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

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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.

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

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

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

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