by Susanna Giusto&Gianluca Errico
MONACO. Flee crowded beaches and busy tourist sites for a day walk to five special locations close to the Principality! First above all Montecarlotimes suggests you to visit “The villa of Eileen Gray E-1027” and “Le Cabanon of Le Corbusier” in Roquebrune- Cape Martin in the morning then drive slowly towards the red rocks of the Esterel Massif. You will pull up the car for a short time along that spectacular seaside road and have a look of “Le Palais-Bulle Pierre Cardin” round shapes before having a nice lunch break at “La Villa Mauresque” in Saint-Raphael! Finally, driving from the Corniche d’Or to the Grande Corniche you will reach one of the most charming perched villages of the French Riviera, La Turbie, for an unforgettable sunset and a simple meal of market products at the authentic “Le Café de la Fontaine” before descending the winding road and be back in your residential hotel in Monaco.
EILEEN GRAY VILLA E-1027: in 1925, when the furniture designer Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was entrusted with the construction of a love nest by her companion, the Romanian architect Jean Badovici, (1893-1956) she went to the village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and discover a small piece of land overlooking the sea. Completed in 1929, Villa E-1027 is her first foray into architecture. Now praised as a minimalist masterpiece, the L-shaped concrete house, built on stilts, is filled with Transat chairs and swivel and folding wardrobes from Gray, as well as seven frescoes painted by the very often guest of honor Le Corbusier. Villa E-1027 is a reminder of a careful reflection in the design of every detail. It has a manifesto value and is an icon of comfort architecture. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, on a background of industrialization and technical progress, architects and artists like Chareau, Van Doesburg, Rietveld, Mallet Stevens, Le Corbusier, Gropius develop a modern aesthetic. Eileen Gray was particularly drawn to the small house on Lake Geneva, designed for his parents by Le Corbusier in 1924. Under the azure climate, she first thought of building a “refuge” where she and Jean Badovici could work in complete relaxation.
Under Badovici’s influence the concept evolves and grows to welcome his friends. The villa E-1027 is thought of as a living organism and a habitat model. “E for Eileen, 10 for J of Jean, 2 for B of Badovici, 7 for G of Gray”, the name of the villa imbricates the initials of Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici. They will share it shortly, and he will own it until his death in 1956. If the appearance of the villa is in tune with the architectural principles laid down by Le Corbusier, this achievement is nevertheless an opportunity for the couple architects to compensate the designs of interior design by the Modern Movement, considered too cold, by a search for comfort and intimacy. In the first issue of the journal “L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui” they write: “When one sees (…) these interiors where everything seems to answer a strict and cold calculation (…), one wonders if the man could be satisfied with staying there. (…) It was necessary (…) to seek to create an interior atmosphere in harmony with the refinements of the modern intimate life.” Like a small “vessel” anchored in the “terraces” where the main room on stilts benefits from the free plan, a balcony and long windows magnifying views, E-1027 plays the analogy with the nautical universe to reinvent a seaside resort. Associating her sensitivity to modern ideals, Eileen Gray enriches the villa with works borrowed from vernacular architecture. At the same time intimate and open on the landscape, its vegetation and its near and distant views thanks to several terraces, the interior of the villa facilitates all the activities. On the ground floor of 90 sqm there is the entrance, the versatile and transformable living room, a room-studio, a bathroom, a toilet and a kitchen. A spiral staircase descends to the ground floor down to the guest bedroom and the staff area. A covered area of 55 sqm is free under the piles. To evoke a boat trip facing the horizon, the accordion structure of the bay windows overlooking the terrace echoes the screens that young Eileen Gray created in its art deco period. While each bedroom is intimate and self-contained, with direct access to the outside and a small terrace, Eileen Gray promotes conviviality through multi-purpose furniture and features that separate, open or create transitions. At the heart of the living space a large sofa, a fireplace, storage, a bathroom hidden by a wall screen. In an adjoining space without separation, there is an alcove and a small sofa and, on the opposite, the space bar-dining room.
During the first restoration of the Villa, a polychrome composition was discovered on the north wall of the living room. Eileen Gray will remove this first intention of colored decoration in favor of white but Le Corbusier was not of the same opinion … Well after the departure of Eileen Gray who left the villa in 1932, Le Corbusier stayed there for a few days in 1937, 1938 and 1939. In April 1938, with the encouragement of Jean Badovici, he produced two murals, returning the following year to add five.
According to her biographers, Eileen Gray did not like these paintings and in 1949 Badovici threatened to remove them. Damaged during the war, several paintings were restored by Le Corbusier himself in 1949 and again in 1963. However, three paintings disappeared. The Villa is small but for Eileen Gray everyone “must be able to stay free and independent” and store everything in a minimum of space. For this, she invents elegant, functional and very clever furniture which she looks after every detail. This spirit of order and storage is materialized by small “labels” painted specifying the place of each thing. Inscriptions tinged with humor are scattered on the walls of the villa: “Beautiful weather” “The invitation to travel”, “Enter slowly”, “Defense of laughter”, “Meaning forbidden”, “Hats”, “Pillows»,«Pijamas», etc. In the large room on the ground floor, she installs the Transat chair, inspired by those of the cruise ships and the Bibendum armchair.
She also creates a black leather bench with a chromed steel tube frame, flying tables, the “Marine First” rug in the guest bedroom or the clever circular chrome bedside table, called Table E-1027, adjustable in height by a metal chain. In the guest room, a foldable metallic arm carries the tray inserted into the flap. In Eileen Gray’s bedroom, the tall, narrow bathroom cabinet serves as a screen between the washbasin and the workstation. In one corner, swivel drawers are superimposed. In the guest room the famous Satellite wall mirror with its articulated arm bearing a small round mirror was the subject of a patent filed by Jean Badovici. Today, the movable furniture in the villa are modern achievements edited by Aram, and the fixed furniture was recreated by the Association Cap Moderne, according to the plans and photos of origin.
Sea side the garden extends the privacy of the villa.To the southwest, it becomes an outdoor lounge sheltered from the wind by maritime pines, with paved paths, benches, a space for sunbathing and a table for cocktails. Below, a cypress dominates the rocks beaten by the sea. To the north, Eileen Gray restored the lemon terraces and took advantage of the shade to install an outdoor kitchen. Sometimes abused by its successive owners, one of whom died assassinated on the spot, the villa, emptied of its furniture, was very degraded when the “Conservatoire du littoral” acquired it in 1999. After years of dilapidation, the French Ministry of Culture and Historic Monuments has undertaken extensive renovation work. They concern structural work but also the interior design and the gardens. The bias of the DRAC and Pierre-Antoine Gatier, Chief Architect of Historical Monuments in charge of the project management of the restoration of the villa is that of a “restoration in conservation” which privileges, whenever possible, the original elements, the spirit, the refinement, the elegance and the experimental side of the work. Similarly, Le Corbusier’s murals have been maintained and restored because they mark a key stage in the history of the occupation of the villa with the indelible passage of the architect.
This choice of conservation restoration explains why the villa does not seem perfectly “new” and therefore requires permanent maintenance. The villa’s fragility imposes very strong measures of protection, which also limit the number of visitors on the site and force these to the strict respect of a protocol of visit on reservation, in small group and accompanied. The restoration undertaken by Modern Cape aims to make visitors understand the genius of Eileen Gray. Thus its restoration seeks to restore the Villa in its original state in 1929. Since 1999, the villa E-1027 and the garden are classified as Historical Monuments. Single and group visits by reservation only by clicking on the email address email@example.com For better management and because the number of visitors is limited, priority will be given to bookings made online https://capmoderne.com/en/
LE CABANON OF LE CORBUSIER: in 1937 Le Corbusier discovers Cap-Martin and the villa of Eileen Gray E-1027. Impressed by the ingenuity and charm of the villa he stays there and leads a quiet and simple life, in contact with nature. There, a few meters from the tavern “L’Étoile de Mer”, he built the Cabanon and the Camping Units. Le Corbusier will realize on this site various murals, in contradiction with its definition of the architecture like “pure game of light and volumes”. In 1928, the cover of a book by Le Corbusier, “A house a palace”, showed a fisherman’s hut that testified to his admiration for the vernacular. The choice of this image for the cover of one of his works and his interest in this type of architecture can be found in the rustic appearance of the exterior walls made of pine rind of his Cabanon, which slice with so many other works of the architect and especially his famous white villas.
The originality of the Cabanon is indeed to associate with the spirit of the trappers’ cabins and with the functionalism advocated by the architects of the modern movement. For them it is crucial to define a typology of habitable cell reduced to a minimum space combining several functions. In a square cell 3.66 x 3.66 meters and 2.26 meters high under the roof at a slope of the Cabanon a work area, a rest area, a toilet, a washbasin, a table, storage and a coat rack are thus concentrated. The structure and all these wooden elements, prefabricated in Corsica by the Barberis Company, were assembled on site as a Meccano. Inside, oak and chestnut furniture and navy plywood partitions compete to separate spaces and activities and facilitate storage. Anchored on the wall of the facade overlooking the sea, a chestnut worktable is complemented by a low cabinet with lockers. The toilet is isolated by a red curtain, the bed incorporates a wooden headrest and storage space. The murals adorning the entrance and the two folding shutters, the yellow parquet floor, the green, red and white panels of the ceiling and the touches of color brought by the hooks of the coat rack contribute to the harmony of a set with joyful sobriety. In 1956, in exchange for the Cabanon parcel, Le Corbusier had five camping units built for Thomas Rebutato, designed as a prototype of a leisure habitat. The interior of these camping units incorporates some principles of the Cabanon.
Le Corbusier loved the Mediterranean, which never ceased to nourish his work. One of the two small square windows of the Cabanon frame the sea view. Near the sink, the second is turned to a venerable carob tree. Vernacular and rustic in its external appearance, the Cabanon is characterized on the inside by its austere sobriety and minimalist functionality. In a mail exchange with Charles Barberis, Le Corbusier envisioned a series reproduction (in wood or metal) of this prototype. Now recognized as a manifesto of modern architecture, the Cabanon has been the subject of two replicas by the Maison Cassina. They are regularly exhibited around the world. The presence of a carob tree which is inseparable from the shed as it seems to be one with the house, dictated its location on the site and protects the Cabanon with its shadow. Le Corbusier was showering in an improvised “bathroom” in the open air protected from foliage, in osmosis with nature. Next door, a concrete table and a seat served as a place of contemplation and reflection. To work he went a little further in the hut of work site dedicated to the workshop where he could store his drawings.
Adding to the polychromy that colors the minimal austerity of the minimal habitat designed by Le Corbusier, murals by the architect adorn a wall of the Cabanon’s entrance corridor as well as the inside of the two folding shutters. The first painting done by Le Corbusier in the Cabanon adorns the narrow entrance hall. This is one of the first works of the series of 21 “Bulls”, which occupied the architect until his last days. One of the sources of inspiration of this painting which mixes several motives and ideas was a still life. On the other side of the wall, he created another painting representing the Rebutato family and their dog by the sea. Inside the Cabanon, the artist painted on a cardboard a series of figures, several of which refer to his wife Yvonne, a model herself. He also adorned the shutters with female figures. Guided visits work as for the Eileen Grey E-1027.
LE PALAIS -BULLE IN THEOULE-SUR-MER: in the rejection of modernism, architects from the 1960s-70s are conducting research on the concrete, which offers great freedom of expression and formal and technical flexibility; some of them are turning to the creation of ovoid volumes. In a society fascinated by science fiction, they compose universes between primitive representation and futuristic projection. Their choice for these structures will be at the same time economic, aesthetic and practical: like a protective shell, they must agree to the daily gestures. Designed in the 1970s by Antti Lovag, the Hungarian autodidact famous for his bubble-house architecture, the vast pink palace of the Palais Bulles belongs to Pierre Cardin, who opens it to the public for special events, movie nights and fashion, plays and concerts.
The expansive hillside estate features hanging gardens, waterfalls and a series of circular infinity pools, as well as 10 bright bedrooms with rounded beds and works by Cardin’s favorite contemporary artists. Antti Lovag describes the style of the bubble house as an “organic space”: the slightly rounded cylindrical rooms with curved portholes (or “skydomes”) are a reaction to what the architect calls “aggression of angles”. The Bulle Palace is a jewel on the Côte d’Azur. Facing the bay of Cannes, nestled in the Esterel Massif, this surprising house located on the heights of Théoule-sur-Mer offers a striking view of the shores and ochre creeks of the Riviera.
Born from the will of a man, this unique house with multiple undulating and spherical modules, dotted with terraces and basins is suspended between sky and sea, facing the Mediterranean. Its feminine forms are extended in the decoration with furniture custom designed by contemporary artists to harmoniously marry the walls of the many suites. This futuristic place, labyrinth of modern times is an invitation to dream, with its wide portholes where sunlight engulfs, the reflection of the waves and the sails of the boats. The Palace is private property and the interior is not available to visit. However, the building can be seen from the Boulevard Estérel – Théoule-sur-Mer; you can also write to Jean-Pascal Hesse for special events’ information firstname.lastname@example.org or call +33 (0) 1 42 66 95 53 33 – Info tourist office in Théoule-sur-Mer (00 33 4 93 49 28 28)
LA VILLA MAURESQUE IN SAINT-RAPHAËL: halfway between St Raphael and the red rocks of the Esterel, La Villa Mauresque is an amazing madness built in 1860 by the architect Chapoulard: two white castles of neo-Moorish style decorated with dust of roses and pistachios surrounded by burning bougainvillea, shaded park of palm trees and pines.
The Villa has been transformed and is today a splendid newly renovated hotel with breath taking views of the Gulf. Its 16 beautiful suites with a loose theme bear the names of artists and writers: the Henry Miller suite is scarlet; the Rimbaud has a dream bath surrounded by bay windows; the elegant Baudelaire has a large antique brass four-poster bed. The most charming is the Picasso suite on the top floor, with its huge terrace and panoramic views. The hotel has an indoor jacuzzi and a steam room in one of the castle towers. In the restaurant Le Bouganvillier, chef Philippe Joffroy concocts mini-marvels of Mediterranean-style lunches and dinners, served by the pool or indoors.
The villa has an interior large elegant dining room and a veranda as well.
The more modestly priced rooms are not as attractive as the suites, but guests still have access to a boathouse filled with water skiing, scuba diving and kayaking facilities, as well as a sailboat of 30 meters. 1792 Corniche Road, Saint-Raphaël (00 33 4 94 83 02 42; www.hotelsfrench-riviera.com).
LE CAFÉ DE LA FONTAINE: at last a pleasant escape is possible at the Café de la Fontaine in La Turbie. You will follow the winding Grande Corniche (where To Catch a Thief was filmed) until you will reach La Turbie, one of the Cote d’Azur most beautiful perched village.
The Café de la Fontaine is a nice bistro run by Bruno Cirino, whose gastronomic den is the Hostellerie Jérôme, which is just across the street. The concept at the Café is a simple Provencal food using the freshest ingredients of the markets and a wine list of local vineyards at low prices, as well as some Vermentino wines from Liguria.
Appetizers include steamed artichokes garnished with ricotta and sardines stuffed with market vegetables, followed by classics from the region such as broccoli ravioli and roast duck or rabbit with olives and thyme. The menu always includes a platter of French and Italian cheeses, as well as desserts such as apple pies filled with raisins and pine nuts and a light pumpkin meringue. 4 avenue General de Gaulle, La Turbie (00 33 4 93 28 52 79, www.hostelleriejerome.com). Dinner for two about 60 € plus wine.