After a successful career in Paris at one of the top design firms in the world, Maximilian Jencquel of Studio Jencquel gave it all up to come to Asia to ply his vision on the limitless and diverse canvas the continent has to offer. He tells TIM NOONAN how the future of design in buildings and interiors in Asia is as stimulating a challenge as one could ask for in his profession. 




AsiaXPAT: Let’s begin with semantics. Are you a designer or an architect?

Maximilian Jencquel: I’m an interior architect and a designer. For my own house I was also the architect and landscaper, so now people ask me to conceive their homes from A to Z.  

AX: But even those designers with a broader swath have a specialty.

MJ: Because I can draw, I can conceive ideas and conceive concepts whether it’s a building or a space or a furniture piece. In essence, that would be my expertise and my primary service is to come up with design ideas and concepts.

AX: You are now based in Bali but your professional career began in France. 

MJ: In Paris I first worked at a design firm called Andrée Putman and then for Christian Liaigre.

AX: Is there any compromising of professional ambition when you move from Paris to Bali?

MJ: No, not all. Paris is a so-called city of love and for some a paradise of sorts. However that certainly does not make Paris mutually exclusive for people with professional ambitions. Personally, being away from pollution and noise often allows me to think more clearly. I came to Bali originally because a very renowned interior designer by the name of Linda Garland was residing there. She became famous in the 80’s for designing David Bowie’s house on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean. However while Bali is my residence, it is not necessarily my primary source of work. It is a good, central location to do work in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Jakarta and the property market in Bali is also booming right now as well.

AX: Ubud is one of the more creative and artistic enclaves in both Bali and Asia. Is there any kind of vibe there in regards to design?

MJ: Ubud, and Bali in general, tend to attract very creative people and naturally they gravitate towards design. Bali, with its colorful cultural background, has attracted artists and designers from all over the world since the 1930s.

AX: There also seems to be dynamism in Bali and Asia that doesn’t necessarily exist in Europe any longer.

MJ: You do get opportunities to do things in Asia that you may not get in Europe or North America at this time. When I quit my job in Paris, my first job out here was designing a boutique hotel on a prime location with 50 rooms that would appear in magazines all over the world. I may never have gotten that opportunity in Paris.

AX: And yet you also have extensive experience working in confined urban settings.

MJ: Not just experience but appreciation and ambition for design in urban settings. Andrée Putman recruited me out of design school and if you look at Putman’s work in Hong Kong, I think it is some of the best use of minimal space in design. We also worked on Anne Fontaine’s flagship store in Tokyo as well as a number of high-end urban residences. Urban design in dense places like Hong Kong and Tokyo is a challenge but it’s a stimulating challenge.

AX: You have spoken about your belief in ‘slow design.’ Is this something that primarily incorporates concerns for the environment? 

MJ: Slow design is an analogy to what slow food is, the opposite of fast food, to the design. It’s a holistic approach and while they do concern themselves with environmental issues, it’s not the sole or defining concern only because at this stage those concerns should be inherent. I don’t have a choice in design and in the world we live in we should not have a choice either when it comes to respecting and incorporating environmental concerns. This is part of what our kids will grow up with and learn in school so these issues have to be addressed. However it’s not really something we can choose to do to market ourselves. Anyone with a conscience in or out of my business is going to be green.

AX: One of your more prominent works is in the lobby/bar area of the Four Seasons Bali, sort of a Stairway to heaven.

MJ: The people at the Four Seasons said we have this space and we don’t know what to do with it, we need something to happen here that could be an attraction. I rarely get briefs that allow me to be more creative and be more of a sculptor. Anyone with a creative bent would delight in the opportunity. What we did is something like a spiraling sculpture with bottles of whiskey at the bottom and I guess that is a great place for a stairway to heaven to start, don’t you?

AX: Absolutely. Is there any kind of tropical sensibilities in your design that could be incorporated into a place like Hong Kong?

MJ: Space is the way I see my job and there is a certain sense of adaptability that is necessary. If you have an international background it allows you to come to a place, to read it fairly well and to get a certain feel for it. There are obviously a number of things that go into a place that is so dynamic like Hong Kong, historical and cultural design being foremost among them.

AX: As a student of design and someone who is passionate about it, you must have some buildings and sculptures that inspire you.

MJ: Most certainly, inspiration is everywhere and I have an affinity for the classic urban design of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris as well as the Château de Versailles in France. In Bali I think the Tirta Empul water Temple is fantastic as well as the Bali Asli in the small village of Tenganan.

AX: So in ten years time will you have weaved a significant and visible legacy in Asia?

MJ: Only time can tell. I see my work as something that needs to mature and it’s part of my career. What I do is a life long pursuit in search of something that I don’t know exactly what it is yet.