IN Conversation with David Jimenez

Photo by Gaëtan Chekaiban

He changed the way we shop and the look of our homes. Acclaimed designer David Jimenez turned stores from mazes of shelving and sales counters into rooms you wanted to linger in with clubby seating, soothing aromas, warm lighting, and cool jazz. Jimenez spent eight years in Kansas City as his corporate career was peaking. After high-level gigs at Banana Republic, Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, and Restoration Hardware, he served as vice president for visual merchandising at Hallmark. Five years ago, he followed his heart and relocated to Paris despite not knowing a soul there and not speaking the language. His design studio, David Jimenez LLC, attracts an international clientele. Recent projects include a residence in Santa Rosa, California, and a restaurant design for a California-based company that plans to open 12 to 15 locations across the US.

Jimenez’s Instagram is a delicious reel of romantic Parisian streetscapes, lush interiors, and off-the-beaten-path tabacs, bistros, and boutiques to seek out on your next visit.

Jimenez phoned us for a leisurely chat from his sumptuous apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis in central Paris at the end of his first day back to work after New Year’s Day.

What were you doing just before this call?
I just got back from toting my little Christmas tree to the park. Paris has a city-wide recycling system for Christmas trees. Wherever you go in Paris, the closest park is not more than two or three blocks away, and each park has a drop-off spot for Christmas trees. Workers grind the trees up into mulch to use in the parks. It’s lovely.

Your professional resume is so impressive—not many people have had such a profound influence on American home interiors. How would you describe the aesthetic you helped create that is still very much in evidence?
When most people describe what they aspire to, they often use words like “eclectic” and “stylish but warm.” I think people want to create a vibe that feels good, but also want to feel comfortable putting their feet on the coffee table or setting a glass on a table without worrying about it. I think style has evolved from being either stuffy or overtly minimal, to being something that feels more relaxed and that reflects the person who lives there. I tried to develop that style through the lens of the brands that I worked with.

Your biography on your website is very brief. What was your childhood like in New York?
I had a wonderful childhood. My parents were both incredibly selfless and loving and really wanted my brother and me to grow up with the very best that they could offer us. We had a beautiful home in the Bronx. Starting when I was about nine, every Saturday afternoon, I would completely remerchandise the living room. My parents would leave the room long enough for me to totally rearrange it. Then I would go grab them and show them what I did, and they were always so enthusiastic. Honestly, at a very early age, I had a sense of, “I’ve got this.” It was a very nurturing, very warm environment.

Were your parents in creative professions?
My mother was a seamstress. She worked for some big companies and also did her own designs, so she had a creative background. My parents had three markets in the Bronx early on, and then when my mom decided to focus on her couture work, my dad went to work as a foreman for different companies. My mother was very driven and hard-working and motivated to move forward assertively, while my father was a real dreamer—just this warm, gentle, kind soul. I think if he’d ever been given the chance to paint or do sculpture, he would have been great at it because he was such a sensitive man.

As I started quickly ascending in my career, moving from sales at the Gap to assistant manager, to floor manager to area manager and then piloted the first regional visual merchandising position at Banana Republic, my parents were incredibly supportive. I would come home from work really late at night, often after midnight, and my mother would get out of bed to warm up my dinner. Just incredibly kind.

What do you love about Kansas City? You often speak warmly of it.
Kansas City will always have a special place in my heart. It has a lot to do with the people. Before I came here, I was living in San Francisco, so Kansas City was not a place I had ever been to or even heard much about. I had no idea what to expect. I found an incredible house that I wanted to purchase in Hyde Park. It was designed in the early 1900s by an architect for himself and for his mom, so he spared no detail. The day I moved in, I was all by myself, surrounded by boxes. The truck had not been gone 20 minutes and somebody rang the doorbell. I thought, “Well, that’s unusual. Who would be at my front door?” It was the loveliest and kindest neighbor with a plate of cookies. She said, “I just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood and let you know how happy we are to have you here.” And then—I’m not exaggerating—it happened three more times over the next two hours, with champagne, and more cookies and a beautiful pie someone had baked. I thought, “Where am I?” I was so caught off guard by the warmth and graciousness and hospitality of people in Kansas City, and that was just the beginning. I made so many wonderful friends for life there.

“Kansas City will always have a special place in my heart. It has a lot to do with the people.”

What were some of your favorite haunts?
For food: Le Fou Frog for the osso buco, the hypnotizing vibe, and swank bar. Extra Virgin for the tasty cocktails and pork belly steamed buns. Gram & Dun for chicken and sausage gumbo like a mother’s hug. Lidia’s for the fresh pasta trio, and because it felt like a trip to Bologna without leaving your zip code.

The shops at 45th Street and State Line are a must-see on every visit to KC: Christopher Filley, Barbara Farmer, Modern Love.

