A Provençal NarrativeWicker Weaving with Atelier Vime
The Provençal house which is home to Atelier Vime has a formal, reserved exterior. It must have been perfectly suited to the lawyer for whom it was built in 1730. But open the hefty front door and a playful, elegant joie de vivre erupts like an exquisite couture gown from a wardrobe: 18th century paintings, perfectly curated china, a mural of a fig tree by artist Wayne Pate, antique furniture, 20th century vintage pieces, beautifully pigmented walls, and lots and lots of wicker.
Atelier Vime was created by partners Benoît Rauzy and Anthony Watson to revive the property’s willow-weaving history. “When we bought the house five years ago, I was worried about having a country home which wouldn’t breathe and live,” explains Rauzy. “We renovated it ourselves, digging up layers of concrete from the floors to reveal the 18th century stone underneath. The piles of rubble — tonnes of it — were taller than we are. But I was still concerned it would just seem like a country house for rich people.” They considered the idea of opening it up as a work space for artists, but then they uncovered the house’s 19th century past as a wicker workshop and decided to reopen that chapter. “Working with willow is not a new invention,” smiles Rauzy. “Atelier Vime is a re-invention of a Provençal way of life: the identity of the workshop is real. Integrity in this story is very important to us and people who come here feel it.”
As they talk, Watson and Rauzy return often to the power of story. They love the idea that their beautiful house is part of a grand, historic narrative. “When you renovate a house it’s very easy to lose its atmosphere,” Rauzy explains. “It can be like having a wedding list, where you’re supposed to invent a whole life in an instant. But you need time to get to know a house and its past, to learn where the light falls and where you like to sit. There’s a sense of conservation here, a sense of continuity and renewal. Our motto is that nature is the last luxury: without flowers and bees, people might feel stupid with designer handbags. The wicker tradition first came to our village because of the arrival of the railway in the 19th century. Local fruit and vegetables could be carried long distances and still stay fresh. Everyone suddenly needed woven baskets to transport what they’d grown. Whole families would move here, weave themselves little huts out of willow to live in, and make baskets for the season, before moving on. We’re simply bringing back the spirit of that tradition.”
Rauzy is an environmental consultant by profession, fascinated by willow as a sustainable material, while Watson is a stylist. “We sell our own wicker designs, as well as vintage pieces,” he explains. “We create our furniture and lamps with one of our best friends, the designer Raphaëlle Hanley — but we are the two dads of the project,” he laughs. “We’re also collaborating with Diptyque on a pop-up shop. We’ve designed a huge mirror in the shape of an eye, with wicker for eyelashes.”
Like all good stories, the tale of Atelier Vime is about to gain a new, unexpected plotline, set in Brittany. “We’ve just planted our first crop of 2,000 willow plants on land belonging to Benoît’s family,” explains Watson. “Provence is too dry for growing willow now. Gaël, the gardener at the house in Brittany, has been helping us and he’s so excited about it; it turns out his father was once a weaver.” Watson shows me a video on his phone of the three of them putting the first plants in the ground. “It was a lucky day — it was my birthday,” he says with glee. “When we do something, we do it on our terms,” insists Rauzy. “Our willow is organic, planted our way.” True to his belief that time is the magic ingredient in any narrative, Rauzy explains that they’re renovating the Brittany farmhouse very gradually: “The house is full of my late father’s soul. I don’t want to disturb it too much.”
Atelier Vime has its ghosts from the past too. There are stone-edged shadows in the garden, marking the position of the pools where workers once soaked the willow to make it soft enough to weave. Much of the wallpaper and paint in the house is original, its peeling texture an invitation to rub one’s hands over its patinated surface, as former generations might have done. Any new paint in the house has been hand-mixed by colourist Elise Orrier to look as though it has been there for centuries. “She mixed all the pigments here, in a basin filled with milk,” Watson says. “As it got to the right colour we’d shout, ‘Stop!’ When the coloured milk was painted on the walls it smelled really terrible for three weeks!”
As I leave, Rauzy points out a handsome, oblong willow basket on a chair. “It’s one of our designs,” he explains. “But it’s a copy of a basket we saw in a painting of Marie Antoinette in prison.” It’s the perfect, playful metaphor for Atelier Vime — the rich history of the 18th century, brought back to life for today. •