Monday, August 31, 2009

Paris Leaves Me 'Breathless'

I'm in Paris for a few days — working, conducting research and interviews.

You'll see the results of my work in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, watch 'Breathless' and see Paris in the days of Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Imagine, a young college girl could get a job selling The International Herald Tribune.

A bientot! (one of these days I will find the widget on Word that spits out letters with accents.)

Happy days, amicalement, DIANE

Photos: Collection Cinema, Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, 'A Bout de Souffle' 1960;
Raymond Cauchetier, 1959. Editions Art et Scene, Paris.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DESIGNER I LOVE: Jean-Louis Deniot

Paris Design’s Brightest Young Star

In just a few fast years, interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot has become the young super-star on the Paris scene. With a dazzling roster of clients and supremely elegant and varied interior architecture and décor, the handsome and dashing Deniot has captivated discerning connoisseurs, style-conscious executives, Old Guard Parisians, hyper-chic young couples, and high-flying art collectors around the world.

I first met Jean-Louis Deniot several years ago under somewhat glam circumstances. I’d been invited to join friends to attend the Prix de Diane horse races at Chantilly. We stopped for drinks at a petit chateau Jean-Louis had designed.
The décor was chic, fresh, witty, youthful, and I was smitten. We’ve been friends ever since. I love it when young hard-working and talented designers become ragingly successful. In just a few years, Jean-Louis is working in India, Moscow, Colombia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Kiev, London and all points north and west.
I dined with Jean-Louis recently at La Societe, the sleek new Christian Liagre-designed restaurant on the Left Bank. Over white asparagus and a sip or two of Champagne, we took a kaleidoscopic view into this world.

Style: Jean-Louis Deniot’s preference veers towards a rather pure neo-classical style in the spirit of Jean-Michel Frank. His priority is to create a defined interior architecture framework, which is often strewn with the important names in 20th century decorative art.
The one constant in his work is the search for balance, often reflected through symmetry. “I like the design to be legible,” he said.
His style is undeniably French but with American comfort mixed in “to soften the sometimes rigid side of architecture”. In his rooms, luxury is discreet and without ostentation. Still, even in the simplest rooms there is a sense of opulence.
Like Jean-Michael Frank in the thirties, he is obsessed with rare materials. He will create a mother of pearl mosaic bathroom, a bookcase in bronze and parchment, large double doors of malachite marquetry or an office in palm-leaf paneling. Embellishments must be justified and controlled using impeccable and precise strokes.

"I like the idea that when clients arrive from a trip or from their other houses, everything is logical, beautiful, and totally thought out for them." Jean-Louis Deniot

Education: In 2000, he graduated from the prestigious Ecole Camondo and launched Cabinet Jean-Louis Deniot. Two years later, with sister Virginie, he expanded his office and finally settled in rue de Verneuil. Cabinet Jean-Louis Deniot currently employs a team of fifteen including talented architects.

Inspiration: Jean-Louis studied design history. Essential, he said. Among twentieth-century creators, he admires the austere designs of Adolph Loops for “exactness,” American Dorothy Draper for “the theatrical side to her design,” Italian Renzo Mongiardino for his “collector’s spirit,” the great François Catroux for his “sense of quality,” and today’s design-meister Peter Marino for “couture-style luxury”.

Sit down with Jean-Louis and me for a little chat:
DDS: Why the classical approach?
J-LD: Everything that is great today in art and architecture first appeared in antiquity. Every production since has been an adaptation of it, purified, more or less ornate, with different surface treatments, but the base remain. If you compare the Roman period, Louis XV, English Regency, Palladio, Ruhlman, even the fascist architecture of Mussolini (appropriating Roman Empire symbols), it is all the same background in Greece, Rome and Egypt even. In contemporary furniture, Christian Liaigre is a pared-down version of Louis XVI.
In order to have a timeless residence, you can never go wrong if you follow the ''main rules'' from antiquity.

