Stephane Sensey – interior designer, photographer – talks to Rosie Andres about life, art and living the dream.
Stephane, how did you end up in Bali?
I came for the first time in 2004 just for a vacation. When I got home to France. I decided quickly that I wanted to move here. I was fascinated with the life and the simple beauty of Bali. In many ways it’s like Bali found me. Moving just felt natural.
So you’ve been here for quite a while … how was it back then compared to now?
I started working in a small office space on Oberoi Street before the strip became what it is today. Before all the shops and luxurious hotels appeared there were only rice fields around in every direction. And now it’s like Oberoi Street has become the Champs Ellysée of Bali.
Can you tell us how you came to start your own interior design brand?
I guess the fact that my father is an interior designer – and started the first Sensey showroom in 1969 – has had a huge influence on me. I always followed him everywhere, learning by doing. Every summer I’d be chasing my father’s heels around to shows and fairs in Paris, and to the factory, taking in as much as I could.
What makes your line of interior design stand out?
We produce and export furniture, art, lighting and accessories in classic French style, mainly from the Louis XV and Louis XVI era, using textures and textiles with patterns and luxurious vintage designs. And then I give it my own touch. It stands out because it’s unique and totally different from what anyone else is doing, especially here in Bali where it’s mostly about copying. We are focused on quality and innovative designs, the concept being to add to the interior of a space in a stylish and elegant manner.
Where do you take your inspiration from?
Everywhere. Life … in simple and beautiful ways. There is so much to see – colours, things happening. Compared to the stressful life back home, Bali is such a refreshing environment to be in. I don’t think I could ever feel not inspired … because there is so much going on.
The thing is, when you live in Bali, I think your daily life is easier … it’s supposed to be easier. So I can understand that you can’t find inspiration when you live in a city, which destroys everything. Everywhere I go I see something and I don’t have to go looking for it. It just comes naturally.
If you ever did feel uninspired, how would you pull yourself out of it?
Concerning my work, I have a certain style. And I always follow my style.
And what do you do when you’re bored?
You know, I’m pretty busy. I have three warehouses and one shop and we’ve got a lot going on so I don’t have time to get bored.
Describe your style in five words.
Elegant. Simple. Sober. Refined. Unique.
What is your educational background?
I went to school in Seattle, but didn’t really like it. A friend of mine who I’d holidayed with in Spain the previous year – taking snapshots all around the countryside with a not-very-good camera – invited me to come visit him in San Francisco and I decided I wanted to move there. I phoned my parents and told them I wanted to move to S.F. and take photography classes, and so I did. When it comes to interior design, the base of my knowledge and my taste comes from my father and the fact that my mother was an impressionist painter also had its effect.
So you paint too?
I used to, but I’m not doing so right now. I just don’t have the time to involve myself in painting like I’d love to do, but one day … I’m more focused on the interior design and I really enjoy photography, which is my passion and pastime. The furniture and interior design is more commercial and the photography is personal. My goal with taking photos is to create an emotion, a reaction from the viewer. To share my feelings by capturing the essence of a moment and portraying what I see.
When did your journey as a photographer begin?
After I took the photography classes in San Francisco, but it was more of a hobby up until the year before I moved to Bali. The real passion for photography came when I was involved in creating a book on my hometown, Biarritz. As the editorial director overseeing the project – which took almost a year – I had to pick and organise and learn what makes a good photograph. Ultimately I learnt that the most important thing to focus on as a photographer is the background.
And what is your style of photography?
Natural spontaneous scenarios. Everywhere I go I always take my camera with me. I love black and white. Probably 90 per cent of my work is black and white. “Colour is the reality, black and white is the truth” – I think these words are from Henri Cartier-Bresson? I love being the director of my own art work. It gives freedom to my style, whether that is in interior design or in photography. Using colours, dealing with people and the atmosphere all come together to define the details that finally give value to the whole concept.
Have you exhibited your work outside of Bali?
I’ve had several exhibitions here, but also in Kazakhstan. And I have some more projects still in the negotiation stage. The last few years, I’ve been travelling a lot. I’ve been to Cambodia, India, America, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Europe. It’s what I like to do to escape my daily life and work.
I heard rumours that you DJ as well?
I only DJ once a year but I love it. I love music and enjoy listening to it but I’ve never been interested in creating music myself.
So, besides having three warehouses and one shop, what are your plans for expansion in the future?
We have 10 projects in the making. Being in Bali is the perfect place for meeting people and networking. It is like a fair and so many people from all over the world come here to buy and produce furniture. But we are working on expanding and opening up new shops.