With Fluted Details Galore, This Paris Pad Is as Chic as it Gets

House Design

Sarah Dray is an out-and-out Parisienne. The interior designer was born in the French capital and has lived in traditional Haussmannian apartments ever since she was a child. “The aesthetics of Parisian buildings fascinate me,” she says. “I’ve never seen anything quite so beautiful.”

Dray initially trained with two preeminent purveyors of French decorative taste. While in college, she interned in the offices of ELLE DECOR A-List Titan Jacques Garcia. She recalls seeing the iconic designer from afar and noting his bright red socks and green crocodile loafers. She later worked for Isabelle Stanislas, known for her revamping of three state rooms in the Élysée Palace. “It’s through her that I really discovered what I like,” Dray says. “I adopt a similar contemporary approach within classical settings.”

dining table with black base and marble top, eight black framed chairs with fabric seats, inset in wall with cabinets and open shelves with glassware, wine refrigerator, multiple alabaster ceiling lights, window

Stephan Julliard

Dray designed the dining room’s sculptural ceiling lights in alabaster. The dining table is custom, the chairs are by Gallotti&Radice, and the curtains are of a Dedar fabric.

Since founding her firm in 2010, Dray has worked largely under the radar, despite attracting several noteworthy clients. She renovated a townhouse for France’s answer to Stephen Colbert, talk show host Laurent Ruquier. Most of her work involves renovations of large-scale Parisian apartments, such as this 2,400-square-foot unit close to Parc Monceau and the Champs-Élysées.

kitchen with beige lower cabinets framed in marble, marble backsplash, open shelf with decorative objects, island with slatted side, pedestal table, wood chairs with circular boucle seats and backs, banquette

Stephan Julliard

In the kitchen, a table by Beije Avenue is framed by a custom leather and oak bench and Emmanuelle Simon chairs. The custom pendant is made of alabaster pendant and the island is in bronze and quartzite.

The owners—a doctor and her dentist husband with three young daughters—had been searching for the perfect space. The wife had already visited dozens of listings on her own. “My husband said that if I liked it, then he would automatically like it too,” she says. As fate would have it, they ended up checking out this one together. “On the day of the appointment, his alarm clock didn’t go off and he was at home,” she says. “I persuaded him to come with me.”

Stylistically, the couple shares Dray’s love of classic Parisian architecture. On a more practical level, they were attracted to the apartment’s proximity to their children’s schools. Still, it required a leap of faith to buy it. “The former owner had lived there for the entirety of his life, some 93 years,” Dray says. “Nothing was up to code.” There were squat toilets and stains from successive water leakages. As for the electrics, she notes, they were “un drama.”

In total, it took 18 months to get everything in shape. Dray largely reconfigured the layout, extending the kitchen by enclosing a light well and creating a series of spacious openings in the public rooms. She also reinstated a host of architectural details. She loves strong axes and perfect alignments, cornices and moldings that frame and structure spaces, and vertical elements that add a strict sense of rhythm. She has a particular predilection for fluting on walls. “It adds a sumptuous yet subtle detail and a very bespoke touch,” she notes.

“The former owner had lived there for some 93 years. Nothing was up to code.” —Sarah Dray

Her clients asked for a gentle palette. Although the wife was the main go-to for design decisions, the husband had one surprising request: a pink primary bathroom. Dray responded by pairing an expressively veined blush-toned onyx with a beautifully textural travertine.

Elsewhere, she shook things up with a few equally dramatic gestures. The large sitting room is dominated by a vintage sofa from de Sede, measuring 13 feet and consisting of 21 different modules. “It has incredible character,” Dray says. “For me, it’s like a piece of art.”

a bed with upholstered curved headboard and frame with brown and peach bedding, marble nightstands with lamps, grooved wall treatment, suspended pendants, curtained windows to a small terrace

Stephan Julliard

In the primary bedroom, the custom headboard is upholstered in a Dedar fabric, the bedding is by Lissoy, and the curtains are of a Dedar fabric. The side table and rug are custom, the lamp is by Denis Castaing, and the wall treatment is by Signature Murale.

On the dining room ceiling, she installed custom light fixtures made from one of her favorite materials—alabaster. “There are dozens of them to create the impression of a starlit sky,” she says.

In each of the girls’ rooms, meanwhile, she managed to incorporate their own bathroom. “That way, they can each have their independence,” he explains. The eldest daughter had a very particular wish—an eye-catching mirror she could use as a backdrop for Instagram posts. Dray came up with a wavy design that she sees as a nod to Ettore Sottsass’s iconic Ultrafragola model.

bathroom with pink marble floor and sink top, bathtub with grooved slats on exterior, cylindrical side table or stool, mirrored wall, sinks inset into arched wall, grooved lower cabinets

Stephan Julliard

The vanity top and floor in pink onyx are from Marbrerie de l’Emperador. The mirror and travertine tub are custom, the side table is by Daniel Berlin, and the fittings are by Gessi.

A version of that design will be part of her debut furniture collection, due to launch on her website this fall. After years of plowing a very personal path, it would seem Dray is finally ready to step into the limelight. “It’s hard for me to explain how I got to where I am today,” she says. “It’s like everything happened quite naturally.” One reason may be her very upbeat approach to her profession. “I always stay extremely positive,” she says. “Some people feel like the world is about to end whenever there’s the slightest difficulty with a project. For me, there’s always a solution to every problem.”

may 2024 cover elle decor

This story originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE