When the doors to Armelle and Joël Cohen’s residence open, we are greeted with a jolt by a sharply-dressed butler—only to quickly realise that he’s a wax figure. Certainly, this is going to be a fun visit. “Eclectic” is the word these hard-working gallery owners and devoted life partners first use when asked to describe their Sukhumvit living quarters, which comes packed with eccentric touches and bold art pieces. “Love is another word. Every single decorative piece here has its own story,” Armelle explains right at the start of our tour. “And our obsession with them was why we acquired them. I would also say that each item plays a huge part in maintaining our youthfulness.” Armelle and Joël are the founders of Galerie Adler, an art gallery with branches in both Paris and Bangkok, and known in the art industry for discovering young artists and putting them centre stage. “That’s why we’re here,” she says proudly. Upon moving to Thailand in August 2015 with the youngest of their five children, the couple were searching for a low-rise apartment building that had plenty of space and preferably came fitted with good quality lighting that they can easily control. Raveevan Suites on Sukhumvit Soi 39 quickly emerged as the ideal choice. “The space was empty when we first got it. We shipped here, in two gigantic containers, everything from our home in Paris. We are people with a lot of passion in the arts, and we are also very involved with our passion. So it’s difficult to live without the things you see around us,” Armelle says. Spanning almost 600 square metres, the entire unit is surrounded by glass walls. As we make our way inside, a sofa set in flaring red catches our eyes; the living area is decked out in art deco antiques. A single floor cabinet by the couch, Joël says, hails from the 1920s. Moving deeper into the space, the left wall displays artworks by up-and-coming Thai artists—a huge acrylic painting by Panjarat Polpluek is accompanied on two sides by red wire and thread sculptures of a panther and a canine by Sita Inyai. Sitting on the right-hand side is the grand piano from Paris’ famous Le Jules Verne restaurant, which is located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. Arranged on top of it is a collection of stuffed animals. “None of these were hunted. They were sick and sold by zoos to earn money,” she explains. “Don’t you think the little tiger cub looks like he’s watching a butterfly? And these flamingoes are beautiful—I’m fond of flamingoes because my youngest daughter, Lyora Anaïs, was born in Miami, and they have always been one of her fondest memories of the city. I know they may seem frightening to some, but for me they are like homages to nature.” Beside the piano, some of Armelle’s very own creations, a selection of funky handbags, sit on a leather-upholstered seat. “The Rosebud brand is a new adventure for me,” she tells us. A story of friendship sits at the core of this fledgling label: a gift to one of Armelle’s dearest friends inspired this range of Parisian chic. And as each piece is uniquely designed, there is only one of each in the world. While you can find Rosebud in Paris and London, in Thailand it is available exclusively at the Emporium. Next, Armelle takes us through the sliding glass doors by the piano and out on to a spacious balcony that boasts a whimsical, tropical vibe. An entire wall of artificial green vines and ferns is offset by two faux antelope heads and a slim mirror framed by tortoise shells. And dangling majestically from the ceiling is a massive mobile made entirely of pearl shells.
Back inside, we stop in front of Chinese artist Liu Bolin’s artwork. Bolin, also known as The Chameleon Man, is widely known for his theatrical photographs featuring himself perfectly camouflaged amid real-world locations. But in this sculptural work, he showcases a parade of men in white covering each other’s eyes with their hands painted in red—the symbol of communism in China. Opposite this rather political artwork is a flamboyant dining area. A table comprised simply of a glass top on a beautiful wooden base sits surrounded by Philippe Starck chairs that the Cohens acquired from Kong restaurant in Paris.
Multicoloured glass balloon pendant lights by Chirtsak Phajitsattaya hang above the table. “Thai artists are interesting as they assimilate influences from surrounding titans such as India, China and Japan. But what sets them apart are their vibrant colours, sense of humour and delicate flair,” she says. On the left is a capacious kitchen—perhaps the most ordinary room in the suite. That said, little whims such as a French maid wearing neon pink specs (another wax figure), two African game heads with floral tiaras and small art pieces keep the theme quirky. On the right is Joël’s study, which is a curated fusion of yet more Philippe Starck, Edgar Degas paintings and works by a few young Thai talents. We walk through short hallway lined with photographs from a series by Laurent Elie Badessi entitled American Dream, This is Not a Dream. Each of the three doors opens to a children’s room; one of them is permanently occupied by Lyora Anaïs, who goes to Lycée Français International de Bangkok, while the others await the occasional visit by her siblings. We stop at the far end of the hall and make our way into the master bedroom. The walls and leather-upholstered bed are in black, while gold furnishings, such as a giant poodle sculpture and Starck’s gun-shaped bedside table lamp, lend dimension to the space. “We can recharge our batteries better in darker settings; therefore, this is our favourite room in the apartment. When I come here, I feel more at home and secure…and I think better,” she says. Bold portrait photographs of the Cohens taken by the French film director and artist Just Jaeckin line the walls. Each one seems to capture their personalities perfectly. Armelle tells us that they used to redecorate their apartment in Paris twice a year, and that it’s a tradition they are likely to continue here in Bangkok. “The place where you live reflects who you are. But sometimes your mood changes. So the simplest things, such as changing the colour of the walls, are very important to us, as it fuels our energy. Most of the time we keep them black, but we’ve painted them pink as well,” she says, laughing. The Cohens are going to make Bangkok their permanent home and are even planning to adopt a Thai child into the family. “Family is very important. And for us, taking care of a baby like our own is a way of thanking life,” she explains. Art scene aside, Armelle believes that Thailand is the perfect place to retire. “Thais are the most gentle and respectful people I’ve ever met. You have values that we now miss in Paris. I must say, when we go back to Paris, we miss this apartment. Thailand has become home for us.”