THE WORLD-FAMOUS DECORATOR, JUAN PABLO MOLYNEUX, DESIGNS HOUSES FOR THE RICHEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, INCLUDING ROBERT DE NIRO, CRISTIANO RONALDO, SHEIKH OF QATAR, AND OTHERS. IN THE ERA OF MAXIMALISM HE CREATES LUXURIOUS, SOPHISTICATED INTERIORS WITH EXQUISITELY CONCEIVED DETAILS. BEING A MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF THE WORLD CULTURAL MONUMENTS FUND AND A CAVALIER OF THE FRENCH ORDER OF ART AND LITERATURE, MOLYNEUX BELIEVES THAT EXCELLENCE IS ETERNAL.
BY KATIE DUSTMAN
AZERI OBSERVER EDITOR
Question: How did you start your path into the world of design?
Answer: You talk about “my path,” and it is true that I often compare my career to a long walk that first began many years ago. I must say that the road has been beautiful, and I can see the vista continuing into the distance. I’m doing the best job in the world! Every day is different, like the landscape growing alongside the path.
The road started at the University of Santiago de Chile where I studied architecture. It then continued at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, France. It was in the late 1960s, when I was 20 years old, that I began to discover Europe and France. I took advantage of my studies in France to travel, and I even went on a road trip to visit the magnificent palaces and monuments in Russia, which at the time was still called the USSR.
I discovered a world we did not talk about at the university, that of classical and neoclassical architecture. At that time, the teaching of architecture privileged modernism and brutalism as if nothing had existed before. I was going against the current of everything we were taught by discovering and admiring the splendors of the French, Italian, Russian, and English architectural heritage of the 17th and 18th centuries. I began to understand a great deal then, especially that we could only love or reject what we knew. It was my first lesson, but it has been an influence on the rest of my career.
In the early 1980s, I left Argentina, where I had created my first decorating firm, and moved to New York. I established JP Molyneux Studio Ltd. and eventually became an American citizen. This country has given me a lot. I believe that each country where we live provides a significant influence on our character and capabilities since experiencing a different culture teaches us a great deal. In short, America gave me the culture of efficiency and the speed of execution.
At the same time, parallel to my life in New York City, I have always maintained a special attachment to France. At the end of the 1990s, I opened a branch in Paris to best manage my projects in Europe. Most of the vendors and craftspeople I work with are French, and we celebrate them as the finest craftspeople in the country. France has given me the certainty that the highest quality is a non-negotiable requirement, and running my firm from Paris and spending a great deal of time there has strengthened my professional and personal ideals of excellence, refinement, and style.
I have continued to be inspired by the cultures of the different countries where I have lived and worked. My clients of various nationalities have enriched me, and I cannot thank them enough for that.
Q.: You have designed private residences in South America, North America, Europe, and the Middle East. These include the interior of the Cercle de l’UnionInteralliée, a private members’ club in Paris, the interior of the Pavilion of Treaties in Saint-Petersburg, the rooms for the Russian Federation in the Palais des Nations, the United Nations Headquarter in Geneva, and a 400,000-square-foot palace for Sheikh Mohamed Bin Suhaim Al-Thani, the ruling family of Qatar. What has been your favorite project that you implemented?
A.: Every project is different. It always provides a way to question and refine what you know and what you have done before. Each of my clients come to me with their own culture, specific interests, goals, and dreams. Each time, I must find ways to adapt to these requirements. Each job site presents various constraints that you can never predict in advance. It provides a constant exercise for my mind, and I love that.
I do not have a preference or ranking for my projects. Of course, I am particularly proud of some of them, especially when I recall how I found solutions to the difficulties and challenges they presented. Each time, the purpose is different. Some projects will be impressive in their scale, others by the refinement of special materials, still others for the architectural heritage of an old building, and sometimes for all of these aspects together.
Of course, when I see on the news a report showing heads of state standing in a room that I designed, I feel gratified. When I recently visited one of my clients in Paris in the 200 m2 pied-à-terre, which I had completed for him a few years ago, I took great pleasure in seeing this apartment again, too.
My primary business is high end-residential interior design. I also respond to selected institutional clients whose projects intrigue me. I particularly like working in old, historic buildings. Currently, I’m working on the restoration of the Château Mukhrani in Georgia. This former Georgian royal residence is surrounded by a vineyard famous at the end of the 19th century when the Château Mukhrani wine was served in the royal courts of Europe and was considered the best wine in the world. When I became involved in the project, a group of passionate people had already been planning for over two decades to recreate this vineyard, which had disappeared, and to restore the mansion, which had fallen into disrepair. I am very proud to be part of this great and exciting adventure.
My name is associated with major renovation and construction projects in three European capitals: Vienna, London, and Moscow. The Palais Schottenring in Vienna is a historic 19thcentury building in the process of being converted to exclusive residential apartments following my plans and designs. Only the highest quality materials and finishes are being used.
