A hunt for an armchair. That’s what led to the founding of The Invisible Collection, a platform that puts hidden design icons, custom made by master craftsmen, within reach of even the most novice of collectors.
It wasn’t just any armchair, of course: the seat in question was the creation of a storied designer – and save hiring them to oversee the entire interior design project, there was no obvious way to acquire it until friends Anna Zaoui and Isabelle Dubern-Mallevays joined forces. It dawned on the duo that countless site-specific furnishings are created by interior designers for private projects, without ever being shared beyond those domains.
And so, in 2016, The Invisible Collection was born. Starting life as an e-commerce platform supplemented by pop-up exhibitions in Paris, Miami, Milan, London and New York, Anna and Isabelle began curating a selection of rare and refined objects from renowned designers, building an impressive roster that spans the likes of the Pierre Augustin Rose and Vincent Darré. It was also the platform chosen by Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey of design studio Campbell-Rey to launch their debut furniture collection.
Now, the platform’s virtual roots have given way to a physical presence, with a newly opened showroom on Huntsworth Mews in Marylebone. It’s a move that Anna believes “completes” the online concept. “Here, people can have that feeling of being at home: admiring the art on the walls, sitting on the sofa, touching the fabrics: it’s reassuring.”
Certainly, this is no glass-fronted gallery. Spread over three floors, the building has been transformed by architect Alexandre Danan, with a gallery that opens up the space and soaring double-height ceilings elongated by cabinetry that stretches from the ground to the first floor. It’s an impressive backdrop, matched with furniture and objects that are equally as eye-catching.
Bestselling pieces from the collection are layered alongside new designs. There’s an undulating Studioparisien panther sofa that mimics the curve of a big cat. Sitting opposite, Pierre Augustin Rose’s bold minotaure armchair is all dramatic silhouette and thick wool bouclette. Slender and streamlined giraffe chairs by Juliana Lima Vasconcellos are arranged around Francesco Balzano’s tactile swan dining table, wrought from breccia aurora marble, while scones and wall lights by Pierre Chareau adorn the walls.
Pieces can be customised to individual specifications – from the colours to the fabrics, finishes and dimensions – and on the first floor, there’s a materials library that serves as inspiration.
“The rearranging will never end,” laughs Anna when we visit the day before its launch. With a constant flow of new design blood joining the collection, the space will be updated to reflect that, she explains, adding that the showroom enables visitors to interact with the pieces and understand the level of craftsmanship involved.
“We like to create conversations between materials and colours, and between rooms,” she continues. The idea is to show the pieces in different contexts, to surprise people – and to surprise ourselves, too. By mixing pieces and moving them around it’s completely possible to change the feeling of the room. We want people to identify themselves and their space to what they’re seeing. You sit on a sofa, put your coffee cup on the table: you live with design. The relationship you have with objects and how you engage with them becomes personal.”
But it’s not just the furniture that catches the eye here; so does the artwork. The Invisible Collection has always been a place where creative design meets art; for Anna, a keen art collector and patron of the arts, the two are inseparable.
To celebrate the opening, curator Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre has curated an exhibition of works by three acclaimed French female artists, Valerie Bélin, Prune Nourry, and Eva Jospin. Entitled Her Way to Say It, the display spans large-format photographs, intricate cardboard and bronze sculptures and drawings, all of which explore themes of femininity, nature and fragility.
We like to create conversations between materials and colours, and between rooms. The idea is to show the pieces in different contexts, to surprise people – and to surprise ourselves, too.
- Anna Zaoui, Founder
For Anna, interiors, like art, are to be enjoyed. “You live in a space, you party in it – it’s a way of sharing. That’s why during Covid people realised their interiors were far more important than they thought because they had to be happy at home. When you don’t like your environment, you don’t live well.”
Having lived in London for 26 years, returning to the city after the pandemic was “like putting a flower back in water,” says Anna. “The freedom and creativity here is amazing.”
Wherever she is in the world, however, inspiration comes from seeing how people engage with The Invisible Collection’s pieces. “We learn a lot from our clients,” Anna says. “Someone will order a sofa in a particular finish we hadn’t considered before. You learn how they mix things; you learn from their vision. “There’s no limit to creativity,” she muses. “Design is another language. It’s infinite.”
The showroom can be found at 2-4 Huntsworth Mews, London NW1 6DD. Use the code DOMUS on The Invisible Collection website to enjoy a one-off 5% discount on any website purchase.