Monday, September 24, 2012

Paris Star Designer’s Newest and Most Daring Work: Exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE

The Brilliant French Interior Designer Jean-Louis Deniot takes us on an Imaginary Voyage at the dramatic gallery presentation, AD Interieurs 2012, recently attracting the chic design crowd at Artcurial.

The recent vernissage for the glittering ARTCURIAL/AD event attracted a swarm of top design locomotives and chicer-than-chic socials of the Paris Scene. Among the happy and pretty people seen admiring his decor, scoping out the curtains, lingering among the witty furnishings and chatting up a storm and congratulating Jean-Louis Deniot were Diane de Beauvau-Craon, Pierre Berge, Francois Cautroux, Jean de Merri, Pamela Golbin, William Holloway, Virginie Deniot, Heather Walter, Andrew Gn, Joseph Dirand, Jane Alexander,David Collins, the fabulous founders of Alta Pampa, Becca Cason Thrash and John Thrash, Ariane Dombasle and her swell Bernard-Henri Levi (BHL) and Yves Carcelle and too many fabulous swells to list here. It was a more-than-memorable scene.

Pour a glass of good wine, make a cup of tea, and take a seat in your favorite chair. This is a very inspiring story, full of surprises, lots of details—and the magic of very ultra-insider information on materials, manufacturers, artists, fabric credits and everything you need to know to create worlds of wonder. Come with me on a design revelation. 

If you were a classically trained French architect/interior designer, known for elegant, restrained, and superbly polished work—and you were invited by editors of French Architectural Digest and the prestigious Paris auction house, Artcurial, to design a room with the theme, ‘Imaginary Voyages’ what would you dream up?

Top Paris designers invited to create décor for this prestigious event included Jean-Louis Deniot, Thierry Lemaire, François-Josef Graf, Bruno Moinard, Chahan Minassian, Vincent Darré, Dimore Studio, Pierre Yovanovitch, Rafael de Càrdenas, Charles Zana, Rose Anne de Pampelonne, Joseph Dirand, Francis Sultana.

In the case of the super-star designer, Jean-Louis Deniot, his installation/décor was ‘out of this world’ with virtuoso never-seen techniques, daring swoops of the imagination, and an exploration of ideas without boundaries.

Each surface offered new materials and techniques, hallucinatory effects, a new definition of luxury, craft, visual delight and chic. Every move is inspiration. Come for an exclusive visit. 

Intérieurs 2012 - AD France/Artcurial

Notes from Jean-Louis Deniot:

“The initial concept was to portray a maximum of richness and opulence, but in the most contemporary way possible.

In classical decor, every millimeter has a specific treatment, finish and pattern.
In this space, the accumulation of different effects provides a sense of completeness, sophistication, and lushness to the décor.” 

Jean-Louis Deniot said:
“In this exhibit, I wanted every element of the architecture and furnishing to be excessive.
The theme is ‘Imaginary Voyages’ so I created a décor that would give an extreme interpretation of the theme; nothing realistic, nothing common or anticipated, nothing ever seen before or imagined...mingling risk, audacity, and high decoration.” 

Jean-Louis Deniot said:
“I have coined this new style ‘Contemporary Maximalism’.

I wanted a real show piece, so I designed the décor as a complete artistic interior installation. I wanted the public to be able to experience an over the top interior bursting with drama and fun. The composition and scale was the key; to have mass, space, volume, shadow, light, juxtapositions, and direct dialogues between the interior architecture and furnishing.” 

Jean-Louis Deniot said:
“I selected a motif which at first simply seems graphic but which is in fact very complex and ornamental. It is very rich with not a single straight line.

The concept behind using the same exact pattern but in various different scales was to limit the cacophony. The idea was not to create a dizzying effect but the opposite. For the eye to be able to slide over the space and each element therein, as not one square inch of the space has been ignored.” 

According to Jean-Louis Deniot:
“As well as the ethnic and imaginary notions behind my theme, I included pieces manufactured from more than a dozen different countries so as to represent my love of travel, different destinations and local craftsmanship.

