Virtually every Jean-Louis Deniot design project begins with the reinvention of interior space, an approach elegantly documented in the first book devoted to the currently white-hot French interior designer. Rizzoli’s Jean-Louis Deniot Interiors, written by Diane Dorrans Saeks and lushly illustrated by photographer Xavier Béjot, demonstrates the artist’s signature decorating tactic time and again.
“Often I don’t even focus on or discuss the décor until the restoration and remodeling are well under control,” says the architecturally trained Deniot. “With a renovation or new construction, I work on the rawest bone of architecture, the skeleton, and make it perfect before proceeding with the millwork, heating, finishes, security systems, sound and light.” The designer’s practice mushroomed rapidly following the 2000 launch of his firm, with assignments in India, Morocco, Russia and Bora Bora, as well as the expected cities of New York, Paris and London.
Among the 18 projects featured in the book is a dazzling five-thousand-square-foot four bedroom apartment Deniot crafted in a vintage lakefront building on Chicago’s Near North Side. The space was 99% reconstructed, with walls ripped out, smaller rooms eliminated, doorways shifted and new millwork, moldings and pilasters installed.
The tour de force of creating a 16th arrondissement ambience from a jumble of Park Avenue-style vintage bathrooms, closets, service facilities and servant’s rooms in the American Midwest was accomplished by the designer for a nameless couple, whose only identity clues are that they are suburban empty nesters and both lawyers. The pair also had the prescience to engage the young Frenchman to design a Paris pied-a-terre for them while he was still a student. “They were among my first clients when I was still completing architecture studies at École Camondo in Paris,” he says. They have been entirely enthusiastic about the results and were without hesitation in choosing him as their Chicago architect when the time came to move in from the suburbs.
The apartment’s foyer signals guests that they have entered an elegant new territory when they step through the Gilbert Poillerat-inspired glass and wrought iron doors to face a handsome mirrored console, custom-designed by Deniot in the style of Serge Roche. The brass sunburst mirror above the console was created by Hervé Van der Straeten.
The ample living room stretches across an area previously occupied by three rooms and a storage closet, Deniot’s custom construction of the mirrored fireplace was—like the foyer console—inspired by Serge Roche. A television set is discreetly concealed by the oil on canvas painting above it.
The complete reconstruction of the space now occupied by the living room resulted in a blank canvas for Deniot to add vertical panel molding for accentuating the wall height and to create the elaborate ceiling designs echoed in a wood and silk carpet covering much of the floor.
The exquisite walls dominating the dining room were inspired by an architectural fragment from Pompeii the designer discovered in a Paris flea market. A collection of Loetz Bohemian “Tango” glass is handsomely displayed in a mirror-backed bronze cabinet designed by Deniot to fully showcase the spectrum of shapes and colors.
It was Chicago designer Robert Klingel, working as a local troubleshooter for the project, who identified the Luczak Brothers, fourth-generation local plasterers, who accomplished the construction of the dining room’s fluted walls, springing from baseboards to rise toward the ceiling to cove gracefully near the top.