Olivier Bec and Syra Schenk live in the heart of Paris, near the opera house, in a welcoming apartment which is both their home and office, and is beautifully furnished with pieces from renowned designers. It’s not surprising as Olivier, founder of Uber Modern, himself furnishes the interiors of his prestigious clients with designer furniture.
Syra: My name is Syra. I come from Zurich and have been living in Paris for 14 years. I set up an agency seven years ago, which helps young accessory and prêt-à-porter creators in the luxury sector to develop their brand.
Olivier: I’m from Grenoble originally, and I’ve been living in Paris for 14 years too. 10 years ago, I created Uber Modern, a furniture showroom for home and professional interiors, which sells pieces by Swiss, Italian or Scandinavian designers.
Olivier: A lot of people who work in designer furniture distribution started out in the interior design sector before moving into the sales sector. It was different for me, as I attended a business school, which is much more down to earth! One of my childhood friends became an architect and the more I saw him, the more I was drawn in that direction. I never wanted to be an architect, but I was very keen on graphic design, design in general, furniture design – the whole ecosystem fascinated me. When I came to Paris, I decorated and furnished my apartment myself, and as I didn’t have much money, I started hunting for things and subscribed to interior design magazines.
At the beginning, it was just one of my interests, and the first job I had when I came to Paris was at Xerox, so nothing to do with design! But while I was working at Xerox, I met the founder of Meubles et Fonction, one of Paris’s long-standing interior design establishments. I learnt that they were looking for someone to manage architect specifications and within a fortnight, I was working for them! I stayed there two years.
Syra: I initially trained as a lawyer, and I was working in Switzerland, in international arbitration. After two years, I realised that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. So, I came to Paris to do a Master’s in fashion management at the Institut Français de la Mode fashion school. After that, I worked three years at L’Oréal, which taught me a lot. It was hard but very instructive. I acquired the expertise and working methods I still use today. I then worked for the designer Christophe Lemaire, to help him relaunch his fashion brand. I stayed there for three years and, encouraged by Olivier as well as friends and family, I then struck out on my own.
Olivier: Some of my peers have one store and specialise in home interiors, whereas others are more focused on office spaces and large projects. At Uber Modern, we fall somewhere between the two, and tend to work on office projects for lawyers’ practices, solicitor’s, luxury brands, fashion brands, etc. With this type of project, the decision-making process can be quite intense. We often find that when someone makes a purchase for their work space, they take pleasure in it and take it to heart. We highlight the product features more and go into extra detail to draw attention to the aesthetics. There’s a stark difference between our approach and a call for tenders for three office floors with MDF furniture!
Olivier: Yes, but I guess the trend has just spread faster rather than there being any real change. Because of lock down, people who were probably already used to working from home decided that it was time to set up a proper, well-designed desk, choose a good office chair and indulge themselves a bit.
Olivier: We have been here seven years now. The initial idea was to have a place where everything would fit: an office space for meeting with clients and a living space at the rear of the apartment. That’s also why we decided to settle here on Boulevard des Italiens, which is a central location. The district doesn’t really come across as being residential, but the Jardin des Tuileries is just two streets away and we love going there with our three-year-old son.
Olivier: Rather eclectic, with a lot of rooms, we like in and of themselves. For example, I like chairs, and when I see one that I like, I never ask myself if it will go with another chair.
Syra: Yes, we like being spontaneous and adding something because it took our fancy. And truth be told, none of our chairs are the same, which doesn't bother me at all. I actually like and admire the variety we have. I find it a bit boring when everything is always matching.
Olivier: When I was working for Meubles et Fonction. I was taken by USM furniture straight away. In my job, I talk a lot with my clients, and USM is a real bonus as there’s always lots to tell. The furniture offers lots of hidden details, a variety of options, different sizes and so on.
Syra: Being Swiss, I was very familiar with USM, to the point of always associating it with work as I had USM furniture in my office in Switzerland – I’d be surprised if there was an office without USM furniture over there! I had difficulty imagining life without USM, because it’s so practical. It is so versatile that it’s easy to make it your own. That's what's great about it: you can do what you want with it.
Olivier: Yes, and it was our first choice for our son, Vadim, with his toy box on wheels, for example. It’s ideal for keeping a rein on the clutter in the living room, and great for us parents to look at!
Olivier: Exactly. With a plastic toy box, as a parent, you get the impression you’ve given up, whereas with a USM toy box, you can pretend you’re still in control of your life – I’m not being run off my feet by my child, everything is under control! (Laughter)
I had difficulty imagining life without USM, because it’s so practical. It is so versatile that it’s easy to make it your own. That what's great about it: you can do what you want with it.
Olivier: Totally! Some of our USM furniture has many tales to tell already! The piece in the living room alone has changed shape several times as we moved from one flat to another, and then another. The modular design is a real asset. I say the same things to my clients at Uber Modern. Regardless of whether you’re talking about an office or an apartment, or a place you rent or own, one day you might have to move and reorganise all your furniture as a result.
As soon as a client mentions storage, USM springs to mind. Even people who are not necessarily design enthusiasts can be attracted to the system’s practical and intelligent design. We often see this when decisions are made for offices shared by several associates, or a couple. Sometimes, only one person is familiar with and likes USM, but once the furniture is installed, suddenly, practically everyone likes it!
Olivier: I love to go motor racing when I can.
Syra: Before Vadim was born, we took part in races together, driving on the same racetrack. But now I like to spend time making my own jewellery and clothes.
Olivier: We also spend quite a lot of time at our second home in Ibiza, which we’ve had for six years now. One day, we got back from a holiday there and I started looking at real estate ads. I came across a house designed in 1971 by Bauhaus architect Erwin Broner. We bought it, renovated it and love spending time there now. I can easily work from home, and Ibiza is ideal for that: it’s only two hours away by plane, there’s no time difference and it has good internet access. I’ve set up a desk there, with a lovely north-westerly view over the forest. It went without saying that we had to have a room furnished with USM, to match the cubic architecture of the house. I like thinking that the system follows us wherever we are!
Ibiza Photo © Olivier Bec
Many thanks to Olivier Bec and Syra Schenk for their hospitality and our fascinating discussion.
If you want to purchase a USM Haller piece yourself design it now in our online configurator, or find a quick-ship selection of curated USM pieces in our online shop, or find your local sales partner here. Or visit our USM showroom in London.
Photographs : Alexandre Moulard