When I push open the stripped wooden doors into Mad Atelier, the owners – Italian architect Chantal Martinelli and her French husband Julien Desormeaux – are hidden behind a velvet curtain. They are unpacking a pile of deep-blue round boxes laden with Limoges porcelain, each piece of tableware decorated with hand-drawn illustrations of celebrated Parisians – from Yves Saint Laurent to Serge Gainsbourg, cigarette in hand. “They’re by a French label called Maison Fragile and we fell for them immediately,” says Desormeaux. “They are playful, poetic, crafty and sum up what we believe is the elegance of Mediterranean design.”
Which is what Mad Atelier is all about. The store, housed in a former pub in Hackney, east London, was launched in November 2017 as an extension of Martinelli’s architectural practice. “We were doing more and more projects where we sourced all the furnishings,” she explains, “so we decided to put our style out there as a shop.” Their style is the antithesis of the quiet, Nordic tones that proliferate in design stores: instead customers are struck by a joyful explosion of hot Mediterranean colour – from the neon‑pink and bright-yellow stools by Lorenzo Cereda (£375 each) to the electric-blue New York Suite sofa by Sergio Bicego, its hexagonal frame resting on slim steel legs (POA).
“We stock a few pieces by biggish brands like Petite Friture and Seletti – whose gold Mouse table lamp is one of our bestsellers – but discovering and nurturing smaller brands is really what we are about,” says Martinelli, pointing to the multi-hued pop-modernist verre églomisé mirrors by French brand Mimai Lazulite. Other under-the-radar names include Batabasta – specialists in madcap wallpaper designs such as Synchro Emerald (from £54 per sq m), a repeat print of moustachioed swimmers amid green waves – and Portuguese fabric weaver Burel Factory. “Its patterned wool blankets [£95-£160] are amazing,” says Desormeaux, “and they come with a lovely backstory. The factory in the mountain village of Manteigas had recently been closed when a woman bought a house nearby and decided to try to restart production. She called workers who’d been made redundant and refurbished the factory, and they have been weaving again since 2010, using the original machines.”
This kind of commitment to craftsmanship – and an architect’s eye for detail – underpins Martinelli and Desormeaux’s exuberant selection. Take the Kundalini Nami light by Alberto Saggia and Valerio Sommella (£1,250); it’s both a playful take on the commonplace strip light and a simply beautiful piece of textured glass – an example of the unusual yet refined aesthetic that draws a creative clientele. Customers include sculptor Daniel Silver and Experimental Group partner Xavier Padovani, whose stable of bars and hotels stretch from New York to Menorca – bringing an international aspect to this enticingly rethought London local.