into A+B Kasha, The Art of the Pied-a-terre.  In essence, we were our first clients.

What words of advice do you have for someone following their own career path and setting up a business?
Trust your instincts, surround yourself with smart and honest people, and be prepared to work all the time.

How long have you lived in your apartment?
We bought this apartment after living (around the corner) for five years.  The renovation took a year, and we moved in four years ago.

What were the biggest decorating/renovation challenges?
Our apartment had two glaring problems: (1) the floor plan was impractical and uncomfortable, and (2) the beautiful old herringbone floor was sagging, creating 10cm bow in each room.   First, we completely flipped the floor plan of the apartment; the main bathroom located off the living room became the kitchen; two bedrooms in the back became a large master bedroom and bathroom; and the kitchen and dining room located above the living room became the bedroom and bathroom for our daughter.  Today, the living, dining and kitchen are together and the bedrooms are on opposite sides of the apartment…the flow of the apartment works perfectly for our lifestyle.

How would you describe your interior style?
For me, balance and context are big keys to good design.   In my work, I always choose elements which will be harmonious together, and that make sense for the space.  In my apartment, I like order but I shy away from formality.  I like to be surrounded by beautiful art, but I am very sensitive to visual clutter.  The key is balance.  In terms of context, it is important to stay true to the proportion and natural charm of the space.  As stunning as Versailles is - for example - its style and proportion does not work in a Directoire-period apartment like mine.   It is a question of respecting the natural beauty of the space and “dressing” it to enhance rather than distract. 

Favourite piece(s) of furniture/treasures?
I make it a habit to only keep objects, furniture and art that give me pleasure.   But I will single out the metal bookcase in our living room for its sculptural silhouette.  It also has interesting provenance…it was designed in the 1920’s to store heavy machinery in a French factory.   The painting over my bed is also special to me.  It was painted by artist Cecile Defforey.  I think it has a magical quality.

Favourite places/shops to buy for your home?
In addition to the furniture dealers I work with regularly, two of my favourite home stores are Caravane (rue Jacob) for its soft sofas, bedding and accessories and Original BTC Lighting (rue Bonaparte) for its great ceiling, wall and bathroom lights. 

Interiors/style that have inspired you?
I love the work of designers Axel Vervoordt, John Saladino, and Alexandra & Michael Misczynski.

What do you like most about the area you live in, in Paris?
I love the energy of Saint Germain des Pres…it has a quirky, village feel.  I also appreciate its cultural and architectural history.

Favourite sources for inspiration? (ie Pinterest, instagram)
I often get design inspiration from the most unlikely places.  Yesterday it was the floor of an old boulangerie, and the day before, it was a beautiful ceramic pool in a private garden.  I always have my phone with me so I just snap a photo and keep it in my inspiration file. 

Favourite three social media mavens (could be instagrammer, blogger, Pinterest user)?
My social media of choice is Instagram.  I love following the Instagram of the Beach-chic concept store, Pistol and Lucy (pistolandlucy), in Malibu, CA.  I also follow blogger/instagrammer Alexandra Stafford (alaxandracooks); her food photos and recipes are mouth-watering!   And I have become a devoted fan of artist Kevin Scorgie’s instagram (kevin_scorgie) as well as his work.

Last good book you read?
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

What’s in your magazine pile?
AD France, Elle Decoration (France), Vanity Fair, and The Week (US Edition)

Go-to alcoholic beverage?
Red Wine, although I rarely say no to Champagne.

Tea or coffee?
Coffee, but only in the morning

Handbag essentials?
Sunglasses, lipstick,  liquorice Ricola, Farrow&Ball color chart, and a tape measure

What do you do to relax?
I am learning how to meditate…

Paris favourites:
Outside at La Palette on rue de Seine… perfect for an outdoor cocktail or lunch with friends. 
It is too difficult to single out one restaurant because there are so many amazing ones.  But my new favourite dining spot is Come a Casa on rue Pache in the 11eme.  It was introduced to me by my Italian foodie friend, Max, and it has some of the best Italian food I have ever had.   My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Honestly, my go-to store is Le Bon Marche…for everything!   I am rarely disappointed.

