June 30, 2014

Self-Portrait with Furniture: Pierre Yovanovitch’s Paris Apartment

Choosing a place to live, Pierre Yovanovitch has always attached particular importance to the view. “It’s like an extra room,” he says. The vista from his current Paris apartment, in a grandiose 1890’s mansion right on the Seine, is quite breathtaking. From his windows, he looks straight across to the Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries, a sight of which he never tires. “When the sun illuminates the facades opposite,” he affirms, “it’s like having a painting in front of your eyes.”

More and more eyes have been focused on Yovanovitch lately, as Pierre Yovanovitch Architecture d’Intérieur has shot up to the top of the French decorating firmament with a style that allies pure lines and noble, tactile materials. Largely self-taught, he completed his first interiors project for a friend and immediately knew he’d discovered his vocation. He immersed himself in books and found a mentor in Tiffany & Co.’s longtime design director, John Loring. “He’s quite phenomenally cultured,” Yovanovitch relates. Through Loring, the fledgling designer encountered the likes of James Mont and Edward Wormley and developed a passion for American 20th-century decorative arts. “In France, things are often a little precious and small, whereas the furniture in the States is much larger. It’s easier to integrate with contemporary interiors,” he notes. He also loves the architecture of the Viennese Secession. Another favorite, he adds, “for the purity of the lines and the sobriety of the materials, which are simultaneously very simple and extremely sophisticated,” is the furniture of mid-century Sweden.

After launching his firm, he decided to hire only architects for his staff. “I thought I’d set myself apart by giving priority to the volumes rather than to  the decoration,” he explains. The renovation of his own apartment was certainly largely spatial. Initially part of a larger apartment, later split in two, the 2,300 square feet proved complicated to rework. “There had been a logic to the original layout, but I found myself with an apartment where the service quarters had been amputated,” he says. As his goal was to waste as little space as possible, he removed a corridor that ran through the middle of the floor plan. From the entry, you now proceed, graciously, through the dining room and living room to reach the master suite, where a staircase spirals up to a dressing room on a mezzanine.

As for the decoration, untouched for decades, it was a nightmare. The former owner of the apartment, who bought it in the 1970’s, never lived there. “The oven had not even been used. You expected to find the instruction manual still inside,” he recalls. Beneath the heavy 19th-century crown moldings, one room was painted completely black, and others were lacquered green or orange.

In many projects, Yovanovitch favors dramatic ellipses and swirling forms. Here, he opted for strong axes and straight lines, sometimes at an angle. He also framed doorways with bands of black. Such rigor is warmed up by the materials. Nubby fabrics abound, and sandblasted oak clads both a feature wall in the master bedroom and all four walls of the den that doubles as a guest room. For the floor everywhere but the bathrooms, he laid 18th-century oak planks, left untouched. “Sanding them would have destroyed their beauty,” he says. There’s no oil or wax finish either. “The installer warned me that would be a catastrophe,” he notes. As it happens, stains can be removed simply with hot water.

Wood is very present in the furniture as well. Yovanovitch had the sofas and the built-in beds constructed from stacked planks of sandblasted oak. The results have not only the rawness of an industrial crate but also an exquisite craftsmanship. True to his aesthetic, they’re accompanied by numerous American and Scandinavian designs: tables by Donald Deskey and Frank Lloyd Wright’s son John, a chair by Harvey Probber, a desk by Hans Wegner, lamps by Paavo Tynell. The kitchen, meanwhile, offers a dash of whimsy in the form of Nendo’s lanterns made from the agricultural netting used to protect fruit and vegetables from strong winds and hungry animals.

Nothing is superfluous. Yet a part of Yovanovitch—who once described his style as “monklike but comfortable”—would prefer things to be even sparser. “If I listened to my true self, I’d live with nothing but white walls and a bench,” he claims. For the sake of his wonderfully precise and refined interiors, that’s luckily not the case.

Project Team: Ateliers Bataillard: Metalwork. Pierre-Éloi Bris: Woodwork.

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