Based in their Brussels family home, Anne-Marie Midy and Jorge Almada - French and Mexican respectively - design modern furniture and accessories that are made using traditional techniques by craftsmen in Mexico for sale through their design company Casamidy.
For a start, each of their designs - be it a decorative pressed-tin headboard or a coffee table with an elaborate nickel-plated base of intertwining branches - is handmade by craftsmen in Mexico; they work very closely with over 40 artisans, including tinsmiths, metalworkers, glass-blowers and mosaicists to develop and make the original and striking pieces for their company, Casamidy. Secondly, Anne-Marie and Jorge design independently, as they prefer different materials - Anne-Marie likes metal, while Jorge loves leather. So, although the collection has a uniformity of spirit, each has their own style. Both trained in design, of varying forms, but while Jorge tends to design to fulfil a need, considering practicalities, Anne-Marie is more free-spirited and fearless. Furthermore, not only are their creations in their home varied in style and look - compare Anne-Marie's whimsical iron four-poster in the main bedroom and Jorge's boyish leather headboards for their two young sons, Antoine and Olivier - they are also brilliantly layered with all sorts of other finds so that the interiors are at once playful, personal and stylish.
Anne-Marie admits she is a shopper. 'I love objects,' she enthuses. Her philosophy is that if you like something, you will find a place for it. 'You have to trust that,' she says. 'When you are forced to improvise and find solutions for the things you already have, it makes interiors more vivid. I never regret my buys, but I still think about the things I let go.' Indeed, every surface and shelf is crammed with interesting, quirky, even kitsch finds, but all displayed in a considered way.
'I love objects,' says Anne-Marie. Her philosophy is that if you like something, you will find a place for it.
Brussels was a brave move for them; Anne-Marie is French and Jorge is Mexican, and neither had lived there before. Having met in New York, they had lived for the previous decade or more in San Miguel de Allende, north of Mexico City, a centre for the artists and craftsmen that form the backbone of Casamidy, which they set up in 1998. But with their little boys nearing school age, they decided to return to Europe. 'Brussels is the greenest city in the world and has an eclectic mix of people; it seemed a good fit for us, a multicultural family,' Jorge explains. They looked at over 40 houses before finding this grand town house. Though it is impressive in scale, with a vast entrance, an enfilade of reception rooms and high ceilings, their aim was always to create a family-friendly interior - 'sophisticated but fun,' as Anne-Marie puts it.
The house had previously been owned by a family who, in Jorge's words, 'liked French things in a clichéd way; there were burgundy rugs with gold fleurs-de-lis, wallpaper everywhere, and a blue Provençal room.' But all the original features - chimneypieces, doors, panelling and cornicing - were intact and extremely well preserved, so no structural work was required. Anne-Marie is a firm believer that 'you can't impose on a house like this,' so they kept the walls where they found them. When the wallpaper was removed some of the plaster crumbled, creating more work than they had originally bargained for, but otherwise, besides painting the house from top to bottom, the work included laying new wooden boards on the ground floor to unify the reception rooms, creating a new kitchen in what had been the dining room, and redoing the main bathroom. Anne-Marie designed and project managed it all from Mexico, communicating by e-mail, and visited only once during the work. Even the curtains were made in Mexico to Anne-Marie's measurements - she admits she was nervous when she unpacked them.
Anne-Marie and Jorge let the layout of the rooms dictate their usage. The ground floor is the formal area, where a gracious salon sweeps through double doors into the dining room, and beyond this, separated by an open curtain, is the kitchen. 'Anne-Marie has an extraordinary understanding of colour,' says Jorge, 'and chooses paint colours very carefully.' In these rooms she wanted soft, neutral walls, and to add accents of colour in the furnishings - for example, the malachite-green blinds, made from a Jim Thompson fabric, and the yellow-painted splashback.
Above is the library, painted a warm purple, which opens into a vast main bedroom and dressing room. Up another level is the boys' bedroom and playroom, and up a further level are three spare bedrooms. Finally, at the top of the house there is a large open-plan attic space, which is no doubt destined to become the boys' hang-out in a few years' time.
Everywhere, furniture by Jorge and Anne-Marie - including sofas, armchairs, coffee tables and mirrors - is interspersed with flea-market finds, bits and pieces inherited from Anne-Marie's grandmother and an interesting and eclectic mix of modern art and pre-Columbian artefacts. 'You can't buy modern art for decorative reasons; you've got to like the concept,' says Anne-Marie adamantly.
The basement houses their office, which is filled with yet more of their collection. Until now they have sold mainly to decorators and architects in the States, but the plan is to sell in Europe too. Jorge makes regular trips to Mexico as it is vital to maintain their relationship with the talented artisans who make their pieces. 'We only make small numbers of each design, so that the purity of line is not lost in the repetition,' explains Anne-Marie, who is now back at the drawing board after settling the family into their new life. Though Brussels is very much home for the moment, the family spent the summer in Mexico, where Anne-Marie and Jorge worked on prototypes for new designs. I'm looking forward to seeing what transpires.
Casamidy, 158 Franz Merjay, Brussels, Belgium:
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