The pattern is featured in the smallest scale on the wall and crown upholstery, almost disappearing into the scene, but still gives a backdrop and substance to all the other elements.
That fabric, bearing the motif that serves as the base element in the design, is composed of wild silk and manufactured in Thailand.” 

Jean-Louis Deniot explained:
“As for the carpet, a fragment of the base motif was blown up to fit the scale and define the furniture layout. It was manufactured in China, using various different weaving techniques.

The pattern featured on the carpeting defined the sofa and coffee table design and geometry. The sofas were manufactured by Jean de Merry in Los Angeles, and are covered in six different Italian linens to create shadows and accentuate movement.

Fragments of the same motif are found in the 68 intricate pieces of distressed bronze and parchment of which the extravagant chandelier is composed.” 

Explanation of the concepts:
“The immense screen features another rendition of the motif, painted behind glass by a talented decorative painter who specializes in paint on glass techniques.

A very large fireplace covered entirely in mosaics of distressed mirror was developed using the motif on yet another scale.

I commissioned Jean-François Lesage, who is based in India, to manufacture a large screen to be embroidered with leather laces, bone pearls, raffia, parchment appliqués and bronze thread.

The wooden paneling in the vestibule was manufactured to include three layers so as to create a 3 dimensional effect with recessed volume, cut-outs, and projected pieces. 

“In general, the perspectives are completely abstract; losing sense and logical balance. The visitor senses a two-, three- or even multi-dimensional effect.

A poetic, dreamy, surrealistic décor... exactly as I intended., I had so much fun putting it all together with no limits.”


All photography by Paris-based Xavier Béjot. Presented here with express permission of the photographer. 

Xavier B
éjot is one of the most talented and technically accomplished photographers shooting interiors today. After receiving a degree graphic arts in Paris, Béjot opened his studio specializing in interior design after learning the art of photography with Vincent Knapp.

Xavier Béjot’s work has been published in all the top European design magazines and he has had a long-term collaboration with AD Germany.

Today he works with some of the most celebrated designers, primarily Jean-Louis Deniot, whose work he records He also produces stories published in the top architecture and design magazines worldwide.

Jean-Louis Deniot 

Door curtain fabric, in front of the entry door – Linen and beige cotton by Romo, manufactured in Italy.

Entry hall carpet – Diagonal loop in white, ivory and beige cotton, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured by Tai Ping in China.

Backlit paneling (walls and ceiling) – Medium laser cut and laquered, designed by Jean-Louis Deniont and manufactured by CEMAD.

Console ‘Metal Blade’ – Oxidized brass designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured in Morocco.

Cubist lamp – Lamp in plaster, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and maufactured by Atelier Prométhée, France. Lamp shade designed by Jean-Louis Deniot, custom-made by Anne Sokolsky, France.

Mirror – Frame in patinated plaster in the style of parchment, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured by Atelier Prométhée, France. Antique mirror – by Gottardo.

‘Faux’ stone Monolithic bench – Patinated plaster in the style of marble, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured by Atelier Prométhée, France.

Living Room
Crown molding carpentry and back-lit baseboard – Designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured by CEMAD, France.

Wall upholstery fabric – ‘Soie Sauvage’ by IDO, manufactured in Thailand.

Door curtain fabric - ‘Soie Sauvage’ by IDO, manufactured in Thailand.

Chimney – Inlaid antique mirror designed by Jean-Louis Deniot, manufactured by Gottardo, France.

Pair of rock crystal decorative obelisk firedogs mounted on structural metal beams, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot, manufactured in France.

Carpet – Cotton in 3 levels, brown, ivory and beige, custom-designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured by Tai Ping, China.

Embroidered shade across the window – Taffeta fabric by Pierre Frey, embroidered with beaded bone, wood, rafia, bronze thread, parchment and leather thread. Design by Jean-Louis Deniot and embroidery by Jean-François Lesage, manufactured in India.

Glass screen – Decorative paintwork behind glass designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and fabricated by Florence Girette, France.

