FOR NEARLY 50 years, beginning in 1969, the Burgundy-born antiques dealer Jean-Paul Beaujard was an Upper East Side authority on all things 19th-century French, an interpreter of the Napoleonic aesthetic for generations of wealthy Manhattanites. Other shopkeepers who came of age in the gilded 1980s embraced full-on Louis-era extravagance, dealing porcelain-inlaid gueridon side tables and gilt-edged daybeds, but in Beaujard’s namesake East 76th Street store, where he held court with an accent as thick as crème pâtissière, the disciplined stripes of Napoleon Bonaparte’s First Empire style, which alluded to Ancient Egypt and Imperial Rome, met the late 19th-century Art Nouveau furnishings of the French cabinetmaker Louis Majorelle.
Beaujard, 74, who knew he wanted to be an antiques dealer at age 10 and began amassing items at auction when he was 14, used his Art Deco duplex apartment two blocks north as a canvas for his magpie personal tastes. No matter how permanent his tableaus seemed, he could, overnight, change everything, moving a lion paw table in the lavish Troubadour style of Charles X or a giltwood velvet-covered sofa to showcase a seven-foot-tall palm tree made of brass and steel. “You get attached to things, but you also realize they are meant to live in other places,” he says. At home, his preoccupations weren’t confined merely to 19th-century French furnishings; he also cultivated the colorful excesses of other eras, finding inspiration in the watercolors from the 18th-century Pavlovsk Palace, the incandescent large-scale oils of the French painter Felix Courché and the work of the Parisian decorator Madeleine Castaing, who ran her famed Rue Jacob shop from the 1940s until her death at age 97 in 1992.
In the entry hall, an oil painting by Henry George Hoyland purchased by Lady Mendl in 1938, an 1830 giltwood mirror, an early 19th-century lacquered screen and Sèvres vases from the 1870s and a marble bust of Louis XVI on an Empire console.Credit…Thibault Montamat
Then, in 2017, Beaujard suddenly made a life-changing decision: He would leave behind his adopted city to live full time in Paris, his first hometown. He put the duplex up for sale and closed the shop. “Almost all my clients are American,” he says, “but something was calling me back.”
IT IS REASONABLE to assume that the siren song emanated, at least in part, from the spectacular apartment awaiting him. He has owned the 2,200-square-foot flat, which occupies the top two floors of a six-story 1910 Art Nouveau building on the corner of a wide boulevard in the Seventh Arrondissement, for over 20 years, but during his incarnation as a New Yorker, he mostly stayed there only on buying trips. Although early on he had restored virtually every surface, including the parquetry floors and boiserie, the décor was relatively stark — at least for him — and done in shades of ivory and wheat.
In the several years since his return, however, Beaujard has lavished the two-bedroom home with the full force of his fecund imagination, blending his signature theatricality with a new dose of insouciance. With its 25-foot-tall octagonal salon at the center (“I always believe in having at least one enormous room,” he says), complete with terraces that look out over the mansard roofs of the neighborhood, and an internal rounded balcony at the top of the open stairs to the second floor that hovers above the living room and offers views of Notre-Dame through that room’s floor-to-ceiling windows, the penthouse apartment, an extension of his business, is now a vivid mix of furnishings from the past 200 years. It careens from the explosively decorative to the airily calming. “There are historical periods I love but, in the end, I work by instinct,” he says. “I don’t fall more in love with something that is very expensive instead of something that is not. I see connections where I think others might not even look.”
In the large, moodily lit entry hall, on a mahogany Empire console adorned with two Sèvres vases from the 1870s, sits a 19th-century copy of the creamy marble bust of Louis XVI from the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s neo-Classical chateau on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. Beaujard uses a vast early 1800s eight-panel Coromandel screen painted with scenes of rural China to section off an impromptu area for dinner parties with as many as 30 guests, who typically debate culture and art over simple dishes like chicken curry and homemade Pavlova. A display of emerald green-edged Paris porcelain plates from the 1840s, each featuring a different flower, occupies a gently illuminated niche, and the center of the space is dominated by two forest green velvet 19th-century Italian sofas and a round pale pink silk borne settee of the sort found in genteel French parlors during the Belle Époque.
Such hues, as well as the animal prints that Beaujard uses liberally in carpets and wallcoverings, were favorites of Castaing, an art patron and eccentric whose cheery mixing of high and low informs the warmth and informality of Beaujard’s approach. “You see these here,” he says, picking up one of the pair of shell-shaped brass sconces lying on the seat of the velvet sofa, ready to be installed or perhaps sold on Instagram or 1stDibs, where he now does most of his business (he recently scooped up the entire suite of furnishings from Yves Saint Laurent’s haute couture salon, which was closed in 2002). “These are from the 1950s. They are so perfectly formed that they speak to me.”
The salon beyond is painted in celadon — another shade often employed by Castaing — that took days to get right, and is ornamented with trompe l’oeil marble columns. At night, when the glow from the room’s 1930s crystal chandelier and from the terrace’s topiary lights reflects in the mirrored panels that cover parts of the walls, the effect is alchemical. “It is like living in a house in the sky,” he says, as he leans back in a lapis blue Empire chair by Jacob Frères, sipping an espresso from a shamrock-patterned porcelain D. Porthault cup.
On the top floor, Beaujard’s bedroom and the guest room feel breezy and debonair, in pale shades of white and yellow with accents of ebony and chocolate, evoking both the formal side of late 19th-century French design and fanciful postwar modernism. His lodestar from the latter period, the polymathic writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, a model of following one’s passions no matter where they might lead, is enshrined: On an off-white wall across from Beaujard’s bed, which is dressed simply in D. Porthault linens, hangs a grid of framed illustrations of the poet’s 1930 play “La Voix Humaine” by the artist Bernard Buffet; below, on an 1874 bamboo cart made by Perret et Vibert, sits a life-size blackened bronze bust by Cocteau of his lover, the actor and artist Jean Marais, depicted as a faun — a gift to Beaujard decades ago from his friend François Fabius, a scion of one of the city’s legendary antiques-dealing families. Embodying not merely an aesthetic or a period but an ethos — the freedom to chase beauty and luxuriate in it — the heavy, glossy sculpture has moved with Beaujard through the years, crossing the Atlantic Ocean more than once. Other precious objects in his possession may one day find another home, perhaps in a distant city, but some things, he says, running a hand over the piece’s smooth contours, are meant to stay, forever.