Hooked on Classics
French interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot is keen not to repeat himself. ‘I strive not to do the same thing over and over,’ he says. ‘The problem is that clients often insist on limiting themselves to what they’ve seen before.’ This project, however, presented him with an opportunity to do something different. It is certainly quite atypical for Deniot. Most of the apartments he has previously decorated in the French capital have been in upscale neighbourhoods, while this one is located on a busy boulevard in the gritty 10th arrondissement, not far from the Gare de l’Est.
The main reason Deniot was attracted to the project was the client, a 38-year-old American who has been working as a computer programmer since the age of 14 and found himself newly wealthy thanks to his involvement with a hugely successful dot.com company. ‘He’s really laid back and absolutely adorable,’ says Deniot. ‘He’s not only really up to date with new technologies, but also very knowledgeable about the classics.’ Indeed, he took two years off to study Ancient Greek literature at New York’s Columbia University.
The homeowner is also a firm Francophile. ‘I just love Paris,’ he gushes. Among the things he appreciates are the city’s transport system, its ‘super-mild’ weather and the plethora of food stores. He also likes the ethnic diversity of his new neighbourhood. ‘You have old Turkish men sitting next to these young Parisian hipsters in cafés,’ he says. ‘It’s really cool.’
He visited about a dozen different flats in the area and chose this one for several reasons. ‘The layout is amazing,’ he asserts. ‘It’s very typical of Paris in that there is a long enfilade.’ Other factors included its high ceilings, 18 windows, original crown mouldings and floors, and the balcony that wraps itself around the three sides of the apartment.
It was a brother of a friend who recommended that the homeowner contact Deniot to whip it into shape. ‘Back then, I’d never heard of any interior designers,’ he says. ‘So I didn’t know Jean-Louis was on the AD100 [Top Architects and Designers] list and was an important guy.’ He recalls their first meeting as being a little intimidating. ‘Jean-Louis brought this army of super-fashionable people – this beautiful girl wearing six-inch heels and a couple of assistants,’ he says. ‘They marched through the apartment and issued their approval.’
Deniot is far from being a fan of Haussmann-style flats. ‘There are about 30 million of them in Paris,’ he says, with a touch of exaggeration. ‘It was like the IKEA of the times.’ When confronted with one, he usually removes all the 19th-century architectural details. But here, for once, he left them firmly in place. ‘The owner is American and I felt he was very attached to all the typical Parisian elements,’ he says. ‘I wanted to do something French in my French apartment,’ says the client, ‘but I didn’t want to do Versailles. I was interested in somehow making it hipper and more contemporary.’
What Deniot gave him is certainly looser and more with-it. The client is a fan of Adolf Loos and the Vienna Secession art movement, and the integration of strong geometric motifs is a homage to Loos, as is the use of faux marble on the bookshelves in the study. There are also a number of ethnic touches in the form of North African carpets and African wax fabrics. ‘I thought it would be interesting and fun to reference the neighbourhood,’ says Deniot. ‘I explained to the client that the resulting decor is like Marie Antoinette in a kaftan.’
The furniture layout is also more laid back than in many of his projects. ‘It deliberately had to be a little more haphazard,’ he says. Deniot didn’t include a sofa in the study (something he would habitually do) and placed the bed slap bang in the middle of the guestroom. There are also more elements of contemporary design than you would usually encounter in a Deniot interior. Examples include the Robert Stadler console table in the entrance hall and the Stéphane Parmentier lava sidetable in the living room.
That said, there are two spaces that retain a more traditional feel – the dining room and main bedroom. For the latter, the owner insisted on acquiring a gallery of classical portraits from Paris flea markets. ‘I love art, but I think collecting it is an absurd hobby and a waste of money,’ he says. ‘Having $100 000 paintings in here is something I would never do. I want my apartment to be pretty; I want decorative things on the wall, but I don’t want fine art.’