Coffee table – Plexiglass top and polished brass structure which recreates the carpet pattern. Designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured by Jean de Merry, USA.

Art piece on the coffee table – Cast iron, 'Cross Egg' by David Nash, England.

1930s Vase on the coffee table – Glazed earthenware from Onsite Antiques, France.

19th century Japanese canoe cut ornament on the coffee table – Exotic wood, from Onsite Antiques, France.

Custom-made sofas – Fabric ’89 Linara Peppercorn’ linen and cotton in 5 shaded tones by Romo, Italy. Structure designed by Jean-Louis Deniot to replicate the carpet pattern. Manufactured by Jean de Merry, Los Angeles.

Reading lamp with tray in polished brass. Designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured in Morocco. Lampshade in natural fibres (abaca), designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and custom-made by Anne Sokolsky, France.

Sculptures – Sculpted oak by David Nash, England.

Sculpture Bases: Patinated, oxydized bronze, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured in Morocco.

Chandelier – Patinated brass and parchment, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot to reflect the motif pattern of the carpet. Custom-made by Ombre Portée, France.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Estate of Grace: A romantic stay at the colonial-style Governor’s Residence in Yangon, Burma

First a big ‘thank you’.

I’ve been so touched by the warm-hearted and thoughtful messages you’ve sent in the last two weeks, in response to my posts on my recent visit to Burma/Myanmar. Everyone commented on my photos of lovely Burmese ladies in country markets— and Myanmar scenes at the Schwedagon pagoda, selling lilies in the market, and a chic young woman carrying bundles of vegetables on her head. Oh, and the pretty girl with pigtails wearing a straw hat was a favorite.

Thank you for your great feedback—including from friends who have Burmese family ties. I loved every word. 

I have one final Burma post, this week, on the sublime hotel I discovered in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the capital. It’s a hidden retreat, calm and verdant. Very Burmese and at the same time a crossroads for travelers on their way to Mandalay or returning from Bagan.

Think of it as a place where the winged energy of delight flies overhead, and bedrooms are adrift with slumbered sheets. Come with me for a visit. 

My flight (flights) out to Burma was long—from San Francisco, via Narita (Tokyo), and Bangkok, and then finally touching down in Yangon and swiftly negotiating formalities. I slept most of the way, but still I was swooping around the globe, mentally and physically. I could not wait to get there—and was uncertain what was in store.

Research on present-day life in Burma is rather scarce—this is a country that has been closed off from the world since the fifties. I could not get a sense of it, could not tap into the zeitgeist.

Googling ‘Burma’ brings up all the unfortunate last half-century of misrule and juntas and wacky governance (buying Japanese cars with right-hand steering wheels in a country that drives on the right is rather odd—and no-one wanted to contradict the general, for example).

On arrival, the airport was brisk and well-organized and I sensed no sign of heavy-handedness. My passport was stamped by a smiling young woman.

I’m not going to get all political—I’m a design writer not a pundit—but I reassure you that I saw nothing at all untoward in the weeks I was there. 

The Governor’s Residence sent a guide and driver to greet me at the airport. Moments later, we swept into the driveway of the hotel—and I knew I was going to love Burma. I walked over a covered bridge, frangipani and jasmine fragrances hovered in the warm air, and the manager lead me to my suite. I felt at home. 

The Governor’s Residence, a fortunate discovery
A designer friend who had recently returned from Burma happened to mention The Governor’s Residence. She had enjoyed dinner there, and knew I would like its Burmese style and eccentric individuality.

I was traveling alone (a luxury and the perfect way to encounter new friends), and wanted a hotel that would be welcoming and tranquil—and especially with a management and staff that would take care of me. Before I left I was not certain how easy it would be to negotiate Yangon or whether I could venture out alone to explore temples and pagodas, visit the Bogyoke market (to find pearls), or simply go for a walk. I wanted to be met and greeted and for things to be easy and smooth. 

