He walks quietly by himself through the castle — a new property he’s reinventing — pausing, listening, receiving — a typical ritual that begets atypical grace and grandeur. Juan Pablo Molyneux is more than a designer — he’s a channel for beauty.
“I need to be alone sometimes on the premises — I need to walk around and talk with the walls,” says Molyneux, the go-to designer for the world’s most exclusive properties, including one the size of Belgium in the northwest of Quebec. “I have to get impregnated with what the space is saying to me. Then suddenly I start seeing — colors first, then suddenly it’s done, finished,” he says with matter-of-fact confidence.
For decades, the visionary has charmed world leaders, including Sheikh Mohamed Bin Suhaim Al-Thani of Qatar who initially refused the designer’s request to spend millions on gardens at his palace in Doha. “If I have something in my head, I constantly hear the noise until it happens,” says Molyneux. “I don’t give up on things.” Inevitably, the end-result was “a hundred times better” than the Sheikh could have ever imagined.
Molyneux speaks with a contagious spirit about his creative intuition. “Inspiration is in your soul,” he says. While it’s unquestionable he was born with a gift, it’s classical training, hard-work and wisdom that paved his destiny.
As a young boy from Chile, constantly building, wrecking and rebuilding structures with his wooden toy blocks, Molyneux learned a lesson that would travel with him over decades of awe-inspiring work. “Improvement — it is probably one of the most important words in this life,” he says. And to do so, “you have to learn, and when you are learning, you start loving it.”
While the rest of the world followed the trend toward contemporary design, Molyneux followed his heart and what he believed to be most beautiful.
“I remember my first project in school was very strange, since the same situation repeated many, many times again.” At Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, they were tasked to design a small building next to a chateau. Unlike his classmates focusing on a modern style, Molyneux said, “I am going to take some elements of the chateau just to recall that this house belongs to this land and the nearby chateau.” That traditional “touch” earned him an award and directed him down a career path of trend-setting rather than following.
Half a century later, minding the same methodology, Molyneux built the Pavilion of Treaties in St. Petersburg, which wanted to reinvent itself as a free city.
“Let me study the palace and do something that has its genes,” he said. While some may assume studying the heritage would limit them, Molyneux enlightened to the contrary. “In order to be a free person, you must have a lot of knowledge — so you float above the rules. If you don’t know, they are always there above you, quite heavy sometimes, and that cuts your wings.”
So design becomes more than art; it’s a journey “from chaos to tranquility. But tranquility doesn’t mean boring, tranquility means balanced. Sometimes I use very different shades of the same color to make something vibrate.”
Molyneux sits on the boards of the American Friends of Versailles, the French Heritage Society and the World Monuments Fund, remaining one of the most vocal advocates for protecting classical architecture and design.
He reminisces of Rome, where one can witness the “quality of manufacturing, quality of craft, quality of the design, quality of everything,” he says. “Then suddenly you see something very modern, a skyscraper. You can’t find the quality there, and in 20 years, it will look terrible.”
A couple hours southeast of Paris, in Pouy-sur-Vannes, Molyneux completely rebuilt a medieval chateau originally constructed by 12th-century Templars. The chateau now acts as his home away from home in Paris but also as an academy for a handful of handpicked artisans.
“All I want is to give them security, in order for them to develop what they have inside,” he says. Masters of stone masonry, carpentry, gilding, wrought iron and scagliola reside and train there, then accompany Molyneux to any corner of the earth to amaze his next client.
The eternal strength and style of traditional tradecraft reaches even deeper than the buildings Molyneux discovers and revives — there’s a cycle of learning that forever revolves. “The artisans have been my teachers,” he says. “I think it’s extraordinary that these people exist — they have dedicated their life to do something very particular. That is creativity — creativity will never die in a human being.”
When asked how he would hire an architect, Molyneux’s response is refreshingly unexpected. “I would give him or her a blank page and a pencil and say: ‘why don’t you sketch me something?’ Then I will see if this is someone who can do something or someone who depends on AutoCAD to design everything. You cannot give soul to a stone using a computer program: you can do it with a pencil.”
Summing up his philosophy is simple for this design maverick. “I try to distill that which is expected and turn it into something unexpected. I make interiors people want to belong to — forever.”
Molyneux’s Favorite Things
Often referred to as a maximalist, Juan Pablo Molyneux is a man who intentionally surrounds himself with beauty. Of his three homes, two in France and one in New York City, his country house, a 12th-century chateau at Pouy-sur-Vannes outside of Paris is his favorite for a weekend getaway. He can often be found listening to “Farewell Angelina,” an album by American folk singer Joan Baez in 1965, while his favorite movie is a 96-minute historical drama film taken all in one shot at the Russian State Hermitage Museum, called Russian Ark.
Molyneux is somewhat of an Aston Martin collector, his favorite model is the 2012 Aston Martin DB9, in red of course. He told us he likes the Molyneux rose, while his scent of choice is Terre d’Hermès cologne. A master of history, an antique furniture item he has a particular penchant for is an 18th-century Jean-François Oeben Commode. He likes to wear John Lobb shoes, gray colored clothing, like this Kingsman shawl-collar, wool and cashmere sweater from Mr Porter, and on his wrist, his Breitling watch is set half an hour ahead of time, as are all the timepieces in his life, “because I am going to live 30 minutes longer than you.”
Produced by Peggy Liu