Guided by Pierre Cardin’s idea of space, Yovanovitch’s ardent perfectionism and attention to detail bely the interior’s surface wit and whimsicality. «The dress is a vase which the body follows»
Pierre Yovanovitch is the Paris-based interior architect and furniture designer who has designed the interiors of the hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and private residences that serve the world’s elite for two decades. In his work, he is able to collide his thoughts on fashion, fine art, and furniture while adhering to the ideals of French design — elegance, flair, quality, and craftsmanship.
Yovanovitch’s career began in the studio of the Parisian couturier Pierre Cardin, for whom he designed menswear. Transitioning from fashion to architecture means scaling up, slowing down, and focusing in. The inside of a house or an art gallery is not only bigger than an item of clothing.
While a dress might be sewn together in hours, it can take years to remodel a room. A seasonal haute couture collection comprises dozens of pieces rarely exemplifying the unanimity of an interior. While a runway ensemble must be reproducible for the market and is designed to a pattern from which pieces can be manufactured, architecture is a one-off.
A lack of training in either design discipline may have facilitated Yovanovitch’s conversion, and despite the differences between the two, he insists that the key lessons from his time with Cardin underpin his practice. He attributes his understanding of the importance of space and volume — for which critics laud him — to his time with Cardin.
Pierre Cardin himself once said: «The dress is a vase which the body follows. My clothes are like modules in which bodies move». The same might be said of an interior. (For Cardin, the idea of space was influential in other ways: in 1969 he visited NASA in Houston, Texas, where he studied the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission.)
As with Cardin, when designing an interior Yovanovitch’s focus is on form. Recurrent motifs and ideas are found in his projects: for example, with curves in his furnishings — perhaps an upholstered ‘Papa Bear’ armchair or a curvilinear sofa in the shape of a faint smile — he assuages the stricter quadrilateral lines of the spaces they inhabit.
Yovanovitch’s approach to materials might be a carry-over from his days as a menswear designer: «We are selective about the quality and origins of the materials we work with. I lead each project with a vision and narrative in mind. This vision is never at the cost of quality». Through his materials he can maximise quality and meet the standard of opulence his clients require while avoiding distractions, resulting in rooms that are lavish yet serene and devoid of tension. «I work with natural materials, whether it be ceramic, wood, glass, or high-quality fabric. I love incorporating the occasional bold colour, but mostly stick to organic forms and hues so everything is complementary».
This approach gives him control over the ambience of his spaces. Each detail of a Pierre Yovanovitch interior may have been commissioned by him and manufactured by an array of small-scale producers he employs. On aproject he could bring in weavers, textile designers, ceramicists, glassblowers, metalworkers, woodworkers, stone masons and gypsum plasterers to hand craft each detail to his and his clients’ specifications.
«Since starting my design practice in 2001, I have worked with artisans throughout France and Europe to create custom furniture and lighting for my interiors projects. With my most recent project, a collection of penthouses for the Manhattan-based mixed-use development The XI, every element of the project was designed to be long-lasting and of uncompromising quality».
With the XI’s penthouses catching the attention of the likes of Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, Pierre Yovanovitch need not worry about his ambition being capped by a budget. With terraces that give views over the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline, rooms clad in Carrara marble, and green stone swimming pools struck through with veins of gold enamel, Yovanovitch says the apartments are «something between art and design».
Beyond ensuring harmony within the space itself, its context is important to Yovanovitch. For the XI he says he honed the penthouses’ design with the aim of «highlighting the surrounding views of the city», and the oblique lines, organic forms, and eclectic furniture within provide relief from the city’s uniform grid layout some 400 feet below.
Pierre Yovanovitch’s work is that of the curator and creator, as he selects pre-made objects and works of art with which to embellish his spaces. «I work with my clients to select vintage and contemporary art and design works for their space so the home is a reflection of their style. With my luxury ski hotel project in Méribel, France, called Le Coucou, my team and I created 130 furniture and lighting pieces for the project according to the client’s vision for the space. I hand-selected 160 artworks that fit the brief».
As an art collector himself, he is fond of deploying works within his interior designs. Instead of using art as a focal point to draw the viewer’s attention, designing the rest of a space around it, he prefers to integrate the canvases, ceramics and sculptures he acquires into the other elements of the room.
«Art is a central part of my design work. If I am commissioning an artist to create a piece which is custom, the vision for the project is shared with them so that it fits the interior. I take my client’s existing art collections into account when designing the space and, in the case where I am working with them to select pieces, we ensure together that it fits the overall design of the property».
He also commissions original works of art to this end: «I work with my clients to commission artists to create works in my spaces, as well. For my design of the Helene Darroze restaurant at London’s The Connaught Hotel, for example, I commissioned the artist Rochegaussen to create a fresco in the private dining area of the restaurant».
The fresco, entitled ‘Les ustensiles du ciel’, complements the two Damien Hirst butterfly mandalas that hang in the restaurant’s dining area. While they have pride of place on the walls at the ends of the room and are accentuated by the wood-panel wainscoting that frames them, Yovanovitch’s fresco features on the ceiling. Thoughtful diners who stop to look up from their gold leaf-crowned caviar, served atop rough-hewn marble stones, may find delight in the sketches of kitchen utensils, which resemble white wisps of cloud on a blue backdrop reminiscent of the Mediterranean skies of southern France.
The layout of Pierre Yovanovitch’s website, one half of which leads to his architectural practice and the other to his furniture collections, reveals the thinking behind his business model. «My furniture and lighting are as much a part of my design work as interior architecture. I have a designated team i specialized in furniture design. I have been designing pieces for my interiors from the start».
Since 2017, Pierre Yovanovitch has pulled his furniture and lighting designs from his architectural projects and collated them as stand-alone collections, which he sells through design galleries like R & Company in New York. Through these self-curated exhibitions, Pierre Yovanovitch is able to express his personal style, as he does not have to take into account the tastes and aesthetic objectives of his clients. 2017’s ‘OOPS’, held at R & Company, gave Yovanovitch the opportunity to reimagine the gallery space and then fill it with his furniture and works of art, including two paintings by the artist Claire Tabouret, whom he had employed to fresco the ceiling of the medieval chapel in his Provence home.
2019’s ‘LOVE’, also held at R & Company, was looking at interior design from a scenographic perspective, dramatizing the domestic setting. Each room in the exhibition guided the viewer through a narrative in which the imaginary protagonist, ‘Miss Oops’, cannot help but fall in love as she wanders through the settings, from the front door, through the dining room and — with a wink — into the bedroom. As with all of Pierre Yovanovitch’s work, belying the surface wit and whimsicality or sophistication are perfectionism and attention to detail, which show when they want to be seen.