The Governor’s Mansion has European management, and is part of the Orient-Express group. My friend Ruth reported that the staff is polished and very cosmopolitan. And Ruth was right.

The hotel, with its 1920s colonial-era fretwork-trimmed verandas and windows curtained with vines, feels uniquely Burmese.

It had been the residence of a regional governor. It’s in the leafy ‘embassy row’ neighborhood and had been redesigned and decorated a few years ago by the French designer, Patrick Robert, a Yangon resident now, who is constantly updating and refreshing. 

Burmese arts and crafts are on display--lacquer bowls, handmade silver pagodas, wood sculptures. I loved peering at the framed old sepia photos of women in nineteenth-century Burmese dress and scenes of idyllic country villages (that still look the same today).

The Governor’s Residence is set in rain-drenched acres of tranquil tropical gardens, with a lily pond and a decorative swimming pool (that looks more like a pond than a dive-in pool and a hidden corners for sipping fresh ginger tea or a gin and tonic. 

The brilliant chef is Australian, and he makes magical breakfasts with all the Burmese tropical fruit (mangosteens, lychees, mangoes, papaya with fresh lime juice) and arrays of breads and everything possible delicious.

For lunch there was fresh ginger-scented lemon-grass and fish soup, a colorful platter of spicy tiger prawns and vegetables, and papaya and lime. Fans whirred overhead, rattan shades fluttered gently, wait staff in elegant Burmese costume were utterly decorative, and the temperature was a perfect 75 deg F.

The hotel shop offers books on Burma (that’s where I found ‘Burmese Days’ by George Orwell) as well as lacquer boxes, silk skirts, embroidered shawls and pretty things to take home. 

I had plans—visiting pagodas, walking around the hotel neighborhood, Bogyoke Market, the old Colonial buildings, poking around the old and funky parts of town, and seeing as many temples and Buddha statues and quirky architecture as I could. I wanted to see old Rangoon.

I must say I did not especially feel like leaving the hotel. I’d linger on, reading, watching the Koi slithering around the lilies in the pond, meditating, breathing the floral air, gazing at dew-damp banana palm leaves shimmering in the August sun, and listening to the turning of the universe. It’s that kind of hotel.

Guests arrived and departed, to and from goodness knows where. Time passed. I was in Burma now. I was in no hurry. 

Rooms are not overly decorated. It can be humid and hot in Yangon (and damp in the rainy season) so the bare teak floors and simple window coverings and linens are a blessing. It’s rather monochromatic décor, and easy for a travel-dazed guest to step into, sleep in, take time.

Every amenity was there—but I focused on the setting, the architecture, and the lovely staff. I could not have been happier to be there. 

I hope you will plan a trip to Burma. I took a cruise up into the northern gorges of the Irrawaddy River on the Road to Mandalay, climbed the tottering towers of temples in Bagan, encountered novice nuns in Mandalay, and discovered a country that time forgot.

Except that now, contact with the world is accelerating and travelers are hungry to visit. Set out now and stay as long as you can (28-day visas are now available).

I wish you a calm and magical stay at The Governor’s Residence.

Travel well, travel safe, travel far—and I hope you land in Burma. 

Photography of The Governor’s Residence courtesy of Orient-Express.
For more information on the hotel:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Just Back from Magical Burma/Myanmar: A Beautiful and Surprising Country Opens to the World

Burma Bliss The moment the South-east Asian republic of Burma (also known as Myanmar, a recent re-naming) announced that it was holding democratic elections, then held them, soon international delegations and ambassadors and great intentions and aid money and trade and hotel-building began arriving.

I started planning a trip to Burma early in 2012.

I wanted to spend time in Burma while it is still authentic, untouched by tourism, and is fresh and perfectly itself. The country, under a xenophobic military dictatorship since the fifties, had resisted all influences from the West, and the culture and life there are still authentic, true, and idiosyncratic.

(I won’t be presenting any political commentary here. Not my world. I’m a design writer, as you know.) 