For culture, you can’t beat old-school jazz downstairs at the Majestic on Broadway—a classic, vibrant steakhouse with the best gimlets. I also love The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for impeccably curated exhibitions and striking Bloch addition. Also, just about any concert or recital at the Kauffman Center.

I miss the fun and worthwhile fundraisers throughout the year, like the Romantic Revels Black & White Ball benefiting the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival.

Why did you move to Paris?
I fell in love with Paris on my first trip here. That may sound clichéd because most people that come to Paris are really moved by it, really touched by it. But something visceral, something profound, happened to me my first time here. It was the beauty of the city, first and foremost. The architecture is so unlike anything I had ever experienced. And the charm of the streets, and the Seine River, and the music in the cafes, and the food, and the language, which is so lyrical you can get lost in it—it’s just so incredibly beautiful. So I made it a point to come back to Paris for my birthday for ten days every July. And I will tell you, it became hard and harder to go back home. To the point that on the last trip, if anyone had said, “You don’t have to go back. You can stay,” I would have been the happiest person. I was emotionally unhinged by the time I got back on the plane because I didn’t want to go home. I felt such a strong connection at that point.

What has Paris been like during the pandemic?
It has been exciting to see the level of responsibility and the pace at which the government has moved to protect us. Within about four weeks of the virus arriving in France, the government shut the city down. When we went into our first confinement, it was a little scary. We didn’t know what to expect. But it felt great to see aggressive action being taken to make sure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed and to keep people safe. Within about two weeks, we began getting together at night: At about 6:30, we would open all the windows onto the street, and everyone would lean out over the bannister and clap in unison. It was a really powerful moment of unity and solidarity.

My perception is that there’s a real resilience in the French. For example, I remember the absolute ache in my heart that I shared with everyone watching Notre Dame burn. Notre Dame is on an island right next to the island I live on, so it’s the equivalent of just a couple of blocks away—and I remember Ile Saint-Louis was covered with massive hoses, trying to contain the fire. At around 11 o’clock at night, I wanted to get a little closer to see if I could see anything, and what I found was about 100 or 150 people clustered together on the edge of the Seine facing Notre Dame holding candles and singing the most beautiful hymn in unison. There was this sense of shared pain and community and sense of, “It’s OK. We’re going to get through this together.”

In 2019, a feature on Jimenez’s Avenue Marceau apartment, pictured here, was the cover story in Architectural Digest Italy.

For people who can’t afford a designer, what is your advice for how they can make their home more appealing?
I would say, think about what you want your space to feel like, and then think about how you can bring that out. For example, do you want your space to feel warm and collected and nurturing because things are a little bit unsure in the world? That doesn’t require much. It requires at most going to an antique shop or a flea market in your neighborhood and supporting somebody local and picking up a couple of items that move you. It might be as simple as rethinking how you are using your space. Maybe pull the sofa away from the wall and drop a console behind it so you can have a lamp and art and a stack of books you love behind the sofa. Those things will make the space feel more layered and cozier.

You speak fluent Spanish. Is that helpful in France, and do you speak French?
Speaking fluent Spanish has been helpful in many ways. In the United States, certainly, when I was living in California, it was extremely helpful. When I arrived in Paris, I knew no French outside the little niceties that you say when you walk into a store. French is very challenging. It is very different how you pronounce the language versus how it is written—they’re like two different languages that are parallel. Unlike Spanish where you pronounce every letter in every word, and you can rely on that, in French you can’t. But Spanish did help me with my French enunciation. It throws people when I tell them I’m American because I sound like a Spaniard when I speak French.

You famously created the music CDs sold at Pottery Barn. What playlist selections can you offer to lift people’s spirits in this difficult time?
I had great fun putting those CDs together. I picked every song. The one most people remember is Dinner at 8, which was basically a compilation of everything I personally love, old and new.

I have found over the last few months that all I want to listen to is music that warms my heart and makes me feel happy. I love many genres of music, but my all-time favorite is jazz. There are a couple of jazz artists that I’ve been listening to a lot recently. One is Melanie Gardot. She is American but she speaks perfect French. She has a stunning, stunning voice and she sounds as classic as some of the great names you would think of like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. Madeleine Peyroux is also American and spent many years in Paris singing and has a mix of French and classic American songs on her CDs. And when I just don’t feel like selecting, I find the easiest thing to do is go to iTunes or any of those apps and create a station by entering the name of an artist—one that I use is Coralie Clément. She’s a young French singer that does a few American songs and because of her artistry, if you put in her name you get a wonderful playlist in the same genre for the whole day that goes back and forth between English songs and French songs, jazzy, upbeat plus a few that are a little moody. It’s just delightful.

Interview condensed and minimally edited for clarity.

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