Monday, January 02, 2006

Lifestyle: Weekend FT, Jacques Grange

A Frenchman in New York
By Julie Earle-Levine
Financial Times; Feb 2005

Moments after I am introduced to interior designer Jacques Grange, we are striding past security into the lobby of a gleaming new residential building on New York's Upper East Side. My interview with him aside, he is on a mission: to inspect furniture.

"I check everything. Every detail," he tells me. "I love to control all I do. Each project I make, I control. I do not delegate. This is why I do not do so many projects, because if you grow too much then you disappear."

So far, Grange has mainly decorated individual homes for wealthy patrons including Princess Caroline of Monaco and billionaire cosmetics heir Ron Lauder, causing him to be dubbed the "reigning designer of the international set" and the "ultimate conjuror of magnificence". But we are here today because the perfectionist has finally allowed himself to take on an entire residential building, One Beacon Court, in which we are now standing.

Grange pulls up suddenly in the lobby and waves his hand towards a miserable grey vase being filled with flowers. "I don't want that," he says. "I hate that. It's ugly." He next stops two men carrying a bespoke rug, takes it from them and places it on the floor, just so. He rearranges some furniture, paces back and forth, looks at the sofa, plumps the cushions.

In just a few hours, the Municipal Art Society gala will be held in this space and it has to be perfect.

So, why did Grange take on this vast project, designing kitchens, bathrooms and public spaces for future residents he doesn't know, in collaboration with architect Cesar Pelli? All his other work - combining 18th and 19th century furniture with designs from the 1930s and 1940s - has been for acquaintances or friends with whom he first felt a connection.

It is easy to understand," he says. "I have come from Paris. I am French. It is like a dream to design something on the tower. I love coming to New York and have many friends here. I was friends with Andy Warhol in the 70s. This building is like a realisation of a dream.
"I think there are only three real cities in the world," he adds. "In our world, they are Paris, London and New York. Asia, I do not understand. I have to travel there, and China is the new world, no? But Paris, London, and New York are all the same people. It is a nice world isn't it?"

While he's in town, Grange is also working on a "huge flat" in Manhattan, though he can't say for whom, and puzzling out the US political situation. Failed presidential candidate John Kerry was a childhood friend thanks to mutual family holidays in Saint-Briac, Brittany, France, and Grange can't quite understand why George W. Bush is so popular. "Kerry is not arrogant like Bush," he tells me. "Bush is too much. But people do not realise. It is a shame, no?"

But back to decorating. Grange enjoys visiting India and says there is a "touch" of that aesthetic in One Beacon Court ("the marble in the foyer, the scalloped ceilings"). The lobby walls feature panels of hand oiled parchment, a luxe treatment not seen since the 1930s and a carpet with a pattern also from the 1930s. "The carpet is so beautiful. It is mixed together to give the floor huge personality."

Moving up to the condominiums, which range in price from $3.1m to $26m, Grange has created kitchens featuring polished Brazilian granite floors, Italian stone counter-tops, stainless steel Kohler sinks, Miele dishwashers, and refrigerators and under-the-counter wine coolers from Sub-Zero. Washer/dryers are also there, but concealed.

In the master bathrooms, Grange again chose Kohler for sinks, tubs and bidets, as well as polished marble counter-tops and tiles. The bedrooms and living rooms are delivered empty, though Grange has spoken to some buyers about finishing the interior design job.

Vornado Realty Trust, which owns and manages One Beacon Court, declines to tell me how many units have been sold but some high-profile names, including pop star Beyoncé Knowles and motor racing tycoon Flavio Briatore, have been linked to the building.

One of the things Grange says he likes most about the condos is not their interior but their bird's-eye views of Central Park. He adds that New Yorkers have completely disproved the theory that they would shy away from tall buildings following September 11. But, of course, not all tall buildings are created equal: "That [Donald] Trump builds tall buildings," Grange tells me "but Trump is blah."

Although One Beacon Court is Grange's biggest project to date, it is not his favourite. After a moment of deliberation, he cites Yves Saint Laurent's home in Marrakesh, Morocco.
"It's incredible," he explains. "We worked for five years. The garden is incredible. The house is incredible. We did leathers. It was all very influenced by Matisse." Oh, and that's not to mention the fact that he incorporated Warhol portraits of Saint Laurent's dogs on the walls.

Naturally, Grange also decorates his own homes. They include an old barn in France's Loire Valley, which he converted into a weekend retreat housing leather armchairs of his design, colourful paper kites, rustic-looking wood and rush chairs, and a blue mohair velvet sofa ("I'm very passionate about modern, and timeless attitude"). He also has a cabin in Portugal, which Grange calls "a cheap and totally wild country, like the Hamptons was 100 years ago".

But when I meet him the designer's full attention is devoted to one big building in Manhattan.
Surveying the finished lobby, surrounded by staff vacuuming and polishing the bronze elevator doors, he smiles.

"It is elegant no?," he says, "It is character."