DDS: How do you define luxury interiors?
J-LD: Luxury is when it feels flawless. When you reach the right balance between all elements, there is a sense of luxury and calm. Luxury is having the perfect lighting, beautiful contrast and superb materials. I like very customized surprises and rarity such as black mother of pearl/ burlap, fine marble / sisal, velvet/brushed oak, rock crystal/straw marquetterie, raw iron with a silk Nepalese carpet. Luxury can be understated but with a flourish of theater.
In a luxurious house or apartment, everything is in the right place. Doors are in the correct place, there are enfilades of rooms that open into each other. The thought behind the rooms is clarified, along with the logic, the way they make coming and going or being in a room graceful, easy, elegant. Everything is thought out for comfort and pleasure. That's luxury.

DDS: What is your design process?
J-LD: With a renovation or new construction, I work down to the rawest bone of architecture, the skeleton, and make it perfect before proceeding with millwork, heating, finishes, security systems, sound and light. All of the inner workings must be invisible and cohesive with the interior.

DDS: You work on many illustrious buildings in the best neighborhoods in Paris.
J-LD: Yes, it might be the most handsome apartment on the Champs de Mars or the most beautiful townhouse on the rue Babylone, and it always had to be corrected. You simply must have fabulous bones for it to work. I'll move windows, reshape doors, open up rooms, and enlarge rooms, change an entrance, totally restyle an interior to give it fresh life.

DDS: How do you tell a story though out a floor plan?
J-LD: Whatever the style, I respect the evolution of the general story and concept. I give a very discreet statement in the entry to set the general concept. I add more details and interest as the floor plan follows, with a progression of richness, of effect, of special materials, and attention to details. In percentages I visualize: give 10% in the entry hall, 20% in the vestibule, 30% in the main salon, and 40% in the dining room.

DDS: In design, what are your priorities?
J-LD: In a very academique way, architecture comes first, paintings and sculpture second, furniture third, fabrics last. So in order to respect the value of each portion, you need to keep a sense of priorities.

Talk about high-flying... typical emails I received recently from Jean-Louis:
JULY 15, 2009, CDG: “In Paris now. Have been for the last 3 last weeks in a crazy set of trips ... Moscow, New York, Ukraine, Colombia, Los Angeles and Delhi.... with Paris between each trip. Fun tho! Just returned from Delhi last Sunday, had to set up the town house for a shoot. Quite amazing: I stayed at the house for the first time after five years of construction. So magical.”
AUGUST 1, 2009: “Just arrived in NYC last night, went straight to the Hamptons. Oh, finally, vacation. Almost. Have to work here with three different clients and design a full line of lighting for Lustrerie Mathieu. Check them out. Apart from that, I call it a vacation! My kind of vacation. I do not want to become a vegetable and come back to Paris all brain damaged in September!”

DDS: How do you avoid jet lag?
J-LD: I try to sleep a minimum of seven hours a night anywhere I am. Good sleep is key to keep going. I arrive in a destination and see construction I have not seen for three months and the excitement is so high when I see where the process has achieved. There is no space for being tired.

The Wisdom of Jean-Louis Deniot
Clients: “I am hired to bring my client’s life to a completely higher level, respecting constantly their way of life. You cannot give them simply what they wish. A designer must think way above that. I want to surprise them. The decor must last a long time, so if they can digest it too easily, how can they not get tired of it after one year?
Design Studies: “I studied two years of architecture and then more years at Camondo, interior architecture, a very contemporary program. I had to produce the most advanced concepts, which was interesting but not enough. They taught only two hours a week of art and architecture history. So I learned on my own. I was hiding, scared to be pointed at as a retro, neo, has-been architect obsessed with the past. At the end of the day I was the only one able to open my firm just after graduation because I studied classical architecture on my own. When you leave school, nobody will hire you to come out with a weird concept. They hire you because you know how to make a Louis XVI apartment. Then when you get more established, you can start selling more creative concepts.

