It was through a newspaper ad that top interior designer and architect Jean-Louis Deniot found this luxury French manor. It seems fitting that such a timeworn way of looking for a home was the ultimate gateway to obtaining this opulent house, given that some parts of it dated back as far as the 18th Century.
After decorating multiple spaces around the world, Jean-Louis Deniot and his partner, the 1stdibs.com co-founder William Holloway, had been looking for a place of their own—out of town, but not too far out of town. In 2000, Deniot came across an ad for a decadently dilapidated country house near the Château de Chantilly, the historic home of the princes of Condé and more recently a world-renowned art museum.
Twenty years later, this once-crumbling house—now entirely renovated—became a literal escape: It was here that the two retreated to weather the French government’s strict lockdown. The couple stayed about 12 weeks in total, watching the surrounding gardens evolve through the soaring windows of the living room as winter gave way to spring and spring turned to summer.
For the creative mind, the prospect of monthslong confinement is either a blessing or a curse. Some artists need the electric stimulus of social life, the lure of conversation, the constant chaos of the urban charade. But others thrive in the sprawling void of peace and quiet, and for them, the pandemic has been a guiltily productive experience.
Fortunately, Jean-Louis Deniot fits into that latter category. He says that he has never ploughed through as many projects as quickly as he did in the spring and summer of 2020.
Installed in the living room of the house, he managed a team also working from home, and the group quickly went through design projects in 20 different locations worldwide and met their deadlines early.
Only about 30 miles north of Paris, the house is easy enough to reach from the city for the day, but also a quick trip from Charles de Gaulle airport, which is nearby. But it took a long time for the house to be ready to receive guests. When Jean-Louis Deniot and Holloway bought it, the luxury home was in complete disrepair, having been owned by the same family for generations, who lived only in one small part of the home and never updated the plumbing or electricity.
When Jean-Louis Deniot and Holloway signed the deed, there were nine guest bedrooms with only one functioning bathroom for all of them. But the designer was up for the challenge of renovation, and what he created is the classic French country house and even a homage to the form.
There are all the staples of the quintessential Maison de Campagne: china cabinets full of mismatched teacups and soup tureens, sofas that have actually been sat on, an enamel bathtub with claw-feet, and austere portraits of those long since deceased.
But the decor also features a vibrant mix of modern touches—contemporary art, leopard prints, and a giant midcentury Sputnik-style chandelier hovering over the table in the salon. Those contrasts were the point.
“What makes the French country house is the law of opposites,” Deniot says. “It’s what makes it decadent, not to be taken seriously, and user-friendly.”
In a sense, the congeniality of the house and its whimsical embrace of tradition enabled Jean-Louis Deniot’s creativity during the pandemic, when it was all too easy to be distracted by the dismal news of the day.
The lockdown even brought with it some inspiration of its own, particularly tied to the richness of the landscape outside the door. Holloway and Jean-Louis Deniot are now planning to develop a line of products, called Le Domaine Val Profond, after the house, based on the natural watercress that bountifully grows on their nearly 25-acre property—a possibility they had never considered before. Again, Jean-Louis Deniot gives credit to the tranquillity of his country manor, which serves as both a refuge and a muse.
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