AJIRI AKI : MADAME DE LA MAISON
The first time I looked at Ajiri's Instagram I wanted to get married again, or at least find a way to be invited to some of the magnificent diner parties she art directs. I am not sure how to define what she does, but it involves a passion for antiquing, having the eye for the perfect piece of vintage dinerware, rent and sell the beautiful collection of the antiques she gathers, create her own line of linens and art direct stunning table compositions all in addition to being a mommy extraordinaire!
Ajiri's divine table arrangement on a casual week-end with friends!
You have lived in multiple countries, I read somewhere how you ended up moving to France a few years ago. Can you tell me a little bit about it, it is so beautiful!
Well the short version is that I was living in Brooklyn for almost 11 years after university in Texas, than I had a short stint in Paris to write my master’s thesis for grad school. After I finished my masters, and was back in Brooklyn, on a job in New York I met my Swiss-German husband, who lived in Paris, and we dated back and forth until we got married and I followed him back to Paris.
Can you point out a few things you really appreciate in France? And a few things you miss from America?
I have to say the thing I appreciate the most in Paris is that it feels like slow life in the big city. People here are more concerned with long leisurely meals and holiday plans than boastful conversations about work or money. I used to say that I missed little luxuries of convenience in New York like take-out, an abundance of yellow cabs, and the energy of the city, but now Paris has Deliveroo, Uber, and I honestly have come to find New York City’s pace of life exhausting. I also really love how easy and accessible travel is here. You can hop on the train or a cheap flight and go anywhere.
Ajiri is wearing The Ella
You are very entrepreneurial, can you tell us a little about your experiences?
I am 38 years old and haven’t worked for anyone but myself as a freelancer or entrepreneur since I was fired from a job at a magazine when I was 24 years old. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I am someone who feels a bit brave about taking risks and chances. But with that comes many upsets, failures, and mistakes. I just don’t let that stop me. You don’t get anywhere standing in the same place. I take all those mistakes and learn from all my lessons about how I can do things better the next time.
You have recently started a real inspiring business, Madame de la Maison. How would you describe your work and what influences you?
I am absolutely in love with my new business, Madame de la Maison, and every day is such a joy. I started it in January after about 7 months of behind-the-scenes planning. My company is a linen and antique sales and rental business. However it is so multi-dimensional. I get to create my own collection of linens, work on photoshoots, prop styling for brands, and recently sourcing antiques for hotels and restaurants. I also rent my linens and antiques for private events and weddings. For me, the inspiration is all around me. In grad school I studied the decorative arts so I am truly inspired by getting lost in history books and really just living in France. This country is full of culture, history, and beauty. This inspires me daily. I especially love driving around the French countryside where the most simple and beautiful things get me all giddy.
How do you find all the tableware for your business? Do you go to flea markets all the time? Or estate sales? Are you looking for some very specific things?
I go to flea markets almost every single weekend, auctions, and occasionally I get phone calls and emails from people looking to sell if they are downsizing an elderly relative’s home. There really aren’t specific things that I look for other than just learning over time what sells and works well for rentals. In the end I buy what I love and wish I could keep in my own home. I do tend to be drawn to florals, beveled crystal, Art Deco and Art Nouveau objects, copper anything, blue and white porcelain, and of course green and white porcelain which is quite rare.
Your tables are really wonderful, do you have an inspiration when you start, do you have a plan, or the inspiration comes along as you work? Can you tell me a little about the process?
Sometimes I start with an inspiration and will roughly sketch out what I want to do based on the client’s requests. But sometimes it all comes together in my head after I have soaked up lots of images or flipped through books, and then the inspiration comes along as I work. My process is a combination of image research, listening to music, sitting on my terrace and staring at the street, then playing with things on my own table.
Ajiri wearing The Grace and Noomi wearing The Anais
You have two young children and just launched Madame de la maison. How do you balance both the kids and the business?
This question makes me laugh because women always think I am doing something so amazing to “balance” because I am all over the place and seem to be doing so much. The truth is that some days it all works wonderfully when they go off to school and I have all day to do what I need to do. Other days it is a total zoo especially since my husband travels a lot for work!! I once had to drag both of them to a flea market by carrying the toddler on my back and giving the 5-year-old money and a job to find treasures for me. It worked for a while until she decided she was too hot and wanted to sit down while the younger one kept pulling my hair and earrings just for laughs. I have also had to drag my 2-year-old to the flower market with me at 5am in his pyjamas and carrying him on my back. I have sat in their room on my computer responding to emails while they throw toys at me. Sometimes it works and sometimes sh*t gets crazy. However I am truly lucky to have babysitters that I can call and some wonderful expat mom friends here that have taken my children overnight from time to time when I needed help and my husband was out of town. (He was working in Vietnam for 6 months while I was trying to plan out this business!) There is no such thing in my opinion as balance when you are a working mother. It is all about managing the best you can from day to day.
What is your passion these days?
My passion right now is Madame de la Maison and it doesn’t feel like work to me. I loved trolling flea markets before I started this and entertaining is in my blood. But I have also become obsessed with learning to play tennis, which I have managed to squeeze into my life weekly.
What do you like the most in what you do?
I love that every day is very different from the next and full of surprises. I get emails and calls with new proposals for different types of events or someone needing me to source something. And I can be having lunch and get a notification on someone purchasing something special in the shop, which brings me joy when the objects find new homes. Or I might decided to shoot new products with my assistant, so we go buy flowers and food and style corners of my apartment or head to another friend’s place to shoot. Seriously every day I wake up I truly have no idea what is in store.
Any future project you would like to share?
I am planning a retreat for next year for those who love entertaining and bringing joy to others but also teaching people how to take care of themselves. You have to remember to bring joy to yourself before you do so for others.
Oh! I need to get posted on that!
With friends at a manoir from airbnb
Where did you recently travel? Do you have some recommendations?
We rounded up a few parents from my daughter’s school who we have become close to and rented a manoir in Veules-les-Roses, Normandy, for a wild weekend together. Veules-les-Roses is a cute little picturesque town two hours from Paris on the sea. It has everything you could hope for in a weekend getaway: a pool on the beach, playgrounds, breathtaking clay cliffs, cute little streets with doors and windows dripping with flowers and vines.
We chose a manoir from Airbnb so we could spread out, cook and feel more relaxed with all the children. However there are many cute hotels in town such as the Relais Hotelier Douce France that has a darling courtyard and tea salon.
Le Victor Hugo for the amazing view, Les Galets for a great menu, and Comme à la Maison for space and feeling at home.
There are lots of great little shops in the center of town.
The best thing about this cute little town is that it’s all about enjoying slow life and its beauty. We walked through town, popped in and out of cute little shops, visited Les Serres du Val (plant nursery), and followed a walking trail up one of the cliffs. Of course one of the big draws for the children was the giant playground and pool on the beach. If you are staying longer than a weekend there are also sea activities and classes for catamaran , kayak, and paddle board lovers.
Ajiri wearing The Daphne
Who is your favorite artist? Right now it’s Allison Blumenthal because I love her abstract use of color.
4 must have you pack for your vacation? Travel candle, La Roche Posey Eau Thermal, Belief Aqua Bomb, and my Kindle.
Are you listening to music when you work? Yes especially when I am shooting objects. Right now I am obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack and Francis Starlight.
Favorite Leila Ligougne dress or top? The Daphne for sure because it is so breezy and easy. And of course the Anais for my little lady.
One piece or bikini? Totally a one piece.
Your happy place? Laying in a hammock reading a book on vacation.
Prized possession? The silver Jamaican bangles I wear on my left wrist that my mother wore for 20 years and gave to me a month before she died.
Dream vacation? I am currently dreaming about a trip to the San Luis resort in Italy. It seems like pure peace and tranquility.
One adjective to describe yourself? Resilient.
Favorite charity? Project Paz, which is an organization that helps youth in Mexico and was founded by some of my friends. I love Mexico and watching people that I know personally give everything to help Mexicans in every way they can. I also appreciate knowing exactly where the money goes as well as the heart and integrity that goes into this organization.
Secret about yourself? I am obsessed with maps and love to just stare at them and look at distances between places. Another secret is that even though I tell my husband I cannot stand traveling to Switzerland because it is so boring, I secretly find it a really pretty and a peaceful place to visit.
Secret getaway? I don’t have the perfect secret getaway just yet but I’m working on it. However I am a big believer in a momcation so anywhere you can go alone or with a few girlfriends to chill is the best getaway.
Most traveled location? The South of France. I love it and will never tire of travels to Provence or the Cote d’Azur.
If you were a food? Do I have to be one? Can I be a genre of food? I could eat Asian food (Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Cambodian, and Japanese) every day of my life and never get bored.
Favorite soundtrack? Hamilton!!! I have played it out so much and when I finally get to see the show anyone sitting next to me will hate me.
Beauty secret? Lotion. Lots and lots of lotion. I have to keep my skin moisturized.
Ajiri is wearing The Ella