Encore: Revisiting Juliette Hermant’s Momentous Journey From Paris To Narrowsburg, NY

This story originally ran in the winter 2016 issue of aspire design and home magazine.

When Juliette Hermant came across a 1920s industrial warehouse by the Delaware river by happenstance, she dropped everything to set the stage for Maison Bergogne. But her path to opening an emporium dedicated to local goods from the Catskills wasn’t a straight line.

aspire design and home magazine caught up with Hermant to discuss her travels, design inclinations, and what comes next in Narrowsburg.

Alice Garbarini Hurley | Juliette, you came from Paris in 2007. Why did you head for New York?
Juliette Hermant | Bonjour, Alice. Oui! I traveled from Paris to L.A. for what was to be a three-week fresco decor job, and I fell in love with a new life, taking the leap to my own American dream. I came from a smaller, northern French town called Amiens. I had studied art and fashion in Paris, and was working on movie sets at the time. Like the gypsy I am, I leapt up and spontaneously headed to Williamsburg, Brooklyn upon an open invitation from my dear artist friend Sara Moffat.

AGH | How long did you stay in Williamsburg, and what did you do there?
JH | My short stay started on an early June morning when I brought my luggage and French race bicycle to Sara’s apartment on Grant Street and Bedford Avenue. By evening, I had begun remodeling the apartment. When I next looked up, after unveiling the original wood floor and window moldings, we were heading upstate for a Fourth of July weekend invitation in a small hamlet bordering the Delaware River.

AGH | That’s how you got to Narrowsburg?
JH | Yes. Ben Younger’s barn in Narrowsburg was our charming Western Catskills destination, surrounded by a hemlock forest and punctuated by a beautiful pond. At the time, Ben was working on his movie “Bleed for This,” which he wrote and directed; it was released this fall in the U.S. Anyway, he was quite surprised by this guest of his guest hanging a clothesline, trellising the clematis, asking where to compost and initiating an herb garden upon arrival. I was two and a half hours from the city and a few minutes from the next chapter of my American story.

AGH | Then what happened?
JH | That weekend, I ventured to downtown Narrowsburg and came across a boarded industrial building from the 1920s. I peeked through the narrow row of windows on the massive wooden garage door into the future home of Maison Bergogne. I was taken in by the charm of the overgrown Boston Ivy. By the next autumn, I rolled up the large door that had become my own and staged Maison Bergogne! The name literally means “the house of Bergogne,” in honor of my ancestral female lineage. Bergogne is my grandmother’s name. An array of antiques, decors and oddities are the backdrop for my design services office.

AGH | I heard the space is an old bus depot?
JH | Yes, this former school bus garage whispered many stories to me through the voices of fellow locals. Everyone was happy to see the large door rolled up again and share their memories of childhood, waking up in the bus or teaching in the wood workshop area out back.

AGH | What do you sell? Are most items sourced from the Catskills?
JH | The shop has grown into an emporium dedicated to Catskills finds; 90 percent of the inventory is local, including architectural pieces salvaged from farmhouses and barns, staged with elements from the land through my large floral compositions, bits and parts of fur and skull layered with old hardware and art. As an artist, I am sensitive to color, patina and layering, and the shop feels like an ongoing installation.

AGH | What do you think draws customers in?
JH | From what I hear, it’s the unexpected feeling of walking into a Catskills cabinet of curiosities gathered by a European traveler.

AGH | How are the prices?
JH | Competitive with local antique dealer pricing. I enjoy teaching my young customer how to bargain in a French fashion!

AGH | What about your design services? What do clients hire you to do?
JH | Since my Catskills landfall, I have collaborated with Anie Stanley of Woolheater’s Wares on custom built, residential and commercial restoration and design projects. Our clientele ranges from homeowners with a second residence to small businesses, such as retail stores, coffee shops, eateries and even our local seed library! I thrive on pairing emotion and function to deepen my clients’ experiences of their own spaces. I always check the Feng Shui placement and let it influence the color scheme. I also love developing garden decor with sustainably harvested local flora.

AGH | Your business is on Bridge Street. What is the neighborhood like?
JH | Unboarding the building has expanded our little downtown district to one more street. Seeing people now walking up and down Bridge Street has been a secret joy; no step is small when it comes to revitalizing Main Street America. My window display and the building light at night foster a sense of community. Through the years, I have developed several pollinator friendly gardens, as they support my rooftop honeybee hives while offering conversation and plant swap with fellow gardeners. I love to send visitors to explore our village walking trails and down to the nearby Tusten Heritage Community Garden, a permaculture project dear to my heart.

AGH | How close are you to the mountains?
JH | Narrowsburg hamlet is an old logging town situated on the deepest eddy of the Delaware River. Surrounded by the Catskill and Pocono Mountains, we have plentiful trails to hike throughout the stunning Boy Scout lands, where the autumn foliage season is truly astonishing!

AGH | Do you live right near the shop in Narrowsburg?
JH | I am quite fortunate to live at Smokey Belles, a few minutes from the shop. My home is in the forest on a secluded dirt road and along the pristine Ten Mile River. Smokey Belles is a wooded homestead on 10 acres. It is queer friendly and hosts artists from around the world in the main house, cabin and writer’s shack.

AGH | Tell us about Fish & Bicycle. When do you hope to open it?
JH | The name is our feminist wink to Australian writer and activist Irina Dunn, who coined the phrase “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” This latest venture is to be housed in my building along with Maison Bergogne. Fish & Bicycle is a bar, cafe and small grocery set in a 1920s-era atmosphere, where you can cheer at the little horseshoe bar and savor a taste of the Catskills when we open in 2017.

Favorite cocktail for winter entertaining?
Milk Punch from Laura Silverman’s skilled interpretation of an 1880s British recipe.

Baguette or ciabatta?
Pain de seigle (true sourdough).

Butter or olive oil for dipping?
Olive oil – first cold-pressed.

Tea or coffee on a chilly Catskills day?
Man Tea in the afternoon from the wonderful Nini, the talent behind Tay Tea. Man Tea is a robust blend of three organic black teas: Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Lapsang Souchong.

Best mountain hike?
I love getting lost in the Ten Mile River Boy Scout land and discovering the lake emerging from behind the trees.

Narrowsburg in three words?
Queer, quaint, quiet.

Favorite color for clothing?
Phthalo blue (or pronounce it French bleu).

Top place to shop?
One of my favorite spots for antique sourcing is the Madison Bouckville Antique Show.

Cherished table linens?
My personal antique collection gathered from the French countryside in the good company of my mother.

Favorite tree?
River birch, for its peeling bark.

Beloved flower?
Wild iris, for the delight of its refinement so early in the spring.

What you miss most about Paris?
Vanves Flea Market, my old turf, with objects, shapes and the curious brouhaha of the voices – a poetic snap of my Parisian life.

Best seasons to visit Paris?
Spring and fall…Always charming on bicyclette!

Do you consume anything imported from there?
Foie gras and confit.

Must-read magazine?
WOI (World of Interiors).

Christmas decorations?
Maison Bergogne has a tradition of setting up holiday decor, and offering local Christmas trees, such as blue spruce and balsam, and custom wreaths and garlands made with finds from the land and forest.

Go-to candles?
Beeswax tapers on antique candelabras.

Classic winter lunch?
Anie’s venison chili, made with the fall bounty from the neighboring hunting club and paired with a good Languedoc wine recommended by Robin Mailey, owner of Callicoon Wine Merchant.

Learn more about Narrowsburg, NY here.

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