Born and raised in Limoges, France, Thierry Despont is an incomparable architect, designer and artist specialised in unique and high end residential projects, hotels, museums and historical renovations. Despont is a graduate of the École Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts of Paris where he honed his skills as a superb draftsman and holds a master’s degree in city planning and urban design from Harvard University in 1974. Despont is also a member of the French Order of Registered Architects and a charter member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
Since opening his firm, the Office of Thierry W Despont Ltd., in New York, in 1980, Despont’s talent was quickly recognized. In one of his first jobs, with the international firm Llewelyn-Davies, he lived in Tehran, where worked on a master plan for the city center under a commission from the Shah of Iran. Marietta Tree, a leading social Brahmin of the time and a former partner at Llewelyn-Davies, was especially helpful in establishing Despont’s career in New York, as she recommended him to her blue-chip friends. He opened an office, on Greenwich Street, in Tribeca and soon was renovating apartments for the likes of Jayne Wrightsman, Annette and Oscar de la Renta, Susan and John Gutfreund, and Terry and Jane Semel.
It was his being hired as the associate architect of the centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty, completed in 1986, that really put him on the map. A massive undertaking that involved $60 million, and more than 400 scientists, engineers, artisans, and workers, the project took two years. Major commissions followed, ranging from the Getty Center, in Los Angeles, to the Claridge’s hotel, the renovation of the Carlyle Hotel in New York, Claridge’s and The Dorchester in London, the Boca Raton Resort & club in Florida or the Polo Ralph Lauren flagship boutique in London.
“Thierry, you have to create something that's never existed but that everyone will recognize, Ralph lauren”
“When Ralph Lauren asked me to do his new flagship, in London, he said to me, ‘Thierry, you have to create something that’s never existed but that everyone will recognize.’ For design inspiration, Despont channeled the impeccable taste of his good friend Hubert de Givenchy. “If I could capture some of his sense of design and elegance, that’s what I’d like,” Despont says. (The admiration is mutual: “Thierry is absolutely charming and has a brilliant mind,” says the retired couturier.)
After more than three decades, he isn’t slowing down. Despont’s slate of current projects includes several high-profile public buildings. The renovation of the Palm Court at the Plaza hotel, the redesign of the Cartier Mansion on fifth Avenue and the rejuvenation of the iconic hotel Ritz Paris were finished last year. In Manhattan, Despot is designing the interiors of architect Jean Nouvel’s 82-story tower, at 53 West 53rd Street, currently being erected adjacent to MoMA and scheduled for completion in 2017.
At the same time, Despont has a second, less-well-known career making art based on his lifelong fascination with the cosmos. First came Despont’s paintings of imaginary planets, oversized canvases with supersaturated colors that suggest Jackson Pollock spattering the moon. Then came his menagerie of bizarre creatures—inhabitants of the same planets—cobbled together from old machine parts, farm tools and other Industrial Age throwaways. Despont buys most of his raw materials not at Paris’s Clignancourt but through his other favorite flea market, eBay.
Le Cabinet de Curiosités was his latest exhibition in which contemporary art converged with antique furnishings and architecture to create a setting both old-world and otherworldly. The exhibition presented work by Marlborough artists Despont, Manolo Valdés, and the late Claudio Bravo (the first posthumous exhibit of his work), as well as an eclectic array of rare objects from the Steinitz Collections. Despont created rooms worthy of the castles and palaces of Europe (using ornate walls salvaged from precisely such places) and then installed dozens of artworks made or chosen for the space, including several of his paintings and scores of his “creatures.” “Le Cabinet de Curiosités” was not only a great willful act of the imagination but also one of the most astounding exhibitions since Alexander McQueen commandeered Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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