French Touch

Pierre Yovanovitch: Working Magic in American Interiors

Pierre Yovanovitch is one of the most sought-after French interior designer in the United States. But just what is his secret? Clues can be found in his minimalist, eclectic compositions, a keen eye for detail, “haute-couture” services with the finest artisans and decorators, and unwavering availability. From Manhattan to the Hamptons and from Beverly Hills to Palm Beach, the rich and famous all want the “Yovanovitch treatment.”
Pierre Yovanovitch in the living room of his château in Aups, in the Var département. He is lying on a Stanley sofa of his own design. © Rebecca Marshall

Pierre Yovanovitch is currently supervising a dozen projects in the United States, including a Victorian house overlooking San Francisco Bay, a villa in Los Angeles for a “famous French family,” and two residences in Connecticut. However, the pandemic has forced the renowned interior architect to stay in France and he is now working remotely. “Google Maps gives me an idea of the site’s topology, and I am working with plans, photos, and videos,” he says, calling from his Parisian office in the second arrondissement. “I am totally new to this process. My vision is underpinned by my knowledge of the client and the site.”

Before painting bedroom walls salmon-pink, laying ceramic tiles down a corridor, hanging a Nicolas de Staël painting in a living room, or installing a modernist armchair by Danish designer Flemming Lassen, Yovanovitch listens. He stays silent, takes note of his client’s desires, gauges their personality (Are they formal or exuberant? Intellectual? Relaxed?), and immerses himself in the space. “The layout and the decoration must fit with the architecture. I like dissonance, but it would be wrong to put vintage wood paneling in a contemporary apartment tower.”

A new building such as The XI, an ultra-modern tower set to open in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, “calls for contemporary furniture,” says Yovanovitch. © Courtesy of DBOX
The architect has focused on organic materials for his “collection” of nine luxury apartments at the top of The XI, a pair of ultra-modern skyscrapers set to open in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood this winter. Wood, marble, and bronze are illuminated with subtle splashes of color such as the orange hues of a retro rug, the discreet saffron-yellow of integrated bookshelves, and the red of a table lamp. Meanwhile, Yovanovitch is also modernizing the interior of a hundred-year-old residence in the Hamptons. In an effort to harmonize the estate’s early 20th-century charm with the mini-malist aesthetic of the client – a contemporary art collector – he combined present-day furniture with American and Scandinavian pieces from the 1950s. “Everything that makes up my tastes today.”

A Protégé of Pierre Cardin

The interior designer did not simply stumble across his profession. After graduating from high school in Nice and attending business school in Paris, he was about to begin his military service when Pierre Cardin offered him an apprenticeship. He worked by his side for eight years as a menswear license manager for Benelux, then as a designer for his menswear collections. Yovanovitch had little interest in fashion, but developed a passion for shape and form. “Pierre Cardin instilled within me an eye for architecture. He taught me what I now use in my interiors: form, volume, geometry, symmetry, and disproportion.”

The self-taught designer founded his own company in 2001. An English client commissioned him to restructure her Parisian apartment, while a friend asked him to work on his villa in West Palm Beach, Florida. Word of mouth did the rest. In 2004, the American magazine Architectural Digest wrote an article about his Parisian residence, a duplex apartment overlooking the Elysée Palace. “His sense of luxury is so refined,” wrote the journalist, “that the walls of his bedroom are upholstered in cashmere.” Four years later, the same magazine enshrined Yovanovitch in its prestigious AD100 list of the world’s top names in interior decoration, architecture, and landscape design.

In 2009, Pierre Yovanovitch bought, restored and remodeled a 17th-century château in the south of France. © Jérôme Galland

Since then, he has worked with Hermès and Christian Louboutin, decorated the Coucou hotel in Méribel and chef Hélène Darroze’s restaurant at the Connaught hotel in London, and redesigned the Paris headquarters of François Pinault’s Kering group to create a welcoming, hyper-modern cocoon in a 17th-century building. He also revamped the boutique at the Villa Noailles in Hyères with a bold, pop-inspired palette of bright blues, reds, and yellows, and fully restored his very own Château de Fabrègues in the Var département, where he likes to receive his clients. The four towers topped with glazed tiles, the furniture, the artwork, the park, and the yew-tree mazes combine to create a very special “business card.”

Taming the American Market

His reputation in the United States boomed after open-ing a New York office on Madison Avenue in 2018 and the publication of his first monograph by Rizzoli the following year. Yovanovitch personally oversees the projects there, and his wealthy clients demand this sort of VIP treatment. To guarantee such an “haute-couture” service, from developing the plans to choosing the artwork, bath towels and teaspoons, he carefully selects his projects and only accepts around thirty per year. At the head of a company employing 45 people between Paris and New York, Yovanovitch also works with the finest artisans, most of whom are French, including upholsterers from Les Ateliers Jouffre, weavers at La Manufacture d’Aubusson, ceramicist Armelle Benoît, along with carpenters, cabinetmakers, and plasterers.

The Bear armchairs are part of Pierre Yovanovitch’s Love furniture collection, which was first exhibited in Manhattan in 2019. © Stephen Kent Johnson

“These artisans possess skills and knowledge that are highly sought-after by our clients, and are able to translate my ideas and designs,” says Yovanovitch, who exhibited his first furniture collection at the R & Company gallery in Manhattan in 2017. (His Bear and Asymmetry armchairs, his zigzag Stanley sofa, and his E.T table lamp have become cult pieces popular with design connoisseurs.) “By calling on my services for their interiors, Americans are buying a signature and a certain culture of the French decorative arts.”

Article published in the November 2020 issue of
France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.