Santorini Part 2: Folegrandos

Monday, 21 September 2015

As much as I loved Santorini and its incredible views, Folegandros was a welcome break from the crowds that chocked the streets in Oia and Fira. A tiny island just north of Santorini, only accessible by ferry, Folegandros has a lot going for it. There's only a tiny port, so no huge cruise liners can dock here, which was one of the downsides of Santorini - there must have been five or six cruise ships sat in the caldera while were there, at times tarnishing its beautiful view. 

We stayed just inland near the port, in a contemporary hotel that's part of the Design Hotels Group. There's not much to do on the island, so this is a great place to come for some proper r&r. There are only three towns, with the main one, Chora, a 10 minute drive up into the hills from the port. When we went to visit on the second day, it was practically deserted, with only a few tourists wandering around and some of the old local men sitting outsides cafes playing backgammon or putting the world to rights. 

It's by far one of the prettiest towns I've visited, with traditional white Grecian buildings all beautifully preserved - so pretty, it almost didn't feel real. I particularly loved the crazy paving cobbled streets. And in the evening, it was like a different town, full of locals dining out in the open air cafes under a canopy of trees and fairy lights. It was truly magical. 

Top Tips: 
Stay: Anemi Hotel (lovely design and decor, but the service and food needs some work - they got our breakfast order wrong a few times and didn't know how to cook a soft boiled egg, which in my book is the first thing you learn when cooking!) 
Eat: Pounda Restaurant, which you can see in the photos above and below. You can't see it in the images, but there's a beautiful walled garden behind where the tables are - it's like a secret garden. The food is delicious and run by a husband and wife team (she also makes beautiful ceramics).
Beach: Katergo - there's a boat that takes passengers to and from the beach during the day. (Make sure you bring a parasol as there's no shade, as well as food and drink. It's secluded and there's no cafe..)

The port seen from the boat to Katergo beach 
Katergo Beach

At Home With Editor of The Other Art of Living, Sophie Trem

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I discovered Sophie a little while ago through Instagram. She oozes positive energy and by the photos on her feed, I could see that her home reflected her personality. So I reached out and ventured down to the 13th. It's not an area I go to very often, so I was a little out of my comfort zone and admittedly got a bit lost. But I finally found her building and she opened her door with a big smile. We immediately clicked and I spent a few hours there, chatting, snapping photos and munching on a delicious breakfast that she kindly laid out - obviously just how any photo shoot should go. 

She’s been in her home for 5 years, and it’s the kind of space that you want to curl up in with a good magazine. It’s bright and cosy, and filled with personality and warmth, with touches of colour and pattern - in other words, a real home.  Paris born and bread, of Cambodian descent, she grew up in Paris’ China Town and has remained in the area, where she lives with her husband and two small boys. She works as a freelance web and fashion consultant, as well as working part-time for Qwant, looking after their communications. Her blog, The Other Art of Living is full of positive vibes, inspiration and tips for mastering the art of living well! 

Scroll down to read the interview.

What inspired you to start your blog?
It was a time in my life when I wanted to change direction. I went back to school because I needed to learn new things. That’s how I started, but it was not supposed to be a blog, just a website showing what I could do as a freelance creative consultant…  I was so surprised when I was invited to an event for bloggers the very first time!

What words of advice do you have for someone following their own career path and freelancing?
Listen to yourself; try to feel it. Do things you want to, not only because you have to. That makes a huge difference.

Any projects in the pipeline?  
Don’t get me started! ;)  I think I have as many dreams as there are stars in the sky, so I always have a project on the go! But seriously, I’m currently really excited about my first collaboration with K-Swiss. We are launching an exclusive style of the Classic tennis shoe this Thursday at Colette. I still can’t believe it’s real; it’s a dream come true!