Our conversation continues:
DDS: You've been working in Delhi. Exciting. I adore India. Two superb residences for the same client. Your work there is French-influenced yet you are far from Paris. How do you make it work?
J-LD: My clients in India are very worldly, very educated, and I appreciate their dedication to their houses. The first house we completed, a town house, with French Thirties as a starting point.
I am working with skilled Indian craftsmen, with furniture made by top Indian craftspeople. It's a fine balance. The furniture and fixtures and detailing are wonderful and elegant, and at no time was I thinking it had to be a copy of a Paris salon. For that reason, it feels custom-made for these clients. It's theirs. It's not Marie-Laure de Noailles. It's not nostalgic. It's today. My work does not live in the past.

DDS: What was the best advice you've had regarding your work?
J-LD: I was told many years ago to create a very subtle and elegant background.

DDS: You are constantly traveling around the world to work on projects.
J-LD: I have a great team in Paris. As I take on more clients, we are bursting at the seams, but we like our atelier on rue de Verneuil. There is an architecture department, incredibly fine. I have a design and resources department, the top. I have great resources for antiques and art. And I'm situated right in the heart of the Left Bank--with all the top antique dealers and art galleries and design stores within a few steps.

"I graduated from school and already had design clients. But still, I refused to work for just anyone. I promised myself never to take clients I did not really want to work with. I thought I would prefer to eat just bread than have a horrible client. Thank goodness, clients immediately came along because I hate bread." Jean-Louis Deniot

Photography of Jean-Louis Deniot’s interiors by Xavier Bejot, Paris,

Interiors designed by Jean-Louis Deniot, above include:
Neo-classical rooms at the Hotel Recamier, recently completely renovated and just opened on the place St-Sulpice, Paris
A townhouse in India with an austere façade and theatrical interiors with soaring ceilings
The tiny and chic apartment of an art and sculpture collector on the Left Bank, in the spirit of Jean-Michel Frank
A quirky monochromatic interior in a 1930 Hollywood Tudor house in the Hollywood Hills for a collector
A Swedish Directoire pied-a-terre on the quai Voltaire for an American banker
Classic French décor for an American industrialist on the rue de Seine.

Cabinet Jean-Louis Deniot
Architecture d'Interieur - Decoration - Design
39 rue de Verneuil 75007 Paris
Tel: +33 1 45 44 04 65
Fax: +33 1 42 84 03 63

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Neoclassicism in the North

The elegant 18th-century interiors of Gunnebo Slott near Gothenburg, Sweden are an unknown treasure of neoclassicism. Photographer Christopher Flach’s never-before published images show the superb symmetry, grace and harmony of Gunnebo’s interiors.

For many summers I have been traveling to Sweden to visit castles, mansions, palaces and estates and pavilions in the region around Stockholm. No season seems happier and more glorious and than summer in Sweden. It’s brief, and winter comes fast. Long sunny days are spent on the water, sun-bathing on islands in the archipelago, visiting estates, or wandering through the gardens of Stockholm and its lake-filled hinterlands.

I land in Stockholm in mid-August, and head out immediately to visit Haga Pavilion, Drottningholm Palace and its glorious Chinese Pavilion and the manor houses on Skansen.

It’s neoclassicism I come to enjoy—Swedish style.

I wander in a happy, golden daze from the Grand Hotel (where I always stay), to the Royal Palace, then back over the bridge to Lisa Elmquist’s for lunch (smoked salmon), take a wander around Ostermalm. I’ll climb the stairs of the National Museum to see the Rembrandts and Swedish Impressionists, and later meet friends at Wedholm’s Fisk for dinner or Fredsgatan12 for late supper. Every view is framed by the lakes and waterways of Stockholm. I feel my best.

It’s still sunny at almost 11pm, so after dinner I might take a ferry to Vaxholm in the archipelago for an ice cream, before heading back to the city. Back at the Grand, I make sure, before I turn in, to close my bedroom curtains tight to keep out 2am sunlight.

Next day, I am heading for Drottningholm on the old ferry that leaves from the dock near City Hall. I eat cloudberries and cream as we drift along the lake, and arrive just in time to attend the opera at the Gustavian opera house near the castle.

