Dorian Caffot de Fawes and Thomas Daviet moved to the UK from France in 2008. They had met in Bordeaux as students – Dorian was studying art history there and Thomas architecture. When an opportunity to work in the furniture department of Sotheby’s on New Bond Street, W1 came up, Dorian, then 21, proposed a move to London. Thomas, aged 25, agreed, and, on his first day in the country, landed a job working in the design studio of Christian Liaigre. Quite an auspicious start to a life in a new country for a couple at the beginnings of their careers. ‘I think that the UK in general – and London in particular – is wonderful at giving young people a chance,’ says Dorian.
It would be another seven years before the couple bought their first home, a two-bedroom flat in a Thirties block in Brixton. And they accomplished a great deal in the meantime. The economic downturn of 2008 meant Dorian’s stint at Sotheby’s was briefer than hoped, but he soon began working on the King’s Road, SW6, for the antique dealer Matthew Upham, who specialises in 18th-century lighting. ‘The beauty of the job was that I travelled with Matthew when he went to France on buying trips. It is the best way to learn – doing five or six trips a year. I learnt how to run a shop and deal with clients,’ says Dorian, who stayed there for seven years. Meanwhile Thomas also moved on, working first as a senior designer for Kelly Hoppen and then at State of Craft, another large design firm where he was involved in multimillion-pound projects for private clients of untold wealth.
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Between 2014 and 2015, they got married and bought the flat. Dorian – determined to have his own business before the age of 30 – also opened his shop on Lillie Road, SW6. He specialises in French antiques from the first part of the 20th century, with a smattering of Spanish and Scandinavian pieces from the same period. In the past few years, Thomas too, has gone out on his own – taking on projects from English country houses to Swiss villas.
When they first viewed the flat, it seemed blessed with little more than what the kindest among us would call ‘plenty of potential’. This was confirmed when Dorian and Thomas looked up old estate agents’ listings online and discovered that some flats in the building had appealing details. In particular, they noticed what looked like original parquet flooring. ‘When we visited the flat, Thomas discreetly lifted a corner of the carpet,’ Dorian recalls. ‘There was some wood underneath, but we didn’t find out how much or what condition it was in until we had moved in.’ The parquet turned out to be everywhere, including in the kitchen and bathroom. ‘We were so happy,’ he continues. ‘In a small flat like this, it is nice when the same floor continues throughout. It gives a better sense of spaciousness.’ When his parents visited from France, Thomas and his father refinished and stained the floor from a light honey colour to the deeper shade it is today.
In truth, it is a good building with well-proportioned rooms, wide windows and thick concrete walls. ‘Even the wi-fi struggles between rooms,’ Dorian says. As you would expect from an antique dealer’s home, the flat is filled with the types of pieces that could be sold in his shop: a French art deco cocktail cabinet from the Twenties; two Fifties armchairs by the Finnish designer Carl-Gustaf Hiort af Ornäs; an abstract painting by the French artist Suzanne Rodillon. And, in the early days of the business, he would often have to take items from the flat to fill up the shop if he had experienced a spike in sales. He and Thomas have since agreed not to do that any more, and Dorian now has two storage facilities around the city to ensure stock never runs short.
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Of course, this is a home of two creatives and Thomas’s input is equally noticeable. ‘After 14 years together, you develop a similar taste,’ Thomas says. His handiwork can be seen in the kitchen, where they replaced the original double-galley arrangement with simple units from Ikea, allowing space for a small breakfast table. Thomas then added stripes of bright yellow Japanese washi tape to the cabinets, creating what Dorian describes as ‘a little splash of sunshine’. The idea was inspired by the striped pool towels at Hotel Il Pellicano in the Tuscan seaside town of Porto Ercole. Until Covid came along, the couple would holiday there with friends every year. Tiny hand-cut squares of washi tape were also used to create the tile-effect frieze on the hallway walls.