SECRETCAPE is the Mayfair-based design and architecture firm that creates multi-million pound interiors for royals, billionaires and celebrities. Gina Baksa meets its founder and visionary CEO, Mathilde Allibe
As elegant and enigmatic as the Secretcape interiors she designs for her affluent clients, Secretcape’s leader is a woman with a mission. Born in the south of France, Mathilde spent a Bohemian childhood in Central Africa – where her surgeon father provided healthcare to local pygmies – followed by an equally free-spirited adolescence on Guadeloupe in the French West Indies.
It was Guadeloupe where Mathilde’s interior design skills were first recognised and at 19 she received her first commission to design the island’s airport VIP lounge. Private projects followed and she began to make a name for herself. Hailing from an entrepreneurial family (her grandfather designed the machine that prints bank notes), Mathilde was encouraged in her design career by her father who nurtured her obvious creative talent.
Yet she became tired of island life, “Everyone knows everyone else; it became claustrophobic,” she reveals. “I’m a very private person and I also needed to feed my brain and travel more, so I left.
“But I was lucky I had that kind of free-spirited background, since it means I can easily adapt to any situation and any environment.
“It grounded me and taught me to become independent. My father told me he always knew I would succeed.”
Many summers were spent with her grandparents in the South of France: “I still go there to recharge,” and although travel to clients in the US, Europe and the Middle East is now a constant, Secretcape’s roots are firmly in London’s Mayfair, the exclusive location of her head office that is home to a team of 20 designers, architects, project managers, finance and aftercare specialists.
“I like to give my team the chance to express themselves, so that they feel part of something bigger. We are like a family in a way,” she tells me.
Established in 2008, Secretcape’s client base is a discreet mix of affluent royals, celebrities, heiresses and entrepreneurs. Villas, apartments, yachts, luxury hotels and private jets have received the Secretcape stardust, combining luxurious architectural design elements with a sensual mix of textures and sophisticated bespoke craftsmanship.
“Most of our clients are regulars,” she tells me, remaining superbly discreet. “They begin with one property and soon I find I am working across their portfolio. And if they decide to sell, their profit can be as much as 30%.”
A self-confessed “perfectionist”, Mathilde oversees every detail of every project. From personalised towels and linens, to artwork, tableware, lavish linens and exquisite and state-of-the-art lighting and shading. The result is an ‘art of living’ residence that is not just aesthetically beautiful, but also a functional living home. A refined space that provides a beautiful entertaining environment, as well as a retreat from often hectic professional and private lives.
We’re chatting at one of Secretcape’s completed projects at 30 Pont Street in London’s exclusive Mayfair. This Grade II listed, six-storey, Queen Anne mansion was designed in 1889 by architect C W Stephens, who also built Harrods and Claridges. Behind the mansion’s impressive redbrick façade is the most beautiful transformation all carefully orchestrated under Mathilde’s expert eye.
Originally six separate flats on each floor, Mathilde’s brief from the property’s Middle Eastern owners was to transform the house into three fabulous apartments. It’s a listed building and with a budget of over £20 million, a considerable responsibility that has taken 2.5 years of careful redesign, from initial planning to the present day design spectacular.
The owners of 30 Pont Street are delighted with Secretcape’s majestic end result, but due to a change in family circumstances have now put the house up for sale. Each apartment is listed at over £7million and listed with Knight Frank Mayfair and Napier Watt.
From the impressive concierge area with its original dark wood panelling, marble flooring and bespoke lighting we take the elevator (each apartment has its own lift entrance) to the top of the house.
I’ve seen many beautiful interiors, in luxury private homes and high-end hotels, where the design is effortlessly cool but lacks heart. Mathilde’s vision on the other hand effortlessly blends warmth and sophistication, with delicate masculine and feminine touches. Bold dark wooden flooring is the perfect pairing for soft fabrics and a sensual mix of textures and colours. Vibrant art displayed on a neutral backdrop with red and gold colour accents, together with beautiful symmetry that creates calm and order without feeling contrived or controlled.
Soft velvet fabrics, warm rich taupe-coloured sofas, and artfully placed lamps and Secretcape finds from markets, as well as high-end brands, make for an interesting visual mix that’s playful as well as grown up.
The attention to detail is astonishing. Where does she source her pieces?
“My clients sent me to Marrakech to find one-of-a-kind items,” Mathilde explains. “For example, these pieces are marriage certificates written on cedar wood. I found a bundle of these in the souk.”
The stunning interiors at 30 Pont Street house the spirit of North Africa combined with a European relaxed sophistication. The French gray marble is cool and adds light to the spaces, while the velvet and cotton textures are warm and inviting. I want to move in.
The exquisite oak flooring has been black tinted, providing the perfect showcase for the bespoke furniture designed in-house at Secretcape. I notice intriguing design details, such as the font-inspired basins in the bathrooms. It would take more than a day to go round the house just taking in all the details.
Plush carpets you could sleep on, window boxes with fresh mint and rosemary, beautifully designed tableware… We look out from this magical eyrie to the beautiful terrace below with its fresh plantings and a specially made window (on the ceiling of the basement flat) that turns opaque at the touch of a remote.
Where does she get her inspiration?
“I love order and symmetry,” explains Mathilde. “And I love hospitality and receiving people. I love seeing people enjoying themselves and feeling good. These values are expressed in my design work.”
“I’m also meticulous – I cannot even leave my house in the morning if it’s not in order. So my clients can sense this when they get to know me.
“They can feel that I am giving myself fully for them. That I am fully committed to each project I work on. I am a perfectionist and very passionate about what I do.”
As we make our way down to the second and third apartments – ever more spectacular – the vibrant artwork on the walls catches my eye. Who’s the artist?
“Ah, yes she’s brilliant!” smiles Mathilde. “Sylvaine Ebb is from Lebanon and has a great spirit. Her work looks amazing in this house and I have commissioned her a lot.”
With 7 projects on the go, I ask her if she gets time to recharge. “I am probably a bit of a workaholic,” Mathilde admits. “It’s not easy for me to take time off but I love travel. That energises me.” Her favourite destinations? “I love the South of France and Porto Vechio, Puglia and Doha are also places I love visiting.”
Noticing an Hermès cushion on the bed, which are her favourite designers?
“Hermès, I love, yes – also St-Louis for their timeless quality. But I don’t always use brand names. I often visit markets for one-off pieces that can look beautiful too and complement high-quality fabrics and furniture.”
Looking back at her success, what advice would she give her 19-year-old self?
She smiles: “To believe in myself. Believe in my projects and ideas and to never ever give up!”
So what’s next for Secretcape? I get the feeling Mathilde’s motivation is not about the money.
“Not it’s definitely not,” she agrees. “I hate talking about money. I’d rather focus on creating great interiors and let my team deal with the accounts.
“For me, my motivation is to continue creating a career out of something I am most passionate about – interior design. To create beautiful homes for my clients and to express myself and my passion in the process.
“I want to be the Natalie Massenet (Net-A-Porter founder) of interior design!”
30 Pont Street for sale
The three Secretcape-designed apartments at 30 Pont Street are now for sale. Available as one lot or as separate apartments.
Listed with Knight Frank Mayfair. Call Stuart Bailey on 0207 881 7720 / 07789 956931
Listed with Napier Watt. Call Jonathan Adams on 0207 935 0011 / 07974 666634
SecretCape Interior Design
1 Down Street Mews
London W1J 7AU
Find out more via visiting www.secretcape.co.uk, phoning + 44 (0) 20 7499 7255 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.