As a young boy growing up in the south of France, it’s doubtful Stephane Dupoux dreamt he’d one day be the champagne toast of Miami and New York. But even back then this sculptor of nocturnal spaces was showing promise. ‘When I was ten, I was making miniature rocking chairs out of wooden clothes pegs with a friend of mine,’ he recalls. ‘My grandmother would make the little cushions, filled with rosemary and lavender, from local fabrics and I would sell them on the beach.’
Dupoux, now aged 38, has come a long way since then. Now based in Manhattan, he oversees the award-winning consultancy Dupoux Design. Over the past decade he’s conquered Miami Beach, dazzling the jet-set crowd with groovy restaurant/lounge club concepts Pearl and Nikki Beach. More recently he took Manhattan by storm with the design of boutique clubs Cielo and Quo. His first London project, the pan-Asian restaurant and lounge Cocoon, is set to open this month on the site of the former L’Odeon restaurant near Piccadilly.
Dupoux’s path to success was hardly conventional. Initially a ski instructor in Switzerland, he travelled to the UK and then to the US. ‘I arrived in 1990 and began working in construction. I learnt the entire building trade inside out – welding, carpentry, everything,’ he recalls. He started designing furniture; interior projects were a natural progression. In 1999 he presented his work to the American Society of Interior Designers. ‘I was invited to take the final exam, which I passed. I really lived the American Dream,’ he explains.
Dupoux may have left the great outdoors behind, but inspiration for his exotic concepts comes from the ‘association of forms, colours and textures found in nature’, he says. His big break was a beach club in Miami’s South Beach, for which he created the Caribbean-meets-Native American teepee Nikki Beach. The client, Miami entrepreneur Jack Penrod, was so pleased he gave Dupoux carte blanche to design a seafood restaurant. Pearl, with seashell-inspired ‘conch’ chairs, was the result.
Dupoux drenched Pearl in flattering orange and amethyst sunset hues – a trick of coloured neon lighting concealed behind white drapes. Plastic orange polka dots and ‘Nesso’ mushroom table lamps added a 1960s pop flavour. Forget the St Tropez tan; at Pearl everyone was bathed in a sun-kissed glow, which, of course, kept le beau monde coming back for more.
Dupoux’s first New York project, Cielo, is a 1970s disco for the 21st century. It was designed for DJs Nicolas Matar and Philippe Rieser, and the music came first. ‘A recording studio was the initial inspiration,’ explains Dupoux, ‘hence the padded walls.’ Once again, nature crept into the equation. ‘I wanted to instil the cosy feel of a mountain cabin, to counteract all the anxiety in the world,’ he says. Instead of timber logs, Dupoux lined the interior with suede-covered foam logs. These are interspersed with backlit Plexiglas tubes, parallel lines of light connected to the DJ booth. Programmed to blink to the beat, they make the entire club pulsate with sound and light.
Light always plays a starring role in Dupoux’s productions. At Quo club in New York, his ‘urban tropicalism’ theme, represented by pebble wall finishes and Plexiglas bars containing poured sand, is enhanced by the $150 000 (£79 000) lighting system. Developed with RS Lighting, rainbow-hued water columns and audio-linked wall panels change colour, image and intensity in time with the music.
Cocoon, owned by Eclipse Ventures, brings Dupoux’s ‘nature goes pop’ vision to the UK. ‘I’m striving for a representation of the butterfly cocoon and birth,’ he says. ‘Everything is related to that: the shape of the layout, the stone wall framing the windows signifying the outside, the petals encased below glass for table tops, the moss green carpet, green-tinged bamboo floors and the illuminated bar in the centre, which is the nucleus and source of light.’
The scheme is an inspired solution to a long, narrow arching space. Curved walls create a series of enclosures. Patrons arrive in the ‘hatching room’ furnished with a reception desk fashioned from driftwood found in the Everglades and swinging bespoke ‘cocoon’ chairs – an organic Dupoux take on 1960s classics, Eero Aarnio’s Bubble Chair and Achille Castiglioni’s Arco lamp. ‘We couldn’t attach them to the ceiling because we had to insulate it for sound purposes. So instead, they’ll hang like leaves from big stems sprouting from the floor,’ he explains.
Orange vinyl walls twinkle with tiny fibre-optic lights, and deep coral silk Aqua Gallery creations by Israeli lighting designer Ayala Serfaty crown each mini-cocoon. ‘I rarely use pieces by other people,’ says Dupoux, ‘but these were exactly what I wanted. I designed the shape and they made them for us.’
The circular bar, constructed from panels of shattered glass chips embedded in resin, emits a radiant glow. ‘It will have the capacity to change colour. I don’t like that effect but it’s very fashionable,’ he says. ‘Design is like selling a painting; you can suggest a frame, but ultimately the client can do what they like and you have to walk away.’ Spoken like a true professional.
For his next project, Dupoux designed a chain of diamond stores for Oman, Dubai and the Emirates. Renderings show giant diamond-shaped glass cases for displaying the gems.
Meanwhile, stateside, a second Cielo is destined for San Francisco, there’s a restaurant at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, and a Buddha Bar in New York. ‘There will be a 9m living wall with real moss and orchids and a 5m Buddha, beneath a huge 15m by 12m skylight by my friend from IM Pei Architects. It will have an interior lagoon and a dining platform on stilts, it’s an unreal space,’ he enthuses. There is also a hotel concept in the pipeline, but he’s sworn to secrecy. Until then, wherever Dupoux is, you can bet life’s a beach.