I am collaborating on prestigious residential developments in Mayfair, London, and on the Malaya Bronnaya in Moscow. The developers of both projects have the ambition and ability to create the most luxurious apartments in Europe on the market. I am proud to have been asked to be a part of these achievements of extreme sophistication, full-service luxury residences that are a first of their kind.
Q.: In one of your previous interviews, you admitted that once you designed an interior just for a restroom. How was it possible for a renowned designer to be involved in such a project? Could you please share more details about it?
A.: Years have taught me that you never know who’s going to come through your door. Sometimes, clients are very vague about their project. Often, they call on the phone and tell you that they have “something to redo.”
I remember one of my most important clients. He was Canadian and told me about a country house he wanted to have built. The house was to be a palace located on a piece of property as big as Belgium!
While you can start by being interviewed for a simple bathroom, you may end up doing the whole house! It’s the charm of our profession. The first meeting is essential to setting the tone for the project to come. Openness to others, both customers and suppliers, is the most valuable aspect.
Additionally, small rooms are not necessarily the easiest to design and can be a real challenge. It’s often a good test for a young architect I’m hiring. I ask him or her to draw a bathroom with a shower, bathtub, sinks, vanities, and towel dryers and I can immediately ascertain their professional qualities and defects.
Q.: You propagandize maximalism and satiety at the époque of minimalism. While other designers focus their attention on the practical and utilitarian sides of interiors, you proclaim visual diversity and historical value of each element in it. Have you ever had any criticism of your work? What is your general attitude to criticism?
A.: You are faced with criticism no matter what you do! It must, therefore, be accepted. I always follow my instinct. As Jean Cocteau said, “What the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you.” I learned that lesson early on!
Of course, like any creative process, interior design is subject to the whims of fashion and passing fads, driven by what the industry calls “trends.” This is all quite normal and part of the universal and very human desire for change and innovation. Trends also have an economic value that is not insignificant, as they stimulate our market sector and bring opportunities to sell new products and concepts.
What I do find tiresome is when, in the name of the latest fashion, the end of one tradition is proclaimed yet again, and everyone praises the new trends to the skies, presenting them as the true future of interior design. I have always been struck by how short-lived these “futures” really are! A new trend rarely lasts more than a decade, if that, and a completed project can quickly become dated and stale. A quick look through magazines from the past few years provides plenty of examples of this and it is always a good reflection of the last “must-have” trends. I believe this debate will repeat endlessly, so it’s probably best to keep a cool head and just keep doing “my own thing.”
My real interests lie in something more timeless than trends. I am deeply convinced that quality and excellence are far more important than these artificial and rather sterile arguments. Any quality product or person has an inherent capacity to stand out from the crowd, and so by extension, has no need for fashion.
I refuse to forget the past or to reject innovation if it’s good quality. There is room for everyone. I am not an unequivocal person as I like to create very different worlds from one project to the next. Within a single project, I will mix styles, periods, colors, and materials. The sole arbiter is the harmony of the whole and the balance between these components. I design interiors for men and women of their time, fully in tune with their age. I evoke rather than reconstruct. I work with excellence, both old and contemporary, to offer my clients the very best. There is no basic contradiction between true modernity and tradition. It is striking to see just how brilliant most contemporary art is when displayed in a classical setting. Look at how the Palace of Versailles and its park provided the most wonderful location for recent exhibitions of contemporary art (including works by Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Giuseppe Penone). One should always be suspicious of preconceived ideas, such as the insistence that plain white walls are the only way to display great works of art, or that a stripped-down approach best expresses the essence of contemporaneity. And this belief has lasted more than 30 years! The recent refurbishment of the galleries in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, with the triumphant return of more sophisticated color schemes for its walls, has provided the perfect riposte. Everyone wins, starting with the works themselves. Why choose when you can have everything? Why always oppose rather than try to bring together? The old French term “ensemblier,” describing an overarching approach to interior design, suits me perfectly since it expresses the real basis of our work, juxtaposition, and mixture.
Q.: Georgia, where you created your work, is the closest to Azerbaijan on the map. Could you, please, tell us about this project?
A.: Princes of Mukhrani (Mukhranbatoni) stem from one of the oldest royal dynasties in the World – the Bagrationi. Their knightly nature, diligence, and self-sacrifice allowed them to occupy the Royal Throne of the Country as early as the 17th century.
The great political and military figure of the 19th century Ivane Mukhranbatoni during his trip to France in 1875 learned about the fine art of winemaking of the Bordeaux and Champagne regions. On his return home he decided to start producing wonderful Georgian wines on his forefathers’ Mukhrani estate land. He built a 1.200.000-liter capacity winery, bravely implementing innovation which was unique throughout the Caucasus. The great reputation of Mukhrani wines made these Georgian vineyards famous. Despite a rather high price, the demand for Mukhrani wines was growing steadily and they were successfully marketed in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, the Baltic countries, Paris, Vienna, and even in cities as far away as the U.S. Mukhranbatoni was one of the exclusive suppliers of wines to the Russian Imperial Court and the first to prove that Georgian wines have a rightful place among the great wines of the world. By blending local and imported grape varietals, he produced super class wines whose high qualities met the strictest requirements of experts and the refined taste of true wine lovers.
