“Dashing” is how one would describe Paris-based architect and interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot, for both his youthful good looks and his speed of travel in the world of design. Known for being bold and delivering the unexpected, Deniot dances the tightrope between traditional and modern. Featured on the Architectural Digest AD100 list and the ELLE Décor A-List, Deniot has made a name for himself and his brand in just a few short years.
Homefront recently caught up with the global designer en route to Bangkok.
Q) When did you become keen on the field of architecture and design?
Jean-Louis: As a child, I was drawn to design as well as to the alluring worlds of theatre and movie sets. I still remember wondering which of the three would win out and, looking back, I don’t think any of them did. I’ve taken something from each, and often hear people describe my work as cinematic or theatrical.
In the end, I studied at architecture school for two years and continued with five years of interior architecture and industrial product design. I opened my firm here in France right after finishing my studies in 2000.
Q) Do you have a design philosophy that we could recognize?
Jean-Louis: The finished work must create osmosis, or energy, whether it’s calming, mysterious, exciting or provocative. This osmosis happens when the décor, the view, the music and the people come together.
My designs are created to be uplifting and worthy of contemplation. I think it’s important to create interiors that are conducive to exceptional moments. I’ve accomplished my goal when the same space can be appreciated in different ways, by one person alone or with 20 friends.
Q) Could your style be described as either minimalistic or excessive?
Jean-Louis: Actually, I love both. I really enjoy working on very varied styles by trying to translate with my own perception and vocabulary. Recently, I have been contacted about designing an ultra-minimal triplex and an Arabic-style palace, and both are very exciting!
Q) You’re based in Paris but work worldwide. Is it true you’ve done projects on almost every continent?
Jean-Louis: Yes! Our work has taken us coast to coast in the US: San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Hollywood, New York City, the Hamptons, Chicago, Aspen and Miami, to name a few.
We’ve also worked all over Asia, on projects in Hong Kong, Bangkok and New Delhi, and of course in Russia and throughout Europe. In Paris, where we operate out of, we have done several homes and private apartments.
Creating furniture and lighting collections with Baker, Jean de Merry, George Smith, Collection Pierre, Pouenat, Bronze d’Art Français and Marc de Berny has been an adventure and has brought me into another side of the business. Designing very specific collections for these brands and their customers has been fulfilling for me.
Q) Is there a favourite place or country that brings out your best work?
Jean-Louis: It is not so much about the place, even though I carefully choose the projects and locations.
Instead, it’s about the uniqueness of each job. For me, no project should have repetition. I expect each one to push me and take me to the next level. I look for renewal in every domain.
I should be able to answer the clients’ expectations and reflect the special culture and ambiance of the location.
Working in any new country or city actually forces me to face new challenges, to take design risks and to improve my design confidence.
Q) Does that mean your design work changes according to the geographical location?
Jean-Louis: My work is very location oriented because I like my interiors to reflect their environment. The starting points for my projects are first, the location; and second, the culture and the landscape. My specific interior design always has to be in tune with this context.
As we speak, I am en route to Bangkok in Thailand for a modern triplex. My design reflects the city’s mood—the frenzy, the decadence and the dynamic, multicultural contrasts.
Last night I saw the 1984 music video of One Night in Bangkok by Murray Head, and realized that the décor I’ve conceptualized is totally in the same vibe. There are no coincidences when you study your destination and let your imagination transport you. So much of it comes from the vibes I get from learning about and being in a specific place.
Q) What was it like working on your first condo building in Miami?
Jean-Louis: I wanted the building’s aesthetic to reflect the mood, like a great summer soundtrack, surrounded by the smell of coconut oil, the sea and enjoying cold margaritas. My interior concept is an invitation to escape into a relaxed, chic, fun world—what I call “high leisure”!
For me, successful architecture—and design, for that matter—is all about achieving the right balance. It’s a mix between highs and lows, rich and poor, colourful and neutral. Good design has no special formula. The ideal result is always in the imaginative fine-tuning of many disparate components.
Q) When do you buck the trends and break the rules?
Jean-Louis: All the time. The rules may be at the back of my head, but I really prefer to pretend they don’t even exist. Rules, if followed too tightly, can be stifling to creativity and the buoyancy and energy of ideas. I enjoy and value my freedom.
Q) What gets you going, or inspires you in the morning?
Jean-Louis: I get joy and inspiration from what happens in my own world, and from what I see and learn along the way. As I travel from continent to continent, I process and take in many cultures, languages and styles. Then, I produce what feels right for me. It’s whatever comes to my head at the time. I can go in many directions, and enjoy the fact that my latest work always shows up as a complete surprise.
I’m not influenced or inspired by what’s going on in the design world around me. I like to stay highly independent and then create what hasn’t been done yet.
Q) What do you consider a success when working with a client?
Jean-Louis: I am hired to produce the ideal backdrop for my clients’ lives. An interior should reflect their tastes and personality, and make them look and feel even better than they already do. Recently we completed a town house in the Upper East Side of New York, and the owners tell me that their home has truly been transformed by the work we’ve done. Now, when they walk in the front door, they can’t believe it’s the same house. That to me is success. It’s the greatest compliment.
Shelley Black’s career has spanned a unique range of editorial and corporate roles with Flare and Maclean’s. She enjoys writing about all forms of design.