January 28, 2017

10 Questions With… Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku

Interior Design Hall of Fame member Patrick Jouin heads up acclaimed firm Jouin Manku with Sanjit Manku. Since they joined forces in 2006, the duo has become a household name. Paris, their home base, is replete with examples of the firm’s striking aesthetic, from the Mandarin Oriental’s dining spaces to a Van Cleef & Arpels flagship, a Best of Year winner. Jouin Manku’s influence also extends far outside of the capital city, with destination hotels in the French countryside (including the Hôtel des Berges, which has a new annex by the firm that’s featured in our latest issue), projects in Tokyo and Singapore, and more.

Interior Design: You often work with notable chefs, including Alain Ducasse for Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée and Marc Haeberlin for Auberge de l’Ill. What is your process for interpreting a chef’s vision?

Sanjit Manku and Patrick Jouin: The first thing we do is we eat. We try the food and the restaurant. Then we try to understand the path that will get the chef from where they are to where they want to be. We listen carefully to the ambiance the chef wants to create in relation to the food they offer in their restaurant. The food, the venue, the feeling of the client… everything is related, so we have to find the right balance between each of these essential ingredients.  

Then we decide how we will set people up so they are in the best condition to taste the food. We consider our work the first amuse-bouche of the meal. Most of the time, when people enter a restaurant, we know they will have to wait for 15 minutes before they receive food. So for the first 15 minutes, what they get is the observation of the environment. Our role is really to try to set up an introduction. 

We can create something very surprising and magical that will offer a contrast with the cuisine—as we did at the Plaza with Alain Ducasse. Or we try to stay in the same spirit as the food and locale, as we did in Auberge de l’Ill by offering consistency with the quaint environment of the village. It always depends on our conversation with the chef and the impression he wants to convey through the food.  

ID: Hôtel des Berges is a continuation of a decade-long collaboration with one client, whom you first worked with on the renovation of Auberge de l’Ill in 2007. How has the project evolved over the years?

SM and PJ: The Haeberlins and the Baumans compose an incredible family. Together they share responsibilities for the restaurant and the hotel.

It’s very exceptional to have so many generations work together. We had the chance to work with different members of the family. Over time, our friendship has become deeper and more refined, to the point where we understand what they’re going to need in the next chapter of their story, without exchanging any words.

Our method is simple and very essential: we always try to keep a little bit of the past and add an unexpected new element to the story. Even though the place has evolved over the years, you never want everything to be erased. You want a bit of a feeling of permanence. This is where we always try to put our effort.

ID: What excites you most about technology, and how do you see it changing your practice?

SM: Technology allows professional freedom. Now you can test things so you know how bulletproof your project will be; you can make sure you will make no mistakes. On a more personal level, technology allows you to get the lifestyle you’ve always wanted. You become more mobile, less sedentary. Now we master this incredible speed of communication with our team, our clients, and our coworkers. Technology offers the possibility to do things that were maybe too expensive to be achieved previously, or that required a craftsman you could not find locally. 

Now a machine can help you improve your project immediately. But it will never be able to replace the talent of a good hand, a good heart, or a good mind. But they can play together in the same box like any other tool. The key I think is to figure out how to incorporate all things together and never take any one for granted. 

ID: How would you describe your partnership? How do the two of you work well together?

SM and PJ: We describe it like being two musicians playing together. We start off each piece together. Then maybe one of us takes the lead while the other one has the beginning of an idea. You never know for sure where it’s going to end—that is what is exciting. The partnership we have feels like an infinite possibility to grow. With someone else by you, you’re pushed to improve.

We have similar sensibilities but we come from different backgrounds and different cultures. What we have in common is that we are very good listeners. In the end, you’re never quite sure where any idea came from—that’s the magic.

ID: Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your work? 

SM: I grew up in Toronto, Canada, but as an Indian born in Africa. Everyone around me had an equally exotic background. It really encouraged me to look at other cultures. Being open to the richness of the world is fundamental to what we do. At the same time, even though Toronto is a big city, I was very connected to the power of nature. I developed some kind of an animal instinct after being so close to nature for so long.    

ID: What are a few recent projects?

PJ: We just completed the interior design of Cap 3000, a mall in Nice with incredible views of the Mediterranean sea, a project on which we collaborated with Groupe 6. We also designed a new flagship for Van Cleef & Arpels in Ginza, Tokyo. We completed at the same time another Van Cleef & Arpels location in Paris. We also worked on the setup of the brand’s exhibition in Singapore.

ID: Most recently download app? 

PJ: Shapr3D.

ID: A secret source you’re willing to share? 

SM: My grandmother, but you can’t have her.

ID: Most admired historic interior?

SM: Hagia Sophia.

PJ: Four Seasons bar in NYC by Philip Johnson.

ID: Dream commission? 

SM: A custom car or a new musical instrument.

PJ: The next TGV (French high-speed train) and the next Airbus plane.

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