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The Language of Design
Maile Pingel | Photo: Jeffrey Ong | October 8, 2013
Belgian decorator extraordinaire Maxime Jacquet puts his bold accent on a Beverly Hills home.
After an exhaustive search of Los Angeles’ ritziest neighborhoods, an international business executive and his partner finally found their perfect home. Nestled on an exclusive cul-de-sac in Trousdale Estates, the residence exudes an air of mystery, despite being reportedly owned in the past by Friends star Matthew Perry and film producer Oren Koules. Even its respected, yet virtually unknown, architect, Amir Farr, remains something of an enigma—he’s best known locally for his collaboration with Oscar Niemeyer on Santa Monica’s landmark Strick House, but little beyond that is confirmed.
Understanding that they had a unique piece of architectural history in their hands, the new owners’ primary goal was to respect Farr’s vision for the 1973 house, and they wasted no time in hiring Belgian-born designer Maxime Jacquet to guide the task. In fact, they made the call just two days after the sale closed. “I didn’t know them, but I certainly knew of them,” Jacquet says of the high-profile clients, who were referred by friends. “When I learned the house was in Trousdale, I thought, ‘Now we’re talking!’” But Jacquet is quick to make clear that this was no rush job, adding, “They were about the result, not the time frame.”
The project, which took about a year to complete, began with a gentle refurbishment of Farr’s massive stone, steel and wood structure. “It was not in bad condition at all,” explains Jacquet of the fortress-like exterior that belies the lightness of the interiors. “You don’t realize the volume of the house until you walk inside. The first feeling you have is that it’s open.” At just over 8,000 square feet and with nearly 20-foot ceilings and retractable walls, the house feels as vast as its downtown-to-ocean views.
So when it came to furnishing the interiors, Jacquet opted for minimalist pieces and white cotton fabrics that reinforce the architecture’s exquisite simplicity. Italian designs from Minotti, many of which were customized for the project, mix convivially with ’70s-style lighting from British designer Tom Dixon. “I wanted to respect the architecture by respecting its environment—the colors of nature around it,” he explains. The boldest stroke of color, which is still quite subtle, comes in the master bath, where the walls and ceiling are lined with a shimmering, pinkish Bisazza tile that the designer likens to “traveling into the atmosphere.”
With the furnishings playing a supporting role to Farr’s powerful architecture, the “wow” moments are found in the couple’s impressive art collection, which includes Helmut Newton nudes, Gered Mankowitz’s “Jimi Smoking” and the ethereal subway angels of Jean-Baptiste Mondino. The owners are longtime collectors and worked closely with Jacquet to find large-scale pieces that suited the proportion of the rooms. But with an open floor plan, walls are in short supply. No matter for the magician-like designer, who devised a way to mount Louis Waldon’s “Double Elvis” (a special reissue of the iconic Warhol image) to one of the glossy black-glass panels that was installed to create a veil of privacy near the master bedroom.
There were other efforts that required a little more wizardry too. “The house is a bit like an old castle,” Jacquet notes. “It is huge, but with tiny access points, so it’s very difficult to get in!” Case in point, the monumental Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture that had to be craned into the back garden—30 feet up the hill and over the infinity pool, on a windy day, no less—from the street directly below the home.
“Art is important; it communicates,” the designer says. “It gives a house personality and sends a message to people.” The message here is that the owners have clearly embraced the Hollywood lifestyle, surrounding themselves not just with celebrity-focused artists, but with celebrities themselves, and more than a few politicians. A stylish hilltop hideaway like this is tailor-made for exclusive gatherings.
The spirit of L.A. is something Jacquet has embraced as well. He immigrated to the city in 2008 from Belgium to work on a client’s home in Malibu. “I didn’t speak a word of English,” he explains. But he’s a fast learner. He’s a fast mover too, and at just 25 years old, is only getting started. So what’s next for the designer, who as a child asked not for toys, but for new wallpaper and lamps? Residential projects in Miami, London and Paris, and several retail spaces too. He’s also looking for a second home in New York City to break up all those long flights to Europe, proving a comfortable lifestyle isn’t something he creates solely for his clients, but something he creates for himself. A bicoastal life doesn’t mean he’s moving on from L.A., though. As he puts it, “Los Angeles is my biggest love ever. No doubts. No bad energy.” Spoken like a true Angeleno.