I spent three weeks of pure discovery in Burma in August. I voyaged to regions I’d never read about, never seen photos of. I chased George Orwell (read on…you will be surprised.) I filled many Moleskine notebooks with impressions and notes and inspirations. This is a mysterious, thrilling, hidden, and in the end completely approachable country. I often ventured out alone without a second of concern. 

Road to Mandalay 
I was extremely fortunate to spend 11 magical days on the luxury cruise ship Road to Mandalay, heading up into the isolated redoubt of the ultra-remote Northern Gorges. 

Road to Mandalay: It’s a trip on the Irrawaddy River that can be taken only four times a year (in the rainy season, when the river is deep enough for navigation) and it goes to regions and villages that seldom see Western travelers.

The ship sponsors new school buildings, clinics, teachers, school supplies, and health education throughout the region. School children would come running down to the riverbanks waving their schoolbooks and notebooks—supplied by the ship—as we sailed past.

There was also a higher purpose and inspiration on the ship.

The ship’s saintly physician, Dr. Hla Thun, went ashore at each daily disembarkation at villages and schools, to care for village patients, elderly nuns and monks, school children.

In Bagan, with Orient-Express funding, he has set up a village clinic, with the help of local monks, where he sees hundreds of patients who travel for days for a consultation. Medications are donated by pharmaceutical companies. I was deeply moved by his compassion, his warmth, his practical kindness, and his holiness toward healing his patients. I will be writing more about Dr Hla Thun this fall. 

In Mandalay, I visited silk-weaving workshops, saw craftsmen casting bronze Buddha statues, discovered a shop selling gold leaf (I’ll have frames decorated with it). 

One bright afternoon, I encountered a colorful group of novice nuns waiting to return to their nunnery. I asked permission, and then captured their image, below.

Buddhism is a central belief and faith at the core of tranquil, calm Burmese life, and highlights of the travels were visiting 11th-century temples in Bagan, taking part in ceremonies at monasteries, visiting monastery schools, and encountering monks and novices and nuns in smoky as well as prosperous market towns.

Come with me for a magical visit to Burma. I took lots of images, even while fully engaging all senses in every precious moment. 

Historically, Burma (if you are still wondering where it is—it is north of Thailand and bordered to the west by India and Bangladesh, and has China, Laos, Cambodia to the East and the Bay of Bengal to the west)…has been called Burma, which I use here. Recently the rulers changed the name to Myanmar, to reflect that it is a union of diverse states.

After over fifty years of isolation, everything is now changing.

Burma the beautiful is welcoming travelers, who can now get a visa for a 28-day visit. 

River Run: An 11-day cruise on the luxurious Road to Mandalay 
I set off on August 9 with a full agenda. Traveling alone (the supreme luxury) I booked on the 11-day Road to Mandalay (Orient-Express) cruise, 682 miles on the Irrawaddy River, with plans to visit temples and pagodas, and explore the design, crafts, architecture, style, textiles, silverware, pottery, lacquer, remote villages and schools of the region. 

This cruise had 40 passengers from around the world—with two English couples who has already done this cruise twice. Cuisine on the ship is 3-star, with excellent wines, and lovely casual lunches on the roof deck. Afternoons when we were heading up the river, guests sunbathed, swam, read in the shade, or watched passing scenes of temples and villages as they scrolled past. Suites and cabins are extremely well-appointed and comfortable. Staff is impeccably professional and lovely.

As a design writer, indigenous style and architecture and crafts and people were my focus. I loved what I found.

Join me as I present my images, and I give you a glimpse of what and whom I encountered. 

A group of gold-leafed Buddhas at the Schwedagon pagoda in Yangon. 

Meetings with Extraordinary People 
Novice nuns, lovely market ladies, village women with machetes on their heads—please come and meet the lovely people I encountered while on the cruise, in remote villages, in Mandalay, in Bagan, and in river towns that time forgot.

Please be assured that I asked all of them all for permission before taking their photograph. They graciously gave me permission—and we quickly got into laughing conversations/gestural communication.

