If there’s one thing that Belgian interior designer Jean-Philippe Demeyer dislikes more than anything else it’s the colour grey. “I want happy interiors so that will never work”, he recently explained to Yatzer when asked about his affinity for vivid colours and striking contrasts. For Jean-Philippe, colour is more than an aesthetic choice, “it’s a way of life”, an adage he has been consistently exemplifying since 2008 when he founded his interior design studio JPDEMEYER&CO along with Frank Ver Elst and Jean-Paul Deweywer. Jean-Philippe’s bold colour palette is matched by an aesthetic eclecticism that audaciously interweaves a multitude of references across styles, periods and cultures, and effortlessly combines antiques with contemporary pieces in an effort to create a “wow” feeling. “I look for that feeling all the time, it’s like an addiction” he explains, and indeed, this is the most accurate word that describes what it feels like stepping into one of his projects.
When asked to explain how he masterfully puts together such a variety of contrasting and disparate elements, Jean-Philippe told us that “it's all instinct; I never overthink, I feel things”. And indeed when tackling a new project, his first line of inquiry is not what the client wants or needs – that comes second – but what the place/house/garden makes him feel. As you can imagine, this does not make him very popular with certain clients who think they know better which is when Frank Ver Elst steps in. Frank is the one who pulls Jean-Philippe down to earth when he goes too wild. “Frank feels more what people want, I really don't feel what people want, I want to give them something unexpected and often end up overruling them.” Naturally then, the ideal client for Jean-Philippe is the one who steps back, giving him free reign. Asked about his ideal project, his answer is surprisingly specific: he would love to remodel the interior of a grand country house and re-design its enormous garden, which he would embellish with follies, pavilions, gates and tree-lined sightlines, “in an updated chic English 18th century arcadia style”.
Jean-Philippe’s ideal client may take some time to materialize but in the meantime, the designer’s inexhaustible flow of ideas has found fertile ground in ‘Rooigem’, his own countryside home outside Bruges. Doubling as a showroom, the house is a veritable showcase of Jean-Philippe’s personal aesthetic and unbridled creativity. Occupying a centuries-old hunting lodge surrounded by a moat, the renovated building is a treasure trove of ideas, patterns, styles and colours. Filled with antiques, vintage finds, modern pieces and bespoke furniture, Rooigem is an Alice-in-Wonderland setting where, among other things, Gothic Revival chairs, vintage Danish tables, antique Spanish sideboards and Surrealist wall lights co-exist in playful harmony. But what is even more impressive is the fact that the interior design is ever-evolving as everything is for sale – Jean-Philippe does not get attached to objects, it’s the ambience of a room he’s interested in.
With a background as an antique dealer, it’s no wonder that antiques and vintage objects abound in Jean-Philippe’s work, oftentimes combined with contemporary or inexpensive pieces. “It’s not about what’s expensive or cheap. I love the contrast”, he explains. What’s more intriguing though is that more often than not he feels the need to remodel the antiques he uses in his projects. “I am obsessed with updating existing things”, he told us, “new things feel like intruders to me”. In fact, antiques for Jean-Phillippe are his primal matter, his off-the-shelf ingredients that he likes to “cook” with as he says.
Another creative field that does away with the interference of opinionated clients is fabric design. “I love fabrics, it is so in our culture”, Jean-Philippe says when we asked him about his motivation behind JPDEMEYER&CO’s inaugural cushion and fabric collections showcased during Milan Design Week 2019 at the majestic Palazzo Clerici. Having created numerous bespoke fabrics for several projects, facilitated by the ubiquity of fabric mills in close proximity to Rooigem, it was only natural for Jean-Philippe to create a collection out of these designs.
The complementary collection of cushions grew out of Jean-Philippe’s creative zeal. “The cushions are my canvasses; I do absolutely what I want, no client to please!” Prominent among the zany motifs and exuberant patterns are a series of graphic eyes that resemble the talismans guarding against the evil eye that can be found in many cultures. “The eye is a symbol against fear”, explains Jean-Philippe, “but more than that, the eyes mean everything for me because I never stop looking”.
JPDEMEYER&CO’s extraordinary approach to interior design has been distilled in a striking, five-kilo coffee-table book titled “Fearless Living” whose pages are chock-full of striking photographs showcasing the studio’s projects to date. Eschewing the typical antiseptic set-up of architectural photography, the owners of the featured houses were encouraged to participate in the photo shoots, most of whom did so with aplomb – and sometimes their dogs. In some instances, to make matters even more intriguing, professional models stood in for the owners, photographed in more playful compositions.
More than a compilation of glossy images and flamboyant interiors, the book is a clarion call to action. When it comes to their surroundings, the book, as the title suggests, urges its readers to find the courage to make bold choices. Jean-Philippe was quite adamant about this: “I see people afraid of making a choice when it comes to their home all the time. I really don’t understand why half of the world lives in dull grey and white interiors”. For the designer, ‘fearless living’ means choosing a theme, a colour, a concept, something that will imbue your home with character and create a certain atmosphere. “Atmosphere, what is more important in a house than atmosphere!?”