Carole Decombe

Photo by Olivia Fougeirol

“The creative process is a long process nourished by studies, readings, curiosity, conversations, silence, emptiness.”

Carole Decombe is a gallerist based between Los Angeles and Paris. Her gallery, which has two locations in Los Angeles and Paris, specializes in fine furniture, objets d’art primarily from Scandinavia, and contemporary decorative art. Decombe studied art history at the Ecole du Louvre and began her career as a buyer for an antique dealer in Paris. Her passion for art and rare items led her to open Galerie Carole Decombe in 2007. Decombe’s gallery has been recognized by the industry’s biggest interior designers and design magazines like the LA Times, Los Angeles Confidential, and Architectural Digest. 

In this interview, Carole Decombe shares who has influenced her design philosophy the most, the key to cultivating her prestigious client base, and why she chose Los Angeles for her gallery's second location.

TGL: How was your childhood?

CD: I had a very present mother and an absent father. My parents did not live together, but my father had an apartment above us. My father worked in the film industry and had a bad temper, so my mother was my father and my mother. My mother was the daughter of Portuguese immigrants, and my studies were very important to her. I learned how to play the piano, draw, swim, and horseback ride. 

TGL: When did your relationship with art start? 

CD: My relationship with literature and theater started early, art history came later, after my baccalaureate. I always loved history, history of religions, history of arts, but initially, I wanted to be a pharmacist. I decided to pursue a shorter program, because I wanted to leave my parents’ house and be independent more quickly, so I got my tourism diploma at Bessiere. That is where I really discovered art history. I started to work with american tourists, and then I went to Ecole du Louvre in Paris. 

TGL: When did you know you wanted to become a gallerist?

CD: I loved studying Art History. At first, I thought I would work in a museum or as an auctioneer. While I was studying in Paris, I began working for a famous Parisian antiquarian. I was a buyer, so I went to Hôtel Drouot every day and held the antique objects in my hands. I held a Watteau painting. You only have one day to look, and then the next day you have one hour to purchase it. I knew what to buy instantly. I caught the hunting addiction. It unconsciously started there, isn’t discovering rare objects and talents the core of a galerist work?

TGL: When did you visit Los Angeles for the first time?

CD: I came to Los Angeles for the first time in 1987, because my boyfriend, who then became my husband, was getting his masters degree in Law at UCLA. The gallery I worked with in Paris agreed I could leave for one year. In Los Angeles, I reached out to Tommy Perse at Maxfield on Melrose and started working there as cashier. It was a great experience learning how to sell and create repeat clients.

TGL: When did you open your first gallery?

CD: In 2007, I opened a gallery in Garches, and then in 2011, I opened a gallery in Paris.

TGL: Who influenced your design philosophy the most?

CD: I was influenced by my education and my father, who was a film producer so beauty was often a topic of conversation. Among the designers who influenced me are François Catroux’s vision and Jacques Grange’s taste for eclecticism and talent for designing an interior around art. I respect the long process of creativity, I respect the artisans, and I am interested in collaboration even though I often follow my intuition.

TGL: Your father was a film producer, and you have a cinematic way of creating an atmosphere in your gallery. Do you watch a lot of movies?

CD: I am passionate about Luchino Visconti. Today, directors such as Luca Guadagnino or Sofia Coppola demonstrate a real talent for decor. I confess I would have loved to be a decorator for movies or theater.

TGL: You are known in the design world for your taste in the artists you represent. What criteria make you choose an artist and a design piece?

CD: I have been lucky. The group of artists I represent came to me, and it was love at first sight for all of them. They all share a real taste for rigor, authenticity, balance, proportion, simplicity, and excellence. The creative process is a long process nourished by studies, readings, curiosity, conversations, silence, emptiness. I respect those times, and I have never been disappointed. 

TGL: You work with women artists a lot. What draws you to women artists?

CD: I have a desire to promote works by women artists, because women artists' careers are more difficult, so they need more support. I also work with women photographers like Diana Lui.

TGL: When did you open your gallery in Los Angeles?

CD: In 2016, I opened a gallery on Melrose, and then one in my home in Pacific Palisades. The house is modernist, so it fits the furniture I am presenting. I would like this house to become a residency. I am currently developing projects with Manuela Paul Cavalier.

TGL: Why did you choose Los Angeles as the second location for your gallery?

CD: I chose Los Angeles, because I lived there in 1987 and loved its way of life and state of mind. From my Parisian gallery, I reached an American clientele mostly from New York. I wanted to reach an even wider one, so I decided to come back to the west coast and try my luck in this exciting place.

TGL: In just a few years, you created a prestigious client base with interior designers and personalities such Kelly Wearstler, Joan Behnke, Pierre Yovanovitch, Peter Marino, Juan Montoya, Melissa Partridge, Clements design, and the Archer. What is your secret?

CD: My secret is the talent of the artists I exhibit, and the way I enlighten their work with selected Scandinavian rare pieces of furniture and objets d’art.

TGL: What are your favorite places in Los Angeles? 

CD: I rent a beach house in the Palisades with an amazing view of the ocean, and yes, I dare to say it is one of my favorite places. I feel like I am standing on top of the world: I can see the sky, the ocean, the shore line, the cars whizzing by on PCH to Malibu or Santa Monica, green hills, and magnificent trees.

Los Angeles is a surprising city with so many hidden neighborhoods. I work in West Hollywood, but what a joy it is to drive and discover Los Feliz, Griffith Park, Venice, Santa Monica, Echo Park.

TGL: You have a home in the south of France that you designed. Could you explain different choices you made?

CD: Our house in Luberon was an 18th century magnanerie. Cattle were still living in the buildings when we bought the “Mas.” Our goal was to keep the soul of the “Mas” simple and sophisticated with genuine materials from the 18th century to adorn the contemporary distribution of the rooms. We created as few steps as possible to create an easy circulation and give the space more height, because the ceilings were low. We also wanted to let the light inside by creating many openings, so we could enjoy the beautiful garden landscaped by Michel Semini and the foothills of the Luberon.

TGL: Who would you like to have dinner with that you don’t already know?

CD: Chef Thierry Marx, because I am sure the food would be amazing, and I admire that he is a chef etoilé and engaged. He is a vegan who never drinks alcohol, a black belt in Judo, passionate about Japan and emotions.

TGL: What advice would you like to give to The Genius List’s readers?

CD: Be who you are.