He certainly had plenty of opportunities to experiment with interior design. Lagerfeld’s personal real estate holdings over the years were significant, with each one decorated differently from the next. In the 1970’s, he redid a 19th-century apartment on Paris’s Left Bank into all Deco-inspired black and white. Ten years later, he entered a maximalist phase, collecting the technicolor building-block style furniture of Italy’s postmodernist Memphis movement. Then came a cavernous apartment inside the 1707 Hôtel Pozzo di Borgo near the Musée d’Orsay, filled with Louis XV gilt-wood antiques. After that was a spaceship-modern apartment with stainless steel and glass furniture in a 200 year-old building on the Quai Voltaire in Paris. And of course, there was the Belle Époque hilltop summer house in Monte Carlo, of which the late André Leon Talley famously said that houseguests on vacation were expected to change “at least twice, if not three times a day.” Surprisingly, it was reported in October 2008 that Lagerfeld purchased a Greek Revival brick home on Vermont’s Lake Champlain—and based on his Mad Libs-style penchant for unexpected design pairings, the imagination runs wild with what he could have possibly been doing inside a home on the state’s Historic Registry.
Those were just his personal homes. In addition to collaborating with Peter Marino for over twenty-five years on Chanel boutiques around the world, Lagerfeld was known to dabble in the occasional one-off corporate project, including the pool at Monaco’s Hôtel Métropole in 2013; a collection of textured grey suites at Paris’ legendary Hôtel de Crillon, a Rosewood Hotel; the lobbies of The Estates at Aquilina, a luxury development in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, the final phase of which debuted this spring; and the new Karl Lagerfeld Macau, set to open in June.
A design universe as broad and deep as this invites Lagerfeld’s admirers to search for clues, connect the dots to try and understand how such a prolific mind worked: Deco one moment, followed by Greek antiquities, then 1980’s Italian Maximalism? Take a step back from the jarring singularity of his various design obsessions and a few though-lines, like striations in marble, begin to emerge.
First, the man was a prolific collector and lover of books. He was said to be a top customer of the rue de Rivoli’s famed Librairie Galignani bookstore. His collection, reportedly over 300,000 strong, permeated each one of his properties, not merely as design objets but baked into the architecture—entire rooms lined with meticulously-stacked, floor-to-ceiling shelves of books (always stacked horizontally and almost never vertically, some believe so one could scan the titles quickly without needing to tilt the head in order to read sideways). You’d see a book on Le Corbusier next to Nabokov novels next to Kant’s philosophies. “That was Karl: the man of everything,” his longtime friend and collaborator Lady Amanda Harlech told Vogue in 2022. Those close to him have said that despite his collection’s ample size, he could remember the location of individual titles with automatic precision.