I was also a part of the jury for Maison & Objet last week and of course my (almost) full-time job at Qwant is full of new adventures everyday, that’s a startup lifestyle both ways.

What do you like most about the area you live in?
There’s such a great energy here, which I guess is because of the mixture of cultures. We are near Chinatown where I grew up, and this is one of those new areas mixed with old, with a real family spirit. On top of that there are also a lot of green spaces, which is so important when you have kids.

What were the biggest decorating challenges you faced when you moved in?
Our apartment is a former medical office, so renovating that into a home was the biggest challenge. But as soon as I got there, I had the image of what our home would be, I could totally visualise it, then it had to be!

How would you describe your interior style?
I guess it’s a mix of modern, Scandinavian & boho, we like to mix everything together.

Favourite piece(s) of furniture/treasures?
I never know how to answer that one as I like everything, but more as an ensemble. Although I do love the buffet we’ve had for years because there’s a funny story behind it, and I love when things have their own story!

Favourite places/shops to buy for your home?
Recently I just went nuts at my friends store Jamini! I love the designer, the products – I just can’t get enough of those pillows, they really add some flavour to the spirit of my home. I also really like Bloomingville and Bxxlight. 

Interiors/style that have inspired you?
L’Eclaireur, Merci, Maison & Objet

Favourite sources for inspiration?
Travel and blogs, such as blogger & instagrammer, Jesus Sauvage.

Favourite three lifestyle blogs?
Inside Closet, Apartment Therapy, Anna G, Beautyarchi

Last good book you read?  
I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m really enjoying: Le jour ou j’ai appris à vivre from Gounelle (the day I learned to live.)

What’s in your magazine pile?
Home magazine, Le M Monde, Les Inrocks, Society, Happinez, Vogue and MPA.

What’s in your fridge?
Organic fruits and veggies and some easy stuffs for kids like ham & cheese and a lot of different condiments & juices

Go-to alcoholic beverage?

Tea or coffee?

Handbag essentials?
Lipsticks, money, pressed powder, earplugs, kleenex and something to rinse your hands.

What do you do to relax?
I play with my kids, I sleep, I play music with my friends, and I love spending hours in my bathroom and having a home spa!

Paris favourites:
Café: Le Bonaparte is around the corner from my office, it's super convenient. It's a tourist trap, but I still love being amazed by my city.  
Restaurant: there are so many I love, but one of my all time favourite cantines is New Hoa Khoan
15 Avenue de Choisy, 75013. It does the best dim sum in Paris, trust me!
Shop: Colette for its crazy selection from street to high end, Merci as most of the fashion designers I love are there, Heimstone, Le Bon Marché, L’Eclaireur, Jamini and…. Monoprix for everything!
For kids: Maralex, Little Michel & Noel online and Womb.

Santorini Part 1: Oia

Friday, 11 September 2015

Santorini is by far the most beautiful island I've visited. In fact whilst walking around Oia, I kept repeating: 'I can't believe this place exists!' The white washed houses built into the cliffs, made brighter by the blazing sunshine are striking against the deep blue sky and sea just below. (Fortuitously I even packed to coordinate! See here, here and here.) And the odd splashes of colour - the bright blue church roofs, and buildings painted coral, pale yellow and pink are an added bonus. 

Santorini tips: 
- We stayed in Rimida Villas - traditional houses, right on the edge over-looking the Caldera with breakfast served on our doorstep each morning 
- Get a good coffee or fresh juice at Passagio
- Dine at Dimitri's in Amoudi Bay (a 10 minute walk down steps to the water) and Skala in Oia (a tavern with a great view) 
- Eat ice-cream at Lolita's (try the blueberry - I had two helpings!)
- If you can get accommodation facing the caldera, buy a bottle of wine, some nibbles and watch the sunsets from your terrace to avoid battling with selfie sticks and crowds in the town! 

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