Hundreds of antique wood panels lie stacked against the walls of a glass-roofed warehouse just north of Paris’ Champs-Élysées. Beside them are shelves laden with cornices and sculptures.
This vast cache belongs to period boiserie dealer Féau & Cie. ‘It’s an old institution that’s been there for over a hundred years,’ says interiors photographer Joanna Maclennan, who was drawn to the archive after hearing about its history. ‘Everything is hidden, so unless you know it’s there and what they do, it’s not the kind of thing you’d come across. They don’t even have a shopfront, and everything is inside so it’s quite secret.’
Féau & Cie is run by Guillaume Féau, whose father and grandfather bought the archive in the 1960s. It has been supplying designers, collectors and connoisseurs around the world since 1875.
Treasures inside the museum-like space range from intricate boiserie owned by Louis XV to pieces that date back to the 1600s. The company owns around 25,000 antique objects, which also span fireplaces, mouldings, and drawings.
In the Rue Laugier archive – which visitors can tour by appointment only – disembodied cherubs perch on walls alongside precariously placed sections of moulding, carved with decorative fruits and flourishes. Shelves hold stacks of papers, and cornices sit on steps next to iron buckets.
‘When you go upstairs and see the plaster casts, there’s a feeling of things that have been there for a very long time,’ Maclennan adds. ‘It’s the accumulation of objects and the history behind them, and it’s seeing things that have been left untouched, or not been touched for a long time.’
Over 100 carvers, painters and gilders are employed by Féau & Cie, which has built up extensive expertise when it comes to preserving historic pieces, and a reputation for creating precise reproductions.
The provenance and history of each antique piece is strictly determined, with objects dated in the lab using paint colours, or identified by production techniques and materials used. Féau & Cie has six warehouses spanning 130,000 ft in which to store its many treasures.
‘It’s like a palette with which we can compose ensembles to meet the requirements of our clients,’ says Féau, who took over the company in the early 1990s as demand for convincing replicas of antique boiseries was increasing. Under his directorship, Féau & Cie has established a new line of business in crafting reproductions of antique woodwork – using resin to recreate precise details – as well as creating contemporary reinterpretations.
‘There is a major trend today towards paring down the big decorative ensembles,’ he adds.
Historic rooms owned by Féau & Cie have found their way into the collections of museums across the world, including the Getty in Los Angeles, and the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.