I loved meeting women at markets, often with babies, or groups of sisters. Engaging, charming, light-hearted and ultra-friendly, the market ladies sold exotic flowers, fresh vegetables, and super-sweet tropical fruits (mangosteens, mangos, papaya, dragon fruit). 

The village girls with machetes: I was exploring Bagan in an antique horse carriage (Victorian…) and came upon three young women heading off to chop wood for cooking.

I admired their ‘hats’ and their lovely outfits, and asked them if I could take their photos. As I aimed the camera, the girl on the left re-arranged her ‘hat’ and I realized they had lengths of fabric swirled on their heads to hold their very sharp and heavy handcrafted MACHETES. Ouch. I took some snaps, and they went on their way. A very Burmese encounter.

In Yangon, I went to explore the Schwedagon Pagoda. Along with gold-leafed Buddhas, I encountered these two lovely sisters in matching outfits, who had come to pay homage at their family shrine (to the left). Burmese women have natural grace, and these to stylish girls gave me permission to photograph them.

Chasing George Orwell 
On the Road to Mandalay cruise, the ship stopped at remote villages, pagodas, monasteries, village schools, elephant camps, and market towns in the far north.

Among the highlights of the voyage—and the unexpected pleasures—was arriving in the town where George Orwell lived as a British police officer.

‘At that hour there were beautiful faint colors in everything—tender green of leaves, pinkish-brown of earth and tree trunks—like aquarelle washes that would vanish in the later glare. Down on the maidan flights of small low-flying brown doves chased on another to and fro, and bee-eaters, emerald green, curvetted like slow swallows.’

I adventured into the historic past at Katha, a teak forest town on the Irrawaddy River where George Orwell lived in 1927. Who knew I’d be encountering George Orwell (‘1984’) in Burma.

In preparation for the visit, I read ‘Burmese Days’, a vivid novel-ized version of his life in remove Katha, before he became a writer.

It was the height of British rule of Burma and Katha retains even today, almost a century later, the ghosts of the past in the colonial buildings dating to that time.

Today Orwell’s house and the English club buildings he wrote about in ‘Burmese Days’—and Orwell’s spirit floats about. The white plastered building was Orwell’s house, overlooking the river. It is now a residence for government officials. 

Calling ‘World of Interiors’! I visited a private house that was once one of Orwell’s haunts, a residence and British club. Unfurnished, it retains the original architecture, balustrades, fireplace, even the paint, of the original. 

The owner arrived home from the market on his bicycle—and I styled the shoot (couldn’t help it) with is handmade hat and the bouquet he’d brought home. 

Temples of Beauty and Inspiration 
The Road to Mandalay cruises ended in Bagan—and it is there that I explored a tree-shaded plain with 2,200 11-th century temples, shrines, stapes, pagodas and highest Buddhist ideals. Come for a tour. I traveled in a pony carriage, along with a friendly driver. His English: ‘OK’ and ‘slowly, slowly’. A highlight of the month.

Temples are in various states of weather-worn beauty. The ones I loved the most had no tourists, no trinket sales, no coaches, no bicycles, even. Thrilling, beautiful, haunting, they are still used for devotions and in praise and exultation of the divine. 

Photo credits: 
All photography copyright DIANE DORRANS SAEKS. No photography can be pinned or blogged or used in any manner without express written permission of DIANE DORRANS SAEKS. 


The Road to Mandalay: built in Germany, has been operated since 1996 by the Orient Express luxury travel company.

Sailings from August—May each season. Each time of year has its advantages. I loved the rainy season (August, September), when the north gorges are navigable. Other times of year, the ship plies between Mandalay and Bagan, rich in sites.

Road to Mandalay: wonderfully professional and kind Burmese staff.

The hotel director of the ship is the wonderfully charming and helpful Samuela Bottari, originally from Australia, and now on her fourth season.

For visa information: check with the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Embassy nearest you. I worked directly with the Washington D.C. embassy, who expedited the visa. Plan ahead. 

I wish you a magical trip to Burma—and highly recommend that you plan now, find a suite on the Road to Mandalay. You will encounter remarkable people.