With a modern aesthetic and a penchant for seamlessly mixing old and new, Gilles Clement has gained a strong following in Fairfield County, with interior design showrooms and art galleries in Westport and Greenwich, CT. Here, he shares details of his background, unique style and recent projects.
Stephanie Horton: You grew up in Paris in an artistic family atmosphere. Tell us a bit about your background.
Gilles Clement: Yes, my parents are artists and we lived in a free-standing Parisian salon in the 1960s to 80s. It was the perfect setting for parties and we had an elite intelligentsia of actors, musicians and philosophers for dinners five nights a week. We’d have Grace Jones, Yves Saint Laurent and all the French artists—an incredible cosmopolitan group in our family house that shaped my youth and gave me an extravagant, eccentric introduction to life.
SH: How did you get started in the interior design business?
GC: It was not my first career. Earlier on, I met the daughter of famed French musician Charles Aznavour (he’s like the Frank Sinatra of France), and I went into the music business. From 1988 to 2004 I was producing and promoting music. It was very creative; I was planning parties, funky psychedelic music events like Burning Man. Around this time I went through a personal tragedy and decided to come to New York City. America is known as the land of opportunity, and I wanted to go back to university and reinvent myself. That’s just not done in France—it’s not part of the culture to go back to university at any age. I finished my degrees at Fairfield University, and got my masters in interior design. I first worked for Jean-Charles Moriniere who is one of the best; we collaborated with Jacques Garcia. It was very high-end, an invaluable education. In 2009, I started my own company, and in 2010 I opened House of Clement in Westport.
SH: How did you find yourself in Westport?
GC: One of my mother’s good friends had a house in New York City and a country house in Westport, which is quite an artistic community as well. My parents ended up buying a country house in Westport, and they now spend nine months of the year there and about three months in Paris.
SH: Your style has a modern, transitional vibe and a European flair. How would you describe your aesthetic?
GC: I don’t believe I have a specific style; I like to mix antiques like an 18th century bergère with custom furniture and super contemporary art on the walls. French design is like that in general—it’s part of the culture and part of the history to mix the old and the new. I like a fashion-inspired, cosmopolitan and glamorous look. I like to dress a house the way you dress a woman, exciting and edgy. I want to break boundaries, think outside the box and do the unexpected. But I also make sure I incorporate my clients’ sensibilities. I’m a chameleon and I adapt myself to the project.
SH: You recently opened a showroom and contemporary art gallery in downtown Greenwich, in addition to locations in Westport and Paris. How has that process been for you?
GC: I opened the retail locations because I believe it’s very important for people to feel the vibe, touch the product and to see my style and sensibility first hand, not just in photographs. These days everything is so virtual and online, so having stores where people can see and touch is such a personal experience. As for the art galleries, I’m a longtime art lover and dealer. It is part of my childhood, the soul of everything. Art is what remains of society after everything else is gone. In 2014, I opened my Westport art gallery, and two years later I opened the Greenwich gallery. The chemistry between the interior design business and the art business has been very successful for me. My business is a one-stop design house—we do everything, with a high level of customization.
SH: How do you push artistic boundaries and create glam spaces while keeping the comfort and practicality levels high?
GC: It seems that Americans think glam is not conducive to children. But I believe that’s more in the parents’ psyche. It’s all about how you introduce your kids to glamour and educate them. That being said, I control practicality with the materials I use. I use cowhide rugs, which don’t stain. I use darker color palettes and polyester velvets that are very efficient and forgiving. All the high-end vendors have man-made fabrics that are washable now. Besides, even if my clients don’t have kids or pets, they have friends that get drunk…so my designs must be life-friendly!
SH: Tell us about your recent Westport project, shown here.
GC: This project was for a long time client—a family with three college-aged kids and two dogs. We did an NYC apartment on the Upper East Side for them first and then did Westport. The house is a traditional Colonial—you wouldn’t believe it if you saw it from the outside!
SH: What’s inspiring you now? How much do you travel?
GC: I go to all the trade shows, but otherwise I don’t have much time for travel. I work seven days a week and have 10-12 projects at any given time. My wife Aida is a big part of our business; she’s the CFO and runs a very efficient back office. I spent 20 years traveling the world, so I don’t miss it that much. Life inspires me—a woman in the street, a beautiful car, the smell of a perfume, the way the sun highlights a building at sunset, two people waiting for a train. We are surrounded by magic; it is just a question of whether we decide to see it or not. I’m on a quest for beauty, and beauty is my inspiration.
SH: What are you currently working on?
GC: I’m currently working on four big projects: a townhouse on the sea in Greenwich, a French chateau in Greenwich, a contemporary house in Avon, and a large coastal house in Westport. They are very different—four completely different architectures. They’ll all be finished soon, and the interiors will be unexpected.
SH: What do you enjoy most about this area of Connecticut?
GC: I love the freedom of life in Connecticut. I love having a garden, a car and animals; I have a dog and a parrot. I love the mix of people and gathering them for parties. I like the fact that my clientele is concerned about making their homes beautiful. And most of all, I met my wife in Fairfield County!
10 Things Gilles Clement Can’t Live Without:
1: A glass of Hennessy OX cognac on the rocks
2: Three songs to play on repeat: “Madame Butterfly” by Puccini, “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Stones and “Angelic Particles” by Hallucinogen
3: Le Mépris, a movie by Jean-Luc Godard
4: My art collection, including Clement Kamena, James Verbicky, Robert Mars, Chuck Close and David Datuna pieces
5: Original Santal fragrance by Creed
6: My wine collection, including Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1982, Chateau Latour 1959 and Chateau Angelus 1990
7: A three-day party on the shores of Vagator beach in Goa with Raja Ram and Simon Posford on the control deck
8: A dinner at my friend’s house,
The Gipsy Kings, in the South of France ending with them grabbing their guitars until dawn
9: My wife, my parents, my friends and my pets
10: My 1,000-year-old house in Kotor, Montenegro, on the shores of the Adriatic
Photos by Gross & Daley photography