French interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot’s body of work is characterised by a style that belies categorisation under time-centric and period-centric design themes and movements. “I like the idea that in my work you cannot really tell what’s part of the past, what’s part of the present and what’s part of the future. There’s a blur in the time zone,” the French designer shares. Deniot, who resides in Paris, France, derives inspiration from neoclassical architecture for various projects undertaken across the globe. A recent interior design project by Deniot that follows tread to similar themes is a townhouse, located in 5th Avenue, in New York City.
The space previously functioned as a paediatric clinic, and was internally razed to lay out the apartment. Deniot’s apartment design integrates two bedrooms, bathrooms, a study, a living area, a dining space and a kitchen. The attempt to usher maximum light indoors guided the process of designing the layout, fenestrations and indoor elements and deciding the colour and material palette. Everything, from lighting design to furniture design, as well as the integration of services in the residential interiors was undertaken by Deniot himself.
In an attempt to understand the ideas and processes that shaped the subtly hued and delicately humoured interior space in one of the poshest localities in New York, USA, STIR conversed with the French designer recently.
Edited excerpts from the conversation can be read below.
Almas Sadique: What was the brief shared by the client for the apartment design, and how many people is it designed to cater to?
Jean-Louis Deniot: The apartment used to be a paediatric centre. Also, it is located on the lower ground floor, with limited access to natural light. The first thing we did was to demolish everything, including the drop ceiling, in order to bring it back to its original form, with the beams and columns explicitly visible. I did so because I wanted to raise the height of the ceiling beyond the limit of the drop ceiling, in order to let more light flow in.
As for the client, it was designed to cater to a single man, recently divorced, with his kids visiting him on weekends. However, while we were working on this project, he met someone nice, who also had two kids who would visit during weekends. This changed the dynamic of the apartment. So, while it was earlier designed for one person, it ended up becoming a place for two people and their four children who occasionally visited.
Almas: What inspired the design of the apartment?
Jean-Louis: I wanted the design to resemble neoclassical structures. If one looks at the panelling, the coffered ceiling and other interior elements, one can notice the sharp edges. There is also a sharp contrast between gold accent trims and white accent trims. While the sharp features let the light flow in, the reflective accents capture the light and imbue the space with a sense of freshness. The entrance hall, too, is washed in shades of grey and white. Since this space does not receive any external light, I added graphical patterns in light colours, so as to enliven the mood of the space. The carpets in the living room, too, are vibrant and bring a sense of freshness into the space. The library, on the other hand, is fitted with oak wood, stained in a chocolate brown hue. The dark hue of the accent trim stands in contrast against the lighter tones in the area, hence highlighting the bright sheen of the panels.
The layout of the apartment resembles the scenes in a movie. In a movie, there is an introductory first scene, then you have a second scene, which is the intrigue, and then you have a third scene, which is the development, then there’s a fourth scene, which is the excitement of the story, and then you have a fifth scene, which is the end of it. An apartment, I feel, should feel the same in a way. The flow of spaces should be justified.
Almas: Describe the different spaces in the apartment.
Jean-Louis: The front entrance leads one straight to the private quarters, that is, the master bedroom and the kids’ room, behind a sliding door. On the left side is the main living room, and on the right side, you have the library and the kitchen. Most storage units are hidden within the walls in the form of closets.
Almas: What are the different themes and processes that you have explored in the interior design and styling of the space?
Jean-Louis: I like symmetry. Hence, when drawing the layout, I try to make each room and each space as symmetrical as possible. If there is a shaft or door on the left side, I add a fake shaft or a closet door on the right side, as well, so that there’s a sense of balance and symmetry. There are several ways in which one can make a room symmetrical without wasting space. In a symmetrically aligned space, one can place their furnishings asymmetrically, and it works quite well. This juxtaposition is characterised by a play between the balanced elements and what feels off-balance. Another point of consideration is the orientation towards natural light. If the door and window lie on the same axis, it guides the flow of light in. It also creates a great sense of perspective.
The layout of the spaces within the residence is arranged to reflect the moments of the day when they are most used. For example, the kitchen—coloured in silver and white—with its fresh and lively aesthetic, feels fresh like mornings. The material and colour palette of the living room imbues the space with a fresh and cosy aura, inviting inhabitants to use it all day long. The library-cum-study has a warm tone, evocative of calm evenings. The lightness and darkness of these spaces depend on both, their placement within the residence and the amount of light they receive, as well as the material and colour palette used in these spaces. Hence, it is best to place morning rooms facing the rising sun and the evening rooms in the direction of sunsets.
Almas: Could you tell us about the material palette of the apartment?
Jean-Louis: There is some Plaster of Paris for all the ceiling mouldings, which are custom-made. We have used some differently stained oak wood for the flooring and the doors. Various areas in the contemporary residence are clad in marble. They are sourced from various places, such as Italy, France and Turkey. Overall, the colour palette of these materials peaks at four. I then played around with combinations of different hues across the apartment. There are also spots in the residence where I have used the same combination of materials, such as the entrance and the master bathroom, which comprise a combination of white and grey marble tiles. When you build a palette, you need to reference the same elements in different rooms.
Almas: How are the interior spaces in the apartment connected visually?
Jean-Louis: The different openings in the apartment align with each other. They are arranged like sequences. When standing before an opening, one can view a series of features placed incrementally. The interiors have a pared-down and analogous colour and material palette, which is quite important because one certainly does not want to jam in too many details for the eye to perceive. I believe that the entrance of the space should have the least amount of details, and one should slowly progress onto more interesting areas and elements. This is because one remains at the entrance for only a moment, before progressing to other spaces within the residence, where a lot more remains to be discovered afterwards. One does not need to communicate strongly through the entrance design, only to have the rest of the areas pale in its comparison. I believe that there should be a certain amount of mystery when one moves through the space. They should be excited to witness the living room, the dining room, and other areas. I like to design spaces that lie at the brink of extroversion and introversion, where there’s a fair amount of visual connectivity between all spaces, without killing their mystery.
Almas: What is your favourite spot in the apartment, and why?
Jean-Louis: I think I like the living room. This is because I usually like living rooms. They are spaces that have a fluid function. You can either be there by yourself or invite and entertain guests. It is the most used room in a house and one where everyone can sit and enjoy. Also, the different spots in a living room help administer different moments and experiences. If one sits in the middle of the room, on the main sofa, they can become the centre of attention. However, if one recedes to the side, next to the fireplace, with a friend, it means that they intend to have a relaxed, more private moment. That’s what I love about living rooms. The furniture layout provides people with many different options to enjoy the space, depending on their mood.
Almas: How was your experience working on the project, and were there any significant challenges through the journey?
Jean-Louis: It was really nice and easy. I like the challenges that come with a new project and a change of location. Although the space was previously used as a paediatrician office, the fact that we had to redevelop it meant that we had a blank slate. We were not stuck with mouldings or other architectural elements that needed saving. This gave us a lot of freedom, to shape the space as we liked.
Almas: What’s NEXT for you?
Jean-Louis: We are currently working in ten different countries and nearly 30 projects. A lot of them are in India. We are soon going to complete a project in Chandigarh that has been under construction for five years, and another one in Delhi which has been underway for nearly seven years. I am also excited about a project coming up in Hyderabad. I love the possibilities that India offers, with its qualitative craftsmanship that permits varied experimentation with different materials. This is something that one does not find in New York, where high costs often limit maverick experiments. I’d say that India is my happy place and I love working there.