While preparing in 1999 to write a book about his family, Jean-Claude de Merry was doing research when his own life’s plot took an unexpected twist. “I was interviewing my great-uncle, the last surviving of four brothers who were involved in the family business,” says the 60-year-old de Merry, who was born in Alès, France, in a house that his family has owned since 1595, and now lives in Los Angeles. His relative spoke not of their ancestry, but rather of the de Merry enterprise—and its trade secrets. The family had operated a leather preparation and tanning business with a proprietary finishing process that gives hides an aged patina without compromising their strength. The conversation struck a genetic chord in de Merry, who at the time and for some 30 years prior was a restaurateur, as well as the author of several novels, including Quand Marie s’appelait Myriam (Albin Michel, 2001), under the name Jean-Claude Libourel. Within a year of the interview, de Merry had conceived of and manufactured his first leather club chair and turned his attention fully to design.
Today, the family’s secret method lives on in de Merry’s newest leather chairs. “It affects only the outermost layer, making [pieces] look like family heirlooms without the wear and fragility,” says de Merry. Displayed at the Jean de Merry showroom that he and business partner Christian Maroselli opened in West Hollywood last year, the rich club designs are based on Art Deco and Moderne chairs, but they are larger and more comfortable. De Merry tans the French and Spanish lambskins with vegetable-based dyes (instead of chemical-based colorants) and upholsters them to frames before “aging” and coloring them according to the client’s request.
One-of-a-kind pieces, such as an 18th-century Spanish chest of drawers and other antiques that the designer has reconstructed and reinterpreted, also are part of the company’s repertoire. “It’s the line of a piece I look for,” de Merry explains. “Design from or evoking the 1930s and ’40s has a perfect yin-yang combination. The line is masculine, but the materials are more feminine, beautiful, and delicate.”
Other original designs include bronze chandeliers and sconces, manufactured in Italy under the supervision of de Merry’s brother, Roland Libourel, and mirrored furniture, which is produced in the company’s new 11,000-square-foot workshop in Los Angeles. Many of de Merry’s latest Moderne-influenced consoles and tables feature double-bent, antiqued mirrors. “Antiquing was once done with silver lead and mercury; the process is hazardous and illegal in the United States,” de Merry explains, adding that the results of his method are very close to those of the now-outlawed practice. He declines to divulge any additional information about his antiquing process. Like the de Merry method for leather finishing, it will remain a well-guarded family secret.
The Heidi armchair’s aged patina results from a proprietary finishing process that does not affect the strength of the leather.
Jean de Merry