All New Old World
Interior designer Juan Pablo Molyneux brings an opulent, old-world aesthetic to his projects. He tells Brian Adams how a touch of the modern-day can make all the difference
Juan Pablo Molyneux brings an opulent, old-world aesthetic to his interior design projects. He explains how a touch of the modern-day can make all the difference
Chile-born Juan Pablo Molyneux may shrug off the “maximalist” label, but there’s no denying his vibrant, luxuriant aesthetic. He’s designed some of the world’s most venerated spaces, from the Pavilion of Treaties at St. Petersburg’s Konstantinovsky Palace, to the Russian Rooms of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. And his work has garnered so much acclaim that he’s the subject of two coffee table books, and France’s minister of culture named him a knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2004.
In his own words, Molyneux tells us about some of his most notable projects—including a converted 17th century Parisian townhouse and a 12th century castle that he and his wife Pilar call home—and reveals why he succeeds where others fail to bring life to centuries-old architecture.
Chateau Pouy sur Vannes Molyneux’s holiday home in Aube, France
The castle was built in the 1160s. It was formed like a fortress, so it’s a square building with four towers surrounded by a moat. Initially, the only part of the chateau that really turned me on was the attic. It has a roof in the form of a pyramid. It’s extremely high, about 24m, with a structure of wooden beams. It looks totally chaotic.
After you spend a little time inside, you start looking at the structure that I called chaotic and it makes
so much sense. It’s like an engineering masterpiece. I thought it was just the most beautiful space I’d seen.
I had seen the engravings from the 1750s by Piranesi of the Carceri, depicting [fantastical] Roman prisons, and I enlarged them so that the proportions of the beams, the doors and the staircases of the engravings reached the real proportions of the roof. And then I basically upholstered the inside of the roof. It creates something magical as you go from the real to the unreal.
I’ve lost count of how many speakers I have placed all around the chateau, including many that you don’t see. It is like the most incredible concert hall.
Hotel Claude Passart Molyneux’s home in Paris, France
It doesn’t follow any rules—we have a 17th century commode, and on top of that I placed a Picasso. In the living room, I have a coffee table by Giacometti surrounded by 18th century furniture. They all go perfectly well together.
When you are working with extraordinary elements, you can start mixing them in a very personal way. It’s not capricious. It’s not like: “I’m gonna put this next to that, because it is so different.” What I’m trying to do is have a common denominator of choosing high quality over pieces that represent a certain period.
Cercle de L’Union Interalliée Private members’ club in Paris, France
I started by refreshing it. Saying that we need to open all these windows and have fresh air coming in. Everything was fatigued and dull, without any expression of life inside. They had done repairs, but it was not undertaken with a 360-degree vision.
One of the things that was especially challenging was a particular room that had beautiful panelling, in very light grey, but it was dirty. It hadn’t been cleaned for years. It had a bar, but France is not well known for bars inside members’ clubs, so the challenge was to make it look like one of those fantastic places in England. So I took all the furniture out and I painted the entire panelling to make it look like it was made of mahogany, and added some
highlights in gold leaf. It was a demanding task because I didn’t change the panelling at all, but it looks totally renewed.
Limestone townhouse Molyneux’s home in Lenox Hill, New York
It started when I moved to New York 30-something years ago, renting one floor of a townhouse. The space was divided into small apartments that were rent-controlled. I fixed the lobby, the entrance and the elevator—all at my own cost, because I knew that with buildings like this no one cared, especially when the rent was so low. Eventually I started acquiring more and more of the building and now we own all seven storeys.
There is a clear difference between the reception area and the more private areas. In one part I have a very comfortable sofa and a big-screen TV, where we will have dinners on a tray while watching the news or movies. This is very different from the very formal living room downstairs, with the marble floor and some of the very best furniture I have collected.
In the library I had all the walls made to resemble marble, to go with the marble floor, and right above the sofa I have a wonderful Francis Bacon that is surrounded by bookcases made out of steel and bronze. So it’s a mix of the serious and somewhat whimsical elements.
Palais Schottenring Vienna A luxury apartment building in Vienna, Austria
I was approached by this property developer who asked if I would like to work on a building in Vienna that was built in 1872, but which will have all the amenities and services of a high-end modern apartment building.
We are going to put a roof over the palace courtyard and create an incredible grand hall, where there will be access to the staircases, the elevators, everything. The hall will have a marble floor in an Italian Renaissance style, with many colours. The hall will have high ceilings, about six meters tall or more, and I am doing it in big squares of painted glass that reflects the flooring: so it is in a contemporary style but at the same time it has a classical connotation to it. I am not going far from the style of the building but I am provoking the senses, a change more suited for the 21st century.
Clockwise from above: The Chateau Pouy sur Vannes combines classic notes with modern touches—including countless hidden speakers; Juan Pablo molyneux outside the chateau modern Castle
Grand Designs From left: The arching latticework in the towering attic, upholstered with fantastical prints, is the showstopper at Chateau Pouy sur Vannes; the Hotel Claude Passart doesn’t sacrifice luxury or looks
haute makeover Clockwise from opposite page: Mahogany paint and gold leaf revitalise the Cercle de L’Union Interalliée; Vienna’s Palais Schottenring merges classical and contemporary; the library at Molyneux’s home in Lenox Hill