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Interior decorator brings feel-good design to poorer Paris suburbs

Assetou Coulibaly says her association helps people in social housing take control of their circumstances and improve their mental health by redecorating their homes

Assetou Coulibaly with a tenant who received help from her association Pic: Assetou Coulibaly

An interior decorator is on a mission to help people in low-income areas feel better in their homes – and thus generally. 

Assetou Coulibaly has helped around 30 people in predominantly working-class Paris suburbs to transform their living spaces. 

She is able to offer the service for free thanks to partnerships with social housing providers. The idea arose during lockdown in 2020. 

“I felt so good in my home, and seeing in the media that certain young people on the estates weren’t playing along and were hanging around outside, I thought, if they don’t feel comfortable at home, it’s understandable they don’t stay there.”

Ms Coulibaly, 36, was all too aware of housing issues, having grown up in Clichy-sous-Bois in working-class Seine-Saint-Denis. 

She realised the people living in those areas were not the people she was reaching with her interior decorating business – so she created the association A Chacun Son Cocon. 

“I use decorating as a pretext to help people realise they are the masters of their apartments. “I don’t want to give handouts. I want people to participate.” 

The idea is to show how space can be transformed

The idea is to show people how they can transform their space, using the furniture they already have. 

Ms Coulibaly always dreamed of being an interior decorator, but as it was not an option at her school, she studied fashion design instead. 

She later worked as a salesperson for SFR before finally setting up her own decorating business. 

She said people in low-income neighbourhoods are often sceptical of the services her association offers. 

“The priority is paying the bills, being able to feed the children. Buying a pot of paint to feel more comfortable doesn’t cross their minds. 

“I would love to have a loudspeaker for the whole of France, and explain that you can have access to this. 

That you shouldn’t be afraid, we are just there to help, at our level.” People are often resistant as they are ashamed of their interiors, she added. 

“I want them to understand we are there without judgement.” 

The association organises DIY workshops to meet and gain the trust of residents before being invited into their homes. 

Despite the challenges, the team recently expanded to include 10 decorators, four interior designers and a psychologist. 

Neglected flat implies some kind of trauma

“When a flat is neglected, there is usually a trauma behind it: a separation, a divorce, or the loss of a job.” 

If a disorganised home can be the result of personal struggles, showing the flat a bit of love can have a big impact on self-esteem, she said. 

“Sometimes I repaint a wall, and I immediately call all my sisters, because I’m so happy and I want to show off. 

I want the inhabitants to feel the same way. 

“One woman said our support helped her overcome her depression, and created a bond with her children. 

We helped her create a nest, and now she regularly has film and popcorn nights with her daughters.” 

The association is currently active in the Paris region – mainly in Aubervilliers, Torcy and Epinaysous-Sénart – but is hoping to expand to the rest of France, most likely starting in Toulouse. 

You can donate at achacunsoncocon.fr.

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