In 2002, a group of businesspeople laid basis for restoration of the project of Château Mukhrani. The group intended to revive the estate to its former glory and re-establish production at Mukhrani by combining modern and traditional technologies. The building of the modern wine making facility started in 2007.
The same year, Château Mukhrani again started making its own wine from grapes harvested in its own vineyards. I am honored to have been selected to take part in the challenge of restoring Château Mukhrani. The mansion will be reborn in all its former fame and splendor.
In the case of any old building that must be restored, I almost always rely first on the close study and deep understanding of the original plans. For me, this is an indispensable prerequisite.
Each time, I seek as much information as possible to restore the original volumes and plans of a building. It’s a question of architectural and constructive logic, and I firmly believe you can’t argue against it! On the other hand, my intention has never been to reconstruct “historical” interiors or to recreate missing decorative schemes. No, I am more concerned with restoring a certain atmosphere and regaining the spirit of grandeur, refinement, or sophistication that may have presided over the design and construction of a place. Intellectually and artistically, this is much more interesting and motivating to me. Of course, in the case of buildings protected as historical monuments, we follow the advice and requests of cultural and government institutions. Balance is essential between these two components: absolute respect for the spirit of the site and creativity to best serve this spirit.
Q.: How is the work on the project going on? Which part is implemented directly by you, and which is by your team?
A.:Most of my clients are busy people, and I appreciate that they do not have time to waste. I always ask that they send plans and photographs so that I can have an idea of a potential project even before our first meeting.
Then, most often, I want to visit the site and meet with the client in order for us to get to know each other and to establish a dialogue that will give me valuable insights into what the client is looking for and how far they have developed their requests.
At the end of this dialogue, a contract is drawn up for the initial design phase of the project. Then my staff and I work on the general plans of the project and some elevations that allow me to make two or three renderings of the main pieces, which are then proposed to the client. These color perspectives are very close to the final result in terms of color, and the rendering of materials, furnishings, and fabrics. My clients are often amazed to see how the final result is faithful to the 3-D renderings that I presented many months earlier.
If my proposals are accepted, we move to a definitive contract for implementing the project. The duration of a project varies based on its size. In general, the duration of work for an apartment of around 300 m2 ranges from 12 to 18 months. The largest projects, those of several thousand square meters, take us between three and five years.
What I expect from a client for the project to be fully successful is to be results-motivated, so at the end of the proposal phase, they have made a decision regarding my proposals. There is nothing worse than indecisive personalities. Of course, changes are always possible as long as they do not impact the main lines of a project, or its foundations if you prefer.
I personally take care of the entire conceptual phase of the project. Starting from the existing plans, I redraw the volumes and define the different rooms as well as their articulation and the general circulation plan. My draftsmen do plans on CAD according to my designs.When I ask my designers to make a preselection of fabrics, materials, and furniture for a project, I am always the final and only decision maker for these purposes.
Q.: You call your work as the main source of adrenaline in your life. But how do you spend your leisure time?
A.: My job is my passion, but apart from that, I have always had a passion for speed and motor sports. I love beautiful cars like Maserati, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, and also Harley Davidson motorcycles. Pilar, my wife, and I have had fantastic trips on motorbikes.
I’m crazy about skiing too. I have skied the most challenging slopes in the world, particularly in Europe and America. I also play tennis every chance I get. In the park of the castle of Pouy-sur-Vannes, I have two tennis courts, one clay and one grass, so I can play practically year-round.
Q.: Beautiful design should exist for centuries, but how do you imagine the architecture of future?
A.:Over the years, I have managed to build a network of exceptional craftsmen. In Paris, I most often rely upon ateliers which are “Meilleurs Ouvriers de France – M. O. F.” (“Best Workers of France”) or the “Entreprises du Patrimoine Vivant – E. P. V. (“Companies of the Living Heritage), official labels created by the French Ministry of Culture. These noted craftsmen collaborate on major restoration projects of historical monuments such as Versailles, Fontainebleau, the Louvre, the Châteaux of the Loire, or the cathedrals of the Middle Ages like Notre Dame de Paris. I am pleased to serve as a member of the board of trustees of several major private heritage organizations including the World Monuments Fund, the French Heritage Society, and the American Friends of Versailles. We raise funds to finance restoration campaigns of many historic monuments in France and worldwide.
I work with the same craftsmen as part of this personal commitment to the architectural and cultural heritage of my sites. Through my New York branch, I opened the American market to many of these craftsmen and artisans, who have thus been able to have satellite ateliers in the United States. These talented craftsmen have taught me excellence, the refusal of mediocrity, and moreover, patience, as their time is not of “our time.” Centuries-old skills and techniques are the basis of their unequaled knowledge and capabilities. My greatest pride is to promote the transmission of this extraordinary craftsmanship to younger generations for posterity. You cannot imagine my satisfaction when I see 20-year-old apprentices working at my project sites. They are the living future of these centuries-old traditions and crafts. I am convinced that excellence is eternal.