The owners of this pied-à-terre don’t usually celebrate their wedding anniversary. Last year, however, the husband insisted they did… in London.

When the wife asked why, he replied enigmatically: “Because I want to give you a surprise.” For as long as she can remember, she had stayed in the same suite at The Dorchester hotel. So when she jumped in the car at Heathrow Airport, she assumed she was heading straight there. It was only when they were en route that her driver informed her of a detour. “He said, ‘You need to come and see this apartment.’ I thought it was something for my daughter because she wanted to spend the summer in London,” she recalls. When she arrived, however, she discovered it was an anniversary present for her. 

The flat in question is situated on the first floor of a building just around the corner from The Dorchester in Mayfair. To get it into shape, he approached Jean-Louis Deniot, with whom the couple had already collaborated on two homes in India. The Paris-based decorator still very clearly recalls the first time he saw the 1,300-sq-ft space in London. “It was quite dark with low ceilings, laminate floors and sanded glass doors like in a laboratory or doctor’s waiting room,” he says. None of the rooms were linked, either. “There was only one door into each space. It was like a succession of shoeboxes lined up one next to the other,” he adds.

Needless to say, Jean-Louis completely reconfigured the space. He most notably created a succession of interconnecting spaces, separated by sliding doors, along the front of the apartment. The living room leads into a library, which in turn opens onto the master bedroom. 

Style-wise, the husband requested something quite traditional – a choice Jean-Louis felt was fitting for such a small space. “When you’re limited in terms of volume, it works well because it allows you to create a repetition of architectural details, which distracts the eye,” he explains. “That way, you’re not so focused on the restrictions of the space.” The most classical space of all is the corridor-like entry hall, with its Roman-style busts and marble floor. “I like to use stone in entrances,” says Jean-Louis. “It immediately gives you the impression that the apartment is grander than it actually is.”

Other tricks also give an illusion of space. The doors are all inset with mirrors and the walls of the living room are punctuated with pillars. Some of the pillars conceal structural columns, while others are simply decorative. What they all manage to do, however, is give the space a sense of verticality. With the pillars in place, the ceilings no longer appear quite so low. 

Jean-Louis also opted to work in a light palette composed mainly of pale greys and beiges, with the odd touch of brown. He deliberately painted the doors black, though: “to avoid things being too wishy-washy … Pale colours also appear even lighter when you juxtapose them with darker ones.”

Finally, he employed one of the golden rules of decorating small rooms – to fill them with lots of furniture. “If you only use a few pieces, they tend to be bulkier and make the space extremely heavy,” he says. Here, he also had to accommodate his clients’ love of entertaining. “Somehow, I had to allow for at least a dozen people to be seated in the living room,” he says.

Not surprisingly, the wife considers the resulting space the best wedding present ever. “When you’ve been married for 31 years, you don’t expect too many surprises,” she says. That said, her first reaction when she saw Jean-Louis was to tell him off. “She said, ‘How could you keep a secret from me?’” he says. “Then, of course, she thanked me because she was delighted.” As she herself says, “He’s turned a shoebox into a place of beauty.”

Photography: Stephan Julliard/Tripod Agency

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