With the elegance of Marie Antoinette and the limitless ambition of Napoleon Bonaparte, architect and interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot has secured himself at the forefront of the international design scene. Fresh out of school at the age of 25, the Frenchman founded his own firm, and has been working for himself ever since. He’s designed numerous projects all over the world, appeared on the cover of Elle Decor magazine, written a book on his “updated classical” approach and, most recently, completed the sales gallery at Elysee Residences in Miami. We caught up with Jean-Louis Deniot to find out more about his background, enviable career and what’s inspiring him right now.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did your childhood influence the designer you are today? Did your family help to foster this creativity or was it innate?
Jean-Louis Deniot: As a kid I was always building miniature architectural models with interior finishes, furnishing, accessories and art, in all kinds of styles including contemporary Californian, Parisian Haussmannian, French Art Ateliers, Indian Palaces and more. It was incredible practice, and because it was all miniature I really went all out.
My aunt Dominique Deniot gave me art supplies and really encouraged my artistic sense — she used all my projects, paintings and drawings as wallpaper in her Parisian apartment.
BBH: How would you describe your personal decorating style?
JLD: Chic, fresh, French! My style is influenced by the grand decors of the past, yet simplified, sleeker, with eclectic influences and content. I am always working to achieve fresh, timeless interiors and do not want any of the spaces I have decorated to ever look dated. I tend to avoid trends. I travel in my own dreams to create exciting combinations that have not been seen before. I am very site and client-oriented, so each result is a completely different trip of its own. I do not have one formula and do not like to repeat anything, so each and every job is totally unique.
BBH: You established your firm, Jean-Louis Deniot, in 2000 — the same year you graduated from École Camondo. Why did you feel ready to establish your own firm so early on in your career?
I did an internship in February 2000 for an awful, frustrated dictator of an interior designer — after 2 weeks I quit and promised myself to never work for any firm other than my own. I graduated with honors in June 2000 and established my firm in September 2000.
I started from scratch with no clients and no business connections, so there was a lot to be done. I was 25 years old, had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I jumped in and worked non-stop.
BBH: How has the firm grown since you started out? What has changed?
JLD: I started out on my own with my sister Virginie Deniot as my business partner, when she finished business school. It was just the two of us. Now, 15 years later, we have 25 full time employees including architects, decorators, custom furniture designers, vintage experts, plus the management, accounting and legal departments. It’s now a well-oiled machine, but it did not change how I work. I still study each project the same way. It’s still a cool, serene office environment, we just have a lot more projects than before. We are now working in 15 countries and 22 cities.
BBH: Besides the obvious travel perks, what do you love most about working on destination projects?
JLD: I love being exposed to each country’s local vibe. I love every nationality, every type of food, weather, architecture, culture. It is all very inspiring. I get to inject my own story into those around me, and the result is captivating. In one month I can be on site at project meetings in Paris, in the French countryside, in India, Hong Kong, New York, Miami and Los Angeles, it is fascinating to be exposed to and challenged by each location, adapting to each site and its capabilities. I learn every day as I teach others how to carry out my design, and it’s great exchanging experience with people.
BBH: What projects are you currently working on? Can you tell us about the sales gallery you recently completed for Elysee Miami?
JLD: In the sales center, I tried to give a preview of the feeling Elysee will have. It’s inspired by the glamour of the French Riviera in the 30s and 40s, but in a modern and fun way. It’s a challenge to communicate the aesthetic of such an impressive building within a small, prefab structure. We want future owners to understand what they are going to get at Elysee, yet still keep the fabulous surprise of delivering way beyond their expectations. Buyers can trust we will deliver the best product possible.
Other current projects include two private homes in Hong Kong, a 7,000 square foot triplex in Moscow, construction of a 25,000 square foot modern palace in Chandigarh, India, two townhouses on the Upper East Side, New York, a 4,000 square foot house in West Hollywood, a 10,000 square foot art deco house in Tangiers, Morocco, a 4,000 square foot 17th century house in Tarifa, Spain, a 45-room hotel Avenue de l’Opéra, Paris and various residences in London, including a 20,000 square foot private home in Knightsbridge.
BBH: What do you enjoy about designing for a developer? How does it differ from designing for a couple or an individual?
JLD: I really enjoy being able to put a price on the added value and services we provide, and the commercial challenge of what we have to produce. As opposed to a private project where it’s about pleasing one couple and their friends, a development like Elysee is about pleasing 100 couples. The personality of a development must be stately but subtle enough that each owner can personalize their own space. The better we do for the future residents, the faster it sells.
BBH: You’re fond of incorporating antiques into your designs. Do you have any tips on what to look for when buying vintage furniture?
JLD: A vintage sofa covered in a new, crisp fabric has tons of personality. I also love using vintage art from any period, and vintage lighting. These elements give any decor very personal, one-of-a-kind touches. Vintage pieces add depth and layers to interiors.
BBH: What’s currently inspiring you this fall/winter?
JLD: I feel that period furniture is coming back, but sleek, minimalist silhouettes are in too, so I have been inspired by mixing both to get exciting juxtapositions between very contradictory pieces.
BBH: What has been your greatest accomplishment as a designer? What goals do you have for the future?
JLD: My wish is for my firm to become one of the greatest references in the business. It’s not about power, it’s about reaching the highest level of freedom and working only on projects that allow my artistic and creative sense to reach the next level, take the next turn, surpass the next challenge. My goal is to work on the most iconic, historical properties and through my vision, bring these storied places to the next century. The ultimate goal is for my work to become institutional, part of the history of interior design.