I take the last ferry back to the Grand, but it is still sunny and golden, so I walk around the deserted city, perhaps stopping at the city’s Gustavian opera house ’back pocket’ bar for a sip of Champagne.

The Swedish interpretation of neoclassicism is a lot less gilded and formal than the French approach. Here in the north, wood was plentiful, and woodcarvers and cabinetmakers did their best to emulate the French taste—and failed wonderfully. These country cousins of Versailles crafted a humbler version of Louis XVI, with less embellishment or four-four. From French drawings, they produced somewhat more pared-down chairs and settees and covered them with hand-woven cottons and printed chintz rather than silks woven in Lyon.

In Gothenburg stands one of Sweden’s less known mansions, on a country estate far from Stockholm and the richer south.

Gunnebo Slott was built at the end of the 18th century as a summer residence for wealthy merchant John Hall. The house was described as "the most beautiful and exquisite wooden building in the kingdom". It is one of Sweden's best examples of neoclassical architecture.

Gunnebo Slott today is a working farm with rare Swedish sheep and fowl, and it has superbly maintained formal gardens. Clipped yews and hand-trimmed hedges give away the French inspiration.

The Swedish name, Gunnebo Slott, is often translated to Gunnebo Castle, though there is nothing fortified about it. Slott in this case should more correctly be portrayed in English as a mansion or an estate, perhaps Gunnebo House, in the English manner.

The name Gunnebo first appeared on maps at the end of the 14th century and in a list of properties owned by the church. At the time the estate was called Gunnebodher or Gunnebodum.

In 1778 Hall purchased more than one hundred acres on which to build a summer villa. Carl Wilhelm Carlberg, the town architect of Gothenburg, was commissioned to plan and design the estate, including the interior decoration, most of the furniture, the landscape, and the surrounding farm buildings and dependencies.

Carlberg, like King Gustav, his court, and many intellectuals and architects of the day, had undertaken an adventurous formal study trip abroad. These Grand Tours were popular in the day in spire of the arduous nature of travel. Carlberg, like the short-lived King Gustav III, was heavily influenced by the prevailing neoclassical ideals and could not wait to incorporate the orderly and elegant architecture and furniture into his work.

Carlberg was also an admirer of Andrea Palladio, whose formal-yet-informal villas in the Italian Veneto around Vicenza and Verona are considered among the most influential architectural models internationally.

Palladio has been loosely interpreted here. It’s Gustav-meets-Palladio build in wood.

After Hall’s death, the house passed through several hands, and over decades it was neglected. It is now in the hands of the local municipality and is superbly maintained. Unlike many historic houses around the world that are owned by public bodies, this one feels alive, as if a family lived there. Fresh flowers from the gardens bloom on tables. Curtains seem to billow in the breeze.

New York photographer Christopher Flach recently spent several glorious summer days photographing at Gunnebo Estate.

Flach reports:
“Wandering through the Gunnebo Slott, I fell in love with 18th century light. For me Gunnebo Slott is about summer, and about the Swedish people.

“Gaining permission from the museum director to roam and photograph, was a gift. This is the most beautiful and exquisite wooden building in Sweden.

“As a residence for the wealthy merchant John Hall, the house was filled with Sweden's best examples of neoclassical architecture and furniture as well as statuary, in the manner of Canova.

“I am a great admirer of the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.

“Gunnebo Slott was recently renovated, using the original drawings and documentation. It fell into disrepair several times, and was saved by its 20th century preservationists, Baroness Hilda Sparre and her husband Baron Carl Sparre.”

Today Gunnebo Slott is a museum, open for all to enjoy.

Photographs of Gunnebo Slott by Christopher Flach have never been shown or published previously. Flach’s images of Gunnebo Slott offer a privileged tour of the late 18th-century rooms, an ode to neoclassicism in Sweden. All images were photographed by Christopher Flach, who holds the copyright.

To contact Christopher Flach: