I’ve been to Paris an impressive 14 times and have always dreamed of living in a Paris apartment. Talented illustrator Kerrie Hess has lived this dream. Luckily for Australia, she has recently returned home to Queensland, but she generously shared some photos from her stylish pied-à-terre with us.
It’s a brave person who moves to the other side of the world to a country with a different culture, where they speak another language, but for Kerrie, it was a bit of a case of now or never. “I had been learning French for many years and a lot of my clients were in Paris, so, while my son Marcel was still only two, it seemed a great time to move to France.” They spent 18 months there before returning to settle in Brisbane’s Hawthorne, in time for Marcel to start school.
The stylish Miss Hess (and yes she is the sister of fellow illustrator Megan Hess) works for such huge names as Chanel, Kate Spade New York and Louise Vuitton, so it seems most appropriate for her to have been creating her beautiful drawings in one of the most romantic and fashionable cities in Europe.
So was the Parisian dream all she hoped for? “It was quite an experience! We were on the fifth floor and faced another building on the other side of the street and at night I loved peering into the other apartments, catching a snapshot of other Parisians’ lives. Our building was a typical Haussmannian one, so it had all of the charm of old world Paris, with beautiful wall moulding, cornices and fireplaces. But along with these gorgeous buildings comes the heating and hot water lifts, heating often breaking down and no pipes for a dishwasher! That’s all part of the charm of living in Paris though!”
Kerrie says the best thing about the apartment was the rare luxury of a balcony big enough for a table and chair. “I loved to sit out there and watch the sunset with a cup of tea or, even better, a glass of champagne. I also loved that the lady nextdoor, Madame Romanique, who was 92, often played haunting tunes from Amélie on her piano which I would always stop and listen to.” Sounds fabulously French, doesn’t it?
Kerrie was sad to leave but knows she will return often. She was there just this month for her first solo exhibition at Le Meurice Hotel, where Dali and Picasso have both exhibited (no pressure!). “I feel like I will always have a piece of Paris in my heart and it is truly my second home.”
Although most of her work is in fashion illustration, Kerrie has always had a penchant for interiors too. “I use only brushes and watercolour now, and I feel like this medium lends itself to interiors and architecture just as much as fashion as it’s so fluid. Women are still the main focus of my work, but a beautiful interior adds so much to the image.” She recently created 16 pieces based on the interiors, history and luxury of Le Meurice for her exhibition.
Her illustrations are usually full of vibrant colour, but Kerrie chose a more simple black and white interior for the apartment. “I find it’s a calming contrast to my creative work. Plus, I think I was influenced by Paris; a city that is generally black white and grey in every sense, both on the street and in fashion.”
Her interior style is a mix of romantic, modern and eclectic. “I like to mix styles and eras in the same space, like a modern couch with a vintage pendant. I also love to upcycle items that I have found at the markets or on travels. I never feel comfortable in a space where everything is shiny, modern and new! But I also think too much shabby chic in one space can feel like a dolls’ house. I like a balance.”
Although her life appears terribly glamorous and full of designer clothes, Kerrie is actually a subscriber to Interiors Addict’s ‘style without the snobbery’ motto. She even wrote a book, Shoestring Chic, on how to live stylishly on a budget. Her tips? “I think it’s the same as with fashion, in that classic lines and neutral colours will tend to look more expensive even if purchased from a chain store. And I think you can break up the chain store catalogue look with at least a couple of quirky one-off pieces in each room. Splurging on a couple of designer pieces can also elevate a whole space if mixed in with simpler pieces.
“Upcycling a market or eBay find with new fabric or a new lampshade is also a great way to do this. And often these bring even more to a space than something from a designer label. Just the idea of re-covering a chair in a new fabric means you have a custom piece that no-one in the world has but you.”
Not surprisingly then, one of her favourite pieces in her Paris apartment was a vintage mirror she found abandoned in the ‘cave’ or cellar. “I carried it up five flights of stairs as it was too big for the lift. Once I got it inside, I cleaned about 150 years of dust off it and it was just so beautiful. It’s something I would never find in Australia and I really cherish it.”
While their things are still coming out of the boxes, Kerrie and little Marcel are excited to set up in their new Queenslander-style house full of the sort of period features she loves. Home is her workspace too. “It’s very important to have a space dedicated just to work where you can close the door in the evening and switch off. I also love an office to be organised and beautiful, to inspire. That was the one concession of living in Paris: dealing with an office in my bedroom! But the view out of the balcony in that quite large room made up for it!”
Kerrie believes the way you decorate your home is a reflection of where you want to head in life, and I love that theory. “It also says so much about your personality, which is why I think it’s nice to have some really personal pieces in your home rather than it being all from the one place.”
Last year, Kerrie collaborated with Australian label The Brown Trading Co. on some beautiful cushions. She’d love to do more in homewares and hinted at some exciting things in the works for London, and hopefully Australia too, later in 2014. “Once I catch my breath from this exhibition in Paris, there are so many more exciting things in the works which I can’t wait to be able to share!”
Planning a trip to Paris? Come back tomorrow to read Kerrie’s invaluable guide on the most fashionable spots to have tea or drink champagne, as well as where to shop for homewares.
If you love Kerrie’s work, you can buy one of her limited edition prints for yourself.
Also, check out sister Megan’s divine Melbourne apartment, which I featured on the blog last year.