The Genius of Christian Liaigre

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The dining room in a Nantucket beach house from the new book Liaigre: 12 Projects. Top: The 230-foot yacht, Vertigo. (Photos © Mark Seelen). All images courtesy of LIAIGRE/Editions Flammarion

Christian Liaigre wants to have it both ways. This designer of some of the world’s most beautiful rooms — in penthouses, villas and, increasingly, mansion-sized yachts — has developed a visual vocabulary, mostly expressed in his own furniture and fixtures, that makes every one of his interiors immediately identifiable as a Liaigre. And yet, he asserts that each is rooted in its particular location. In the introduction to the new book of his work, Liaigre: 12 Projects (Flammarion), he writes, “The decorator has a duty to study the local culture, to steep him- or herself in the setting for each new project,” then make sure his or her aesthetic adapts to the specialness of the place — the genius loci.

But can both things be true at once? And do they need to be? Nobody expects a Warhol hanging in Tuscany to look different from a Warhol hanging in Beverly Hills. Art doesn’t adjust to its location. So why is interior design, on the rare occasions when it rises to the level of art, expected to?

In London, Liaigre was asked to “do” a townhouse filled with period details, which couldn’t be touched, and the owner’s collection of Renaissance paintings, which couldn’t be ignored. He responded with furnishings strong enough to hold their own, including a red lacquer dining table and chairs. In Malibu, Liaigre created an expansive room by removing interior walls from a beach house designed by the great architect Richard Meier, leaving space for a vast array of furniture in shades of beige and oak.

The living room of a modern villa outside Athens. Photo © Mark Seelen

The dining room of a historic London townhouse. Photo © Mark Seelen

The living room of a chalet in St. Moritz. Photo © Mark Seelen

The living room of a penthouse apartment by the North Sea. Photo © Mark Seelen

The living room of a penthouse apartment by the North Sea. Photo © Mark Seelen

The living room of a Malibu beach house. Photo © Monika Bielskyte

The bedroom of a villa in Athens. Photo © Mark Seelen

The living room of Liaigre’s own St. Barts cottage. Photo © Mark Seelen

Liaigre is at his best when designing large rooms in which the sheer repetition of furniture drives his aesthetic home. Like most top designers, he mixes old and new, satisfying the current demand for eclecticism. But in his case the ratio of new — mostly Liaigre-designed pieces — to old tends to be ten to one, or higher. Liaigre is not trying to slip in gently, though there is a gentleness to his look, which depends on the deployment of elegant shapes and carefully chosen materials. “Beauty,” he writes, “inheres not in the triviality of abundance, but in delicacy, scarcity and restraint.” That’s true in his interiors, to be sure, and even though he also describes unrestrained Versailles as “the epitome of decorative perfection,” one of the most beautiful homes in the book is the one that is least like Versailles, and least like the typical Liaigre project. It is the designer’s own beach house on St. Barts, a relatively modest fisherman’s cottage that he has redone to perfection, but not to excess.

“The decorator has a duty to study the local culture, to steep him- or herself in the setting for each new project.”

An open study in a Malibu house. Photo © Jean-Philippe Piter

Liaigre, who is based in Paris, became known in the United States in the 1990s for his Mercer Hotel, in Soho, where his oversize wenge furniture seemed to usher in an era of plush modernism. Soon Liaigre was working for hotelier Ian Schrager. One of the 12 projects in the book is Schrager’s own residence, a penthouse on New York’s Bond Street designed by the British minimalist John Pawson in a building by the brilliant Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. Even in that esteemed company, it is Liaigre’s furniture that commands attention.

The book lacks captions — each project is introduced in a few short paragraphs, and the dozens of photos that follow are presented without so much as a word of explanatory text. Identifying the items in the photos would make it easier for interested readers to buy them, but, then again, they’re nearly all available from Liaigre, a brand now owned in large part by Edmond de Rothschild Capital Partners. (And, of course, numerous vintage pieces are available on 1stdibs.)

There is nothing wrong with being a brand, though it’s not clear how things will go for the company if its founder retires, given the singularity of his talent. As this handsome book makes clear, Liaigre the man is surely one of the world’s great designers, and, as such, he can stop worrying about adopting to the genius loci. He is the genius loci everywhere he works.

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