In the film “Coco and Igor,” which depicts the rumored romance between French couturier Coco Chanel and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, the couple consummate their passion amid the black-and-white interiors of Chanel’s house in the outskirts of Paris.
That film’s production design must have inspired the home of French photographer Romain Rivierre and his Filipino wife, artist Tanya Escaler.
With their two sons—Rock, 2, and Kato, three months old—they make their home a melding of Eastern and Western cultures.
When Romain first came to the Philippines in 2009, he was drawn to the friendliness of the people and to the sights.
He returned in December to document for Paris Match magazine a story on the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) sector, and the Commission on Elections’ refusal to let them participate in the presidential elections. “I wanted to show that they don’t have civil rights, yet they are accepted by society. It’s a strange contrast,” recalls Romain.
He attended a party in the apartment of culture activist and performing artist Carlos Celdran, where Tanya was a guest. Romain was captivated by her Oriental looks. They dated, and sealed their friendship with a kiss on Christmas Day.
When Tanya took up a short arts course in Sydney, Romain would send her SMS messages like a Pinoy. After six months, he took her to Paris to introduce her to his family.
On one of their strolls, Tanya was amazed by the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower, an 81-story wonder. Romain surprised her by taking her to the top and proposing marriage to her there. It didn’t matter that courtship in that landmark was considered a cliché for a Frenchman.
They were married in their first rented house in Palm Village, Makati, on Dec. 25, 2010, the anniversary of their first kiss. That house, too, had black-and-white interiors, much like the movie “Coco and Igor,” which the groom first watched in France.
When their son Rock was born, the Rivierres moved to a four-bedroom home in Makati, where they kept the black-and-white theme.
Rock ’n’ roll
“I have always loved art and design, says Tanya. “They come naturally to me, and I have a style all my own. I am fascinated with the artistry, detail and simplicity of black and black, and white on white, when it comes to accent pieces and furniture for the home. The only colors in our home are in the circus-theme nursery, a play of gray and yellow inspired by a crocheted sweater that Romain’s mother made for him when he was born. It hangs in the room.”
The furniture and accessories are a mix of old and new. Tanya points out: “I designed the crib in the nursery, the black couch, the lounge, and the white mirror. Some pieces have been with me for years, like the coffee table, dining table, studio day bed. There are pieces picked up from our travels, like the angel wing dish from the streets of Hong Kong and the black skull from Lille, France, and the Fornasetti plates, a gift of Romain from Paris, and souvenirs from exhibits on the art wall.”
Graphic letters sourced from Binondo are also decorative elements. “Eat me, drink me” letter blocks are quoted from Rock’s favorite book, “Alice in Wonderland.” The letters in “rock ’n’ roll” adorn the shelf.
Tanya wisely chooses to invest in new pieces, most of them designer classics from Dimensione. She keeps a corner decked with the Neo-Baroque armchair by designer Alessandro Mendini, juxtaposed against a black electric fan from Ace Hardware for a quirky touch.
By the window, little Rock has the white duck chair, while Romain lulls Kato to sleep while sitting on a rocking chair. Both chairs were designed by Ron Arad. For a French twist, black chandeliers are found in the dining room and dressing room.
The family is surrounded by books and artworks that are treated like treasures. The coffee table is stacked with books on art, music and photography.
“The children have their own coffee-table books as well on kaleidoscope colors and shapes,” says Tanya. “The children are the biggest part of our lives, so they are also a big part of the home, with their very own playground in the living space. Even their toys are beautiful accent pieces, from Janod and Plan wooden toys to tin pieces from Paris set in black-and-white wooden blocks from Cirque de Rock, the theme of Rock’s first birthday party.”
Their choice pieces are very personal: Tanya’s portraits and sketches of Romain, naturally; photographs by Romain’s friend, photographer Philippe Salaun, and mentor François Counert; and souvenirs from museums, such as Helmut Newton’s perspective photograph of a road, and works by Andy Warhol, Modigliani and Yves Saint Laurent.
Romaine and Tanya are like two peas in a pod. Tanya does styling and art directing, while Romain sets the images. Their creative online outlet is RR Magazine, which consists of Tanya’s writings and Romain’s photographs. “It features radical art and music, rage fashion and style, rave events and places, raw images and photography, real people and subjects,” says Tanya.
However, the magazine was sidelined when Tanya got pregnant with Kato and Romain got busy with more projects. “We will, one day, work on it again, and we plan to do other artistic projects together as well,” says Tanya.
They run the household more like Westerners—sans nannies. “We believe that a lot of the values are lost when a child is put in the care of a nanny, and that some nannies disable children more than enable them,” says Tanya.
She adds that they chose to be hands-on with their children. “We are happier that way. I love being with my baby boys, whether it be cuddling in bed or running around in the park. It can get tiring doing everything, but I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with them.
Tanya says that she and Romain “spoke with, not to” the babies from the day they were born because they believe “babies understand.”
The kids enjoy the freedom to make choices and to make mistakes and learn from them. They are given “alone time” for imagination and space to explore. They can get dirty and make a mess.
“Rock can speak and understand English and French,” says Tanya. “He also knows baby sign language. He can feed himself. He knows what he likes and doesn’t like, and he chooses his own outfits to wear. When he is done playing with something, he puts it back in its place.”
Romain takes Rock to the park every morning or at the children’s play area on Bonifacio High Street. At home, he reads to his sons in French. “I like to share the movies in my life like ‘The King and The Bird,’ by (French animator) Paul Grimault,” says Romain.
He adds that his family taught him to ask questions, to analyze and be discerning of the information disseminated by media. He hopes that an intellectual environment could be instilled at home.
“I can’t define what’s French in this household. Maybe it’s the ambience, the music, the books and the art,” says Romain. “French people want to sustain themselves with good food, good books, good company, and live in a good place.”