Large Scale: Homeland in India BY JEAN-LOUIS DENIOT
The construction of this grand house in New Delhi required a colossal leap of faith. In 2002, when Nasreen Qureshi and her husband, Moin, acquired the five-acre plot on which it now stands, she immediately suggested they hire Jean-Louis Deniot to design the home. Today, the Paris-based decorator is a global interiors star. But back then he was just starting out and had never built a home from the ground up—not even in Europe. “What’s his style?” Moin recalls asking his wife. “I don’t know,” Nasreen told him. She’d never actually seen any of Deniot’s work; she’d simply sat next to him at a dinner party in New York and found him charming. “I just liked him,” she says. “But my husband was very upset. He said, ‘He’s a French guy and he’s never been to India. What kind of house can he make?'” Bronze-and-glass hurricane lamps surround the pool; the umbrellas are Indonesian.
Moin had every reason to be concerned. He and his wife are a dynamic, self-made couple with exceptional taste to spare. He made his fortune as one of India’s largest meat exporters. She is a woman of style, known for her love of couture (her favorite designers include Giorgio Armani and Raf Simons for Dior). The couple have known each other since childhood and had been looking for the right property for more than five years when they came across this piece of land in a district south of the city called Chattarpur Farms. As the name suggests, the area was formerly agricultural. Today, it is a sought-after enclave that contains some of New Delhi’s most exclusive residences. Nasreen Qureshi outside her home.
When the Qureshis found the lot of their dreams, it was far from promising—simply a field of wheat with a small pond and a dozen century-old trees. For Nasreen, however, it was very much love at first sight. “I walked onto it and thought, This is mine,” she says. “I don’t know why. Just like I didn’t know why I wanted to call Jean-Louis. My instincts! It just gave me a feeling of calmness.” The Empire-style table, Venetian-glass pendants, gold-leaf mirror, and bench are all custom made; the railing was inspired by an 18th-century French design, the 17th-century urns are Italian, and the flooring is local marble.
With amusement, she recalls Deniot’s first trip to India, on which he was accompanied by his sister, Virginie. “They wanted to stop every five yards to take a photo of the cows on the road,” Nasreen says, laughing. “I told them, ‘You don’t have to stop. In India, the cows are everywhere.'” The Qureshis themselves keep three for milking behind one of their pool pavilions. In the drawing room, the fireplace, mirror, sofas, and stool covered in a Pierre Frey velvet are all custom made; the cocktail table is by Collection Pierre, the chandelier was found on 1stdibs, and Deniot designed the 18th-century-style paneling and André Arbus–inspired rug.
DRAWING ROOM SOFA
The starting point for the design of the 25,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home was a photo of Picasso’s 19th-century Villa California in Cannes. “I wanted a house that looks 100 years old,” Nasreen explains. She also wanted to step through the front door and be able to see the pool and gardens beyond. Deniot, however, was keen to avoid the impression of a French house transplanted to India. Instead, he took inspiration from the architecture of the legendary British architect Edwin Lutyens in New Delhi. The stately portico on the front facade and the colonnades that wrap around the side wings are particularly characteristic. The sofa in the drawing room was inspired by Jean-Charles Moreux, the cocktail table is from the 1940s, and the cabinets are clad in black mother-of-pearl; the urns were carved in Jaipur from a block of alabaster.
Inside, however, French influences abound. In the drawing room, a sofa recalls the designs of the acclaimed 20th-century designer Jean-Charles Moreux, and the dining room is home to Empire-style wall paneling. Deniot says his goal was to create a neoclassical feel. Moin’s bedroom suite on the second floor is an exception, being Art Deco in spirit. The design of the walls was triggered by a fragment of a Süe et Mare cornice the decorator found at a Paris flea market. The black-and-white marble bathroom, meanwhile, pays homage to the legendary palace of the Maharajah of Indore constructed in the early 1930s by German architect Eckart Muthesius. The house’s highlight is equally palatial—the double-height central staircase foyer, with its 38-foot-high ceiling, sweeping balustrade, and geometrically patterned floors and walls, was created with local marbles. In the winter garden, Deniot designed the armchairs, cocktail table, chandelier, urn, and borne, which is upholstered in a Romo velvet; the mirror-and-trellis wall is custom made, the curtains are of Indian linen, and the marble flooring was inspired by the dining room floor at the Château de Groussay.
Most of the furniture and lighting, meanwhile, was custom made in Delhi. For Deniot, working in India required a certain amount of adaptation. For instance, the local craftsmen were challenged when it came to painting human or animal forms. “All of a sudden, you’d find yourself with a cow’s head in place of a ram’s,” he says, laughing. On the other hand, developing prototypes was extremely swift: “I’d draw something, and a sample would be ready in 15 minutes because the carpenter had set up his studio on the property.” Acquiring fabrics also required alacrity. “It’s not like in the West, where you can pick a textile, order it, and have it in hand six weeks later,” he says. “In India, you have to buy it immediately because there’s a limited amount and they won’t print any more.” The daybed in the sitting area between the master bedroom suites was bought at auction in England, the armchair is 19th century, and the 1880 French chandelier was originally designed for a church; the cocktail table, chair, and secretary are all custom made, and the curtain embroidery is by Jean-François Lesage.
Some of Deniot’s fondest memories of the five-year construction process were the on-site lunches, during which the worktable would be covered with a tablecloth and set with fine porcelain and silver. “There was a huge fan, women in saris, and bamboo scaffolding,” Deniot recalls. “It was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.”
Klismos chairs surround a custom-made table in the dining room, the Directoire-style chandelier was made in India, and Deniot designed the pattern for the hand-painted ceiling.
In the end, his mandate did not stop with the house. Deniot also took over the design of the garden after being presented with an initial scheme drawn up by a local firm, which proposed box hedges in the form of waves and multicolor gravel. “It looked like Waikiki Beach,” he says and laughs. In its place, Deniot conceived an elegant layout that features a black-marble pool surrounded by balustrades, alleyways, beds of jasmine and roses, and the odd palm tree. The library’s sofa is covered in a Pierre Frey cotton velvet trimmed with Mokuba ribbons, and the armchairs flanking the sofa, the André Arbus–style cocktail table, and the rug are custom made; the chandelier is 19th century, and the painting is by K Jagjit Singh.
The result is so idyllic that Nasreen says she never wants to leave. “In the summers, I think I’m the only person who stays in Delhi,” she declares. “I love my trees, I love my house. I don’t go out unless I have to. Darling, tell me: Who would?” In the husband’s bedroom, the headboard, mahogany canopy, and hanging fixture are custom designs, the mirror is in the style of Line Vautrin, and the daybed and rug were inspired by André Arbus.
BEDROOM SITTING AREA
Instead, she prefers to entertain at home, regularly inviting guests that include shoe maestro Christian Louboutin, singer Katy Perry, and artist Subodh Gupta. She’s also more than happy for a visit from Deniot, who jokes he has become “half-Indian.” A 1940s-style sofa covered in a Pierre Frey suede, an Art Deco cocktail table, and a chair by Deniot in the husband’s bedroom; the painting is by Brinda Miller, and the custom-made paneling was inspired by the work of Louis Sue and André Mare.
“He’s part of my family. I love him to death,” she says. “And today, the biggest compliment is that my husband loves him the most!” Indian limestone steps lead to the poolhouse, which is surrounded by rose bushes; Deniot designed the limestone benches and teak stools.