Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Lady Kenmare died, according to Billy Baldwin, "at a very ripe old age, and Rory suddenly felt bored with all of France, including Paris. He just somehow wanted to get out. He also didn't know what kind of place he wanted to go to, and he made a quick and unfortunate decision to go to Ireland, only because there was a lovely house there that he wanted. It was one of the best examples in the world: never buy a house somewhere just because of the house - you must as well buy the place, the people, and everything about it. Rory took all his furniture with him to Ireland and his house there was a distinct failure. I never ever saw the house, and very few did because he got bored with it and eventually moved back to the south of France where he built himself a great edifice very near Van Day Truex's."

In 1984, Roderick Cameron wrote text to accompany photos of his house in Provence - a gentle, appreciative account of a house he clearly loved. In fact, he wrote an essay about aesthetics, refinement and restraint that is as interesting to read more than twenty-five years later as it was so long ago.

".... I decided to move inland - to Provence. A proud country saturated in its Roman past, part French and part Mediterranean, its inhabitants are a people of very mixed blood: Phoenician, Greek and even a smattering of Saracen - a combination I felt would surely moderate the national traits and make me feel less of a foreigner.

"Finding a ruin eased the situation still further - a heap of rubble gives one infinite scope. Alexandre Favre - a clever, young, local architect - and I worked on the plans which in the end turned out to be an interpretation of the local building styles: drystone walls, old Roman tiles, but not those small window-openings so popular in Provence. Large openings are frowned upon where the whole aim has always been to avoid the sun but, personally, I must have light, with the result that the whole ground floor is plated in glass; great windows which slide into the thicknesses of the walls, the sun kept at bay by handsome, projecting, roofed-over piers. Only upstairs is the sun allowed in, but still it is controlled by sliding shutters.

"With the clarity of light down here one is apt to play down colours. The drawing room is the silver-green of the back of an olive leaf and the stairwell which curves like the volutes of a shell - indeed what inspired its formation - is painted the luminous beige found on the inside of a nautilus. Faded mustard-yellow, moss-green and the soft blues of Ming porcelain seem to be the dominant colours. The white stone floors throughout the house are spread with raffia-matting from Cogolin, the only place I know that makes this particular floor-covering."

I remember on first reading the color palette that Cameron talks about - faded yellow, silvery olive, moss, blue, white stone, blanched grass, how excited I became at the idea of seeing those colors - which of course I did not too long thereafter, in Provence.

Surely anyone who has been to Provence cannot forget the bright light of lavender, the many shades of ochre-rich earth, the umber and sienna crags, an exhilarating amalgam under the most arrant of blue skies. Also, who could not be touched by the soft, shadowily absorbed interiors glimpsed from a passing yellow-dust-laden car, or not be thankful for the rosy wine -one of the most thirst-slaking emollients known to man?

That apart – if my reading of Van Day Truex: The Man Who Defined Twentieth Century Taste is correct – then one omission from Cameron's essay on Les Quatre Sources is the name of Van Day Truex.

"Following Truex's design, Cameron broke ground for Les Quatre Sources in the valley between the villages of Ménerbes and Les Baumettes. Almost as soon as it was completed, Les Quatre Sources became a much-photographed and much-publicized house. Its location on a hillside facing Ménerbes, the oversized scale of its rooms (an unusual feature in Provençal architecture), and its remarkable staircase were all Truex's designs. While Truex himself thought his [own] house in Ménerbes was his finest work, since the discovery of his original plans for Cameron's house, in 1987, most designers have considered Les Quatre Sources his masterpiece."

Photographs by John Vere Brown for an essay written by Roderick Cameron published in The World of Interiors, April 1984.


  1. "It was one of the best examples in the world: never buy a house somewhere just because of the house - you must as well buy the place, the people, and everything about it." - I so easily identify with this sentence in your first paragraph. No so much that we moved to Edinburgh because of the house, (which was a beautiful New Town gem), but we didn't buy [into] the place, the people and everything about it, and moved on after 3 1/2 years, returning to Asia, where we had both grown up, met and lived for many years.

    The staircase you show is a triumph. Although I've read much about Provence, I've