Interiors: Gilt complex

The entire contents of this opulent Paris apartment go on sale tomorrow. Kate Watson-Smyth asks Alberto Pinto why he's chucking out all his chintz
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The Independent Culture
ALBERTO Pinto spent years building up a collection of magnificent antique furniture in his Paris mansion. Its 30 rooms were lavishly decorated with Persian rugs, Portuguese tiles and Chinese porcelain gathered from his travels round the world as an interior designer.Then one day he returned home to find an electrical fault had started a fire. The flames had consumed everything he possessed.

Fortunately Pinto, whose clients include fashion designers, heads of state and international businessmen, is not a sentimental man. With a pragmatism that belies the artistry of his profession, he simply found himself another home (a rather more manageable 15-room apartment on the Quai d'Orsay), and went shopping.

That was 10 years ago, and Pinto is once again preparing for a change of scene. But this time it is of his own choosing. He has tired of his ornate brocade furnishings, the heavy antique furniture and the gilded chandeliers. As his friend Yves Saint Laurent says, Pinto has sheltered behind the reassuring comfort of the 19th century for quite long enough. Now he wants a more contemporary look. And to that end he is selling everything at an auction in New York tomorrow. His entire collection, of furniture, paintings and ceramics, is expected to raise more than $3m (pounds 1.8m).

After that he plans to go shopping again."I'm going to do something completely different," he says, "and have a change of style. I'm going to live in a totally different way. The space is there to do whatever I want, but I want it to be cosy and more functional than it is at the moment."

One of his first plans is to create a media room, where he will install a state-of-the-art television and music system. Then he intends to tear down the heavy green velvet that lines the dining-room walls. "Before, it was 60 people sitting down to dinner," he says, "but now I am thinking of relaxed suppers in a more modern ambience."

Pinto loves to entertain. Social gatherings were a large part of his childhood, which was spent between his home town of Casablanca and Paris, where he went to school. At his frequent dinner parties, he attends to the table decor and chooses the menu, which his chef prepares.

His guests are likely to be clients as well as friends. Over the years he has worked for President Chirac, decorating his private apartments at the Elysee Palace, society hostess Marianna Latsis, Mauritzio Gucci and international businessman Wafic Said. "My clients are very faithful and I tend to do their yachts and planes as well as their houses," he says. The Countess Jean-Charles de Ravenel, a client and close friend, says: "His greatest talent is understanding his clients' needs. For the busy ones he will give back their homes, decorated to their taste and his, and even supply monogrammed towels, sheets, napkins and flowers in their vases."

Although Pinto frequently entertains prospective clients, he denies that his apartment is a showroom. "It's absolutely my home," he insists. "Of course clients see it, but it's still my home and I've never sold anything from here to my clients."

"It is very large - one of the best buildings in Paris, you know - and naturally, because I live alone, many of the rooms are not used much, but that is the way of many big houses. It's another reason for wanting a change, perhaps I will use more rooms." At the moment, Pinto spends most of his time in his private wing. Here he has created the muffled comfort of a grand hotel suite. His immense bedroom is large enough to provide a drawing room and work area. Close friends are offered the Cocteau suite, with its collection of plates painted by the writer. The walls are decorated with languid frescoes and the bedhead is covered in sharkskin.

After one of Pinto's sumptuous dinners, his guests are encouraged to move into the adjoining fumoir, an ornate gold-panelled room decorated with dozens of French Palissy-style majolica dishes emblazoned with lizards, snakes and eels. Pinto sees the room as a decadent baroque grotto, an Ali Baba cave. The green and gold sofa is one of his own designs and was inspired by Coco Chanel's rooms at the Ritz.

His inspiration comes from anything and everything he sees around him, according to mood. "I am very eclectic. I can swing from the Thirties to the 19th century and back to modern. It depends on the architecture of the house and the style of the owner. I try to give people what they want. My ideas come from the movies, reading and travelling."

Pinto's red, gold and warm earthy colours are derived from Morocco's spice markets. He likes to arrange objects with complementary shapes and colours into a form of still-life tableau, and then to move around as the mood takes him.

Phillips Hathaway, head of the European furniture department of Sotheby's New York, which is holding the sale, believes Pinto's apartment is one of the most breathtaking he has seen since he entered the art world 20 years ago. "This house and its collection give the inescapable impression of the home of an `old soul', a man who has lived many lives," he says. "One is instantly transported back in time to the home of a mid-19th century gentleman who has inherited wonderful treasures."

One of Pinto's favourite treasures is a 19th-century enamelled silver cockatoo, from the Palace of Maharadjah Udaipaur. "I love it very much and everyone who comes here always asks after it. But I am selling it because that is part of the game. It's all about a new beginning."

The bird was bought on one of Pinto's lightning shopping trips. "I'm an impulse buyer and very fast. I don't have a specific place where I buy things, it just depends where I am when something catches my eye. I know exactly what I want and it doesn't take me three hours to make my mind up in the shop." Yet Pinto is so busy working that he rarely has time to shop. "Financially I can afford not to work, but my mind cannot stop. I'm doing 27 projects at the moment - planes, hotels, yachts and houses."

But as soon as the sale is over he will make time to visit the auction houses and shops once again. "I love the things I have collected here, because I enjoy buying them and bringing them here, but I will not be sad to get rid of it all. I am not attached to material things. After all, they can burn." 1

The Alberto Pinto sale starts tomorrow at 10am at Sotheby's New York (001 212 606 7000)