PHOTOGRAPHS BY: Peter Margonelli
NAKED IN PARIS
By LOUIS POSTEL
There’s something sexy about walking through this Paris apartment. It’s as though you’re trailing behind Catherine Deneuve in a scene from Belle de Jour. It’s all about encountering little surprises – little tickles of the senses in the form of antiques and rare fabrics – and then all the spaces coming together in some sort of climatic moment.
“My client wanted me to bring back the whole sensibility of the 1920’s,” says Juan Montoya, as we walk into a ravishing 1920s building in the Bois de Boulogne.
“The concept was to use a lot important pieces from the 20’s, like Ruhlman, Arbus, Jean-Michel Frank, Prints,” Juan ticks off the fabled names. “We wanted to bring back the elegance and the feeling of that time; the client wanted to live with the 1920s, not just to have some 1920s things . . . he wanted to bring the character of the time into his home.”
THE GUEST BEDROM BOASTS A MAPLE SPIRAL STAIRCASE ANCHORED BY A STAINLESS STEEL COLUMN. THE ROUND PAINTING OVER THE SOFA IS BYDEGOTTEX.
JUAN MONTOYA’S DECO MUSE IS CLEAN-LIMBED AND SENSUAL.
A RARE SUITE OF PERIOD FURNITURE, ROSEWOOD BOOKCASES AND A ROMEDA BRONZE SCULPTURE ARE THREE OF THE ELEMENTS SO IMPORTANT TO THIS APARTMENT’S PERIOD SENSIBILITY.
“I try to connect to what exists,” Juan Montoya has said to us in the past. Here, the building’s vintage maintains a powerful connection to a time when Paris introduced a revolutionary new design vocabulary to the world.
“We used precious woods like Maccassar and palisandra,” Juan continues. “The scale and height and cleanliness of the space characterize the 20s as well, and the excellence of detail.
“We used mixtures of African art and polished furniture – very detailed furniture. African art was popularized in the 20s with Picasso and the Cubists period, so it was good to use those Man Ray photos involving African art.”
Juan’s Columbian roots have found in Mayan and Aztec architecture references to a sympathetic use of stone and columns made of wood. He relates how a trip through the Yucatan Peninsula influenced him in his perceptions of architecture and design, and points to the building’s stairs. Ancient motifs are echoed in arrows embedded in the design of the metal work. “I’m interested in history, in furniture. In any places, you have to find the roots. Here, using antiques liberated us. When you are at the beach, certain furniture is required for that. And this apartment was telling us what to do.”
THE SCALE AND HEIGHT AND CLEAN LINES OF THE SPACE CHARACTERIZE THE 1920’S.
His clients already owned some pieces of the superb collection of antiques that furnish their home; Juan bought others as the project developed.
How does he make antiques look fresh?
“It’s the juxtaposition of elements. For example, in the dining room is a painting by Vasserly, and then we have a beautiful, clean table by Lalique that was at the 1925 Paris Exposition.
“In the bedroom we went with pieces by Dupre Lafond, who was more in the 40s, but is now becoming more important – there’s a renaissance of his work beginning. We picked these because of the scale. Look at this beautiful secretary. It opens up for drawers, and also has a desktop and a table that goes up and down. We use it with chairs in red materials.”
Juan designed the bed in a 1920s-period style to reflect the octagonal room.
“In the living room, the client wanted the important pieces, but he also wanted a number of seating areas, so we chose club chairs and a big coffee table. Then there’s a big sofa in red surrounded by two chairs by Jaques – Émile Ruhlmann.
THE CLIENT ALREADY OWNED THE PLASTER PIECE THAT NOW HANGS IN THE DINING ROOM. AN ANTIQUE WOOD AND PARCHMENT CONSOLE IS BY ADNET.
“THROUGH LIGHTING, COLOR, AND TEXTURE, I TRY TO ACHIEVE THE MAGIC REALISM OF GABRIEL GARCIA MÀRQUEZ.”
“Fabrics in beige tones are very neutral as background for the beautiful woods. The living room curtains have a texture to them, as well as the colors of the period – golds, reds and browns, in a geometric pattern. They’re made in France by Prelle, which has their own mills in France. These are available by special request only.”
Drama begins and ends in the he entry foyer, where two big chandeliers by Quinet illuminate a table by Arbus.
“The whole idea of transparency, how you see things, how you walk through them, is called unity,” Juan says.
“Through lighting, color and texture, I try to achieve the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Màrquez. When you go from room to room, it comes as surprises that hit you.”
Across an ocean from his novelist compadre, Montoya talks about living in Paris.
“It’s important for me to get to know the atmospheric conditions of a place. The light in Paris is much grayer than in the States, so the feeling and texture is different. It’s very, very important to feel it, learn from it and really understand it in order to walk through a space and feel comfortable there.”
NAKED IN PARIS
Forget the pseudo-cubist totchkes, the shiny plastic elongated ladies-as-lamps, usually holding fans. Art Deco was when the darling young things of the twentieth century first shook off design’s preoccupation with historicism and moralistic messages.
The Arts and Crafts Movement promoted in a better life through honest materials. American’s Colonial Revival reacted against waves of immigrants. But in 1920s Paris they designed just for the fun of it, and they got their inspiration at the ballet.
The sensational sets and costumes of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes took Paris by storm as early as 1909. Designers took note of the bold color palette, the abstract floral forms, the frankly sexual exoticism.
Paris mounted the “L’Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs and Industriels Modernes” in 1925, and young French designers showed off a bold geometry mixed with vivid – some said barbaric – colors. Furniture was our vaceous and austere. Grasscloth and tribal masks spoke of a striving to avoid the ordinary. There was a heady interplay between design, art, couture, philosophy, politics and literature. Then another World War came along and things changed forever.
Art Deco was never huge in America – except in one place. Hollywood adored the drama and adopted a version as its corporate style; throughout the 1930s and 40s Art Deco was Hollywood’s shorthand for glamour.