Within the interiors Juan Pablo Molyneux creates, ancient stories are told on finely lacquered walls, Baroque mirrors converse with august tapestries, and silk-velvet surfaces whisper to Venetian-plastered columns. As wondrous objects grace the highest-calibre consoles, desks and tables, exquisite fabrics upholster sofas, armchairs and walls. Fearlessly opulent while fiercely grounded in classicism, Molyneux mixes periods, styles and patterns while always ensuring that every detail of a room vibrates in harmony.
JUAN PABLO MOLYNEUX AT HIS CHATEAU IN POUY-SUR-VANNES, IN FRANCE’S CHAMPAGNE REGION. © XAVIER BÉJOT
Trained at Paris’s École du Louvre and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, he began his career in Latin America in the 1970s before opening offices in New York in the 1980s and Paris in the 1990s. From a mansion in Canada to the Pavilion of Treaties in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and from houses in Connecticut to a 40,000-square-foot palace for Sheikh Mohamed Bin Suhaim Al-Thani of Qatar, Molyneux has done it all – and he is still at it, with indefatigable gusto. Christine Schwartz Hartley caught up with le grand maître shortly after the publication of Juan Pablo Molyneux: At Home (Assouline), a gorgeous volume featuring his own residences in New York, Paris and Pouy-sur-Vannes, where he owns a chateau.
IN THE THIRD-FLOOR SALON OF JUAN PABLO MOLYNEUX’S FORMER NEW YORK TOWN HOUSE, LAPIS LAZULI OBELISKS MOUNTED ON QUARTZ ANIMAL BASES REST ON A JEAN-FRANÇOIS OEBEN COMMODE. © XAVIER BÉJOT
How did your latest book come about?
We live in a world that is complicated with issues of security and privacy. In the 1990s, my work was in a lot of publications – clients wanted that. But today, it is the opposite: clients don’t want to be exposed. So when people asked, “When are you doing another book?” I felt I couldn’t publish the best things I had done. What I could publish without having to try to convince any owner were my own houses. I was mistaken, of course, because I have a wife – she’s like a different client! But at this stage of my life, I do have three properties that I am very proud of, and they also showcase the conviction I have that you don’t have to follow patterns: you make them.
A MASTER BATH IN THE CHATEAU AT POUY-SUR-VANNES FEATURES ORIGINAL WOOD PANELLING AND A BATHTUB BY ATELIER PROMÉTHÉE. © XAVIER BÉJOT
One of these properties is Pouy-sur-Vannes, your chateau in the Champagne region. What is its story?
Pouy is my home. I have my dogs jumping all over the sofas and playing with the cushions, and I love that. The history of Pouy is more in the stones than in the interiors. Nine centuries of people have been transforming it from a fortress to a chateau to a private residence. We all depend on film and television and novels to entertain our minds, but the fantastic thing when you open the door at Pouy is that you start thinking that it was put together stone by stone before Notre Dame in Paris. And then you say, “I want to trace a line through all the people who have had something to do with all these stones” – and it’s infinite and fascinating. Then you start having your own thoughts, talking alone, and hearing your footsteps and the noises all around.
THE DESIGNER’S OFFICE AND LIBRARY IN HIS 17TH-CENTURY HÔTEL PARTICULIER IN PARIS. © XAVIER BÉJOT
What was it like to move to New York after working in Latin America?
You know, Buenos Aires is more upper-crust than any other place in the world. Things there are so grand and so extraordinary that you can hardly believe people can afford to live that way. In that environment, a person who is extremely chic and elegant knows that sometimes you have to suffer a little. In coming to New York, I understood for the first time, one hundred per cent, what the word comfort meant. In New York, people want comfort first, and if that turns out to be chic, fine. But if it doesn’t, that’s also fine. I am afraid that we live surrounded by mediocrity. My influence here has been to maintain a certain level of elegance. Ostentation can be a bad word, but if it is very honest, it can be very beautiful. I think it is a privilege to be rightfully ostentatious.
IN THE SALON DES MONTGOLFIÈRES AT POUY, THE ORIGINAL WOODWORK AND VAULTED CEILING WERE PAINTED BY FRÉDÉRIK MONPOINT FROM A MOLYNEUX DESIGN INSPIRED BY JOSÉ MARÍA SERT. © XAVIER BÉJOT
Can you tell us about a current project?
Yes. It is in the city of Vienna, an old palace – we’re talking about a big building, not a royal palace – very beautiful, late 19th century, un peu Napoléon III, and it’s in the Ringstrasse, a very good location. Out of that building, I am doing 23 apartments and four penthouses with swimming pools. It is going to be the most prized real estate in Vienna.
Where do you find the pieces that populate your interiors?
At Sotheby’s! Really, all over the world: I travel for jobs, for pleasure, and I always have that little side-eye with which I can spot something. I have a vast repertory of sources, and some people keep producing pieces that I like, but my favourite antique dealer is the one who has the right piece, and that’s something you can find anywhere.
THE COLOUR OF A BEDROOM AT POUY-SUR-VANNES MATCHES THAT OF ITS ANTECHAMBER; THE BED ALCOVE IS IN THE SAME VELVET AS THE DRAPERY. © XAVIER BÉJOT
What are your favourite periods in the arts?
I always talk about the late 18th century: France was very powerful, producing all these new things and dispersing them all over. Russia also had very important periods – the mid-19th century and the early 20th century. I love Russian Constructivist art, for instance. As for today’s art, I feel that it is not designed for me. When I see these installations that receive so much press, I feel very good for the artists but very bad for the public.
Christine Schwartz Hartley is a New York-based contributing editor of Sotheby’s magazine.