At this Sydney Harbour penthouse, the furniture alone is $1m

The penthouse at Sydney’s new Kurraba Residences is furnished throughout with pieces from Liaigre, the ultimate French interior design brand.

If you’ve ever wondered what $1 million of new furniture looks like, I’ve got one word for you: Kurraba. The penthouse atop the red brick apartment development on the north Sydney promontory of the same name is decked out with sofas, tables, desks, beds, lamps, ottomans, guerdons and so forth, all ordered from chic French furniture brand Liaigre. And totalling a cool mill, according to the interior architects.

“We’ve worked with the brand for some years now on our projects, and it seemed most appropriate for the Kurraba Residences [penthouse] to completely kit it out in Liaigre” says Phillip Mathieson, founder and director of Mathieson Architects, which designed the interiors of all 24 apartments – including what he terms the “super-penthouse” since it occupies 430 square metres over two top floors and gives onto 216m2 of private garden and a swimming pool.

The four-bedroom, four-ensuite home, which includes a gym, steam room, wine cellar, butler’s pantry, several living rooms and studies, and dress circle views onto the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, is also adorned with dozens of art works by the likes of Bronwyn Oliver, Brett Whitely and Marion Borgelt. (Leased from Artbank, these and other prestige pieces can also be made available to the buyers of the property.)

The idea is to really show the potential lifestyle available to the eventual owner”, says Mathieson. “It’s a supreme turnkey proposition”

But how to prevent an enormous penthouse fitted out in one brand, no matter how posh, from feeling like a showroom?

“We strived to ensure that each room feels unique, that they are experienced in different ways” says Mathieson. “We’ve done that by not picking the obvious things to sit side-by-side, by introducing unexpected fabrics in the draperies and upholstery. A lot of effort was made to ensure that despite being the ultimate French interior design brand, we adapted the pieces to the local context”

Cristophe Caillaud, chief executive and president of Liaigre, agrees. “If we, the French headquarters, had simply provided furniture and fittings, we’d probably have misjudged local factors like air quality and light. Sydney’s sunlight is so spectacularly different to that of Paris”

Indeed, those rich silk rugs – in an oyster shell shade, say, or dreamy deep aubergine – seem to glimmer in the afternoon spring sunlight on the day I visit.

The curved glass floor-to-ceiling walls are slid wide open, the breeze ripples across ultra-fine linen drapery, a ferry casts gentle waves of foam in its wake as it beetles over to Neutral Bay, just below.

I’m strolling through rooms arrayed in a scalloped formation, which architect Adam Haddow of SJB, who designed the apartment building, will later tell me are intended to riff off the irregular topography of Kurraba Point. The fluted bricks, he points out, are standard-issue but laid in such a way as to absorb rather than deflect light” as the sun shifts across the south-facing, citadel-like building throughout the day.

It’s all been finely calculated to give a sense of ease, uncontrived elegance.

Meanwhile, I’m doing the mental arithmetic.

There’s a customised 12-seat Liaigre ‘Malte’ oak dining table, say $50,000. Hand stitched leather ‘Archipel’ dining chairs, around $2000 a piece. A quick Google search turns up a low-lying ‘Augustin’ sofa for €16,000 ($28,100) – which doesn’t factor in the sumptuously thick linen upholstery deployed in the Kurraba fitout. All the furniture – crafted predominately from oak, bronze and leather – is hand-made in France (except the rugs, which are hand-loomed and knotted in Nepal.)

Yes, I can see how this much stuff in this many rooms would definitely add up.

But what happens if the buyer decides they don’t like bulk Liaigre?

“I don’t reckon that’s a deal-breaker,” laughs Mathieson. “But if they don’t we might just see a fair bit of collectable Liaigre kit turn up on the secondary market.”

If that happens, I’ll be in line for one of the Christian Liaigre’s iconic Nagato side table/stool/plinth things – slabs of solid oak sculpted into a Brancusi-like monolith, usually with a natural rift that splits the timber with chic nonchalance. Created by Liaigre the year after he opened his Left Bank studio in 1985, the Nagato would become emblematic of his minimalist aesthetic, which marked 1990s interiors the world over. They retain their integrity today.

Christian Liaigre was born at the height of World War II in La Rochelle, on the Atlantic coast of France. He attended the École des Beaux-Arts and the École national supérieure des arts décoratifs, both in Paris, eventually meeting Alberto Giacometti, who in turn introduced him to Constantin Brâncusí. The latter is widely considered the granddaddy of modernist sculpture.

Liaigre’s eponymous Paris studio was influenced by the totemic approach of both artists, and he started out designing cabinetry with a decidedly sculptural allure. He made waves with his interiors for the 1920s Hotel Montalembert (just off Boulevard Saint-Germain) and these rippled around the world as his influence grew. He designed the minimalist Mercer Hotel in New York in 1998, which was soon followed by private residences for the likes of Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld and Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.

Hotelier Ian Schrager – the brains behind the Royalton New York, the Delano in Miami and the Mondrian in West Hollywood – commissioned Liaigre to design the interiors of his own Downtown Manhattan apartment, and reckoned it was “the most sophisticated thing I have ever done”.

“His furniture was so refined, so beautiful and so well-made,” said Schrager, upon hearing of Liaigre’s death on September 2, 2020.

“Christian was extremely demanding [and] incredibly precise in the outcomes he was seeking, whether that was in a single chair or in the architecture of a whole room” recalled Caillaud, who joined the company from Jean Paul Gaultier in 2009.

Creative direction is now overseen by Frauke Meyer, who for many years worked alongside Christian Liaigre.

“My role is to guarantee the longevity of the brand we now call simply, Liaigre,” Caillaud says. “And to see our aesthetic laid out with such refinement and finesse in a setting so far from our native Paris, seemed like a dream”

Dreams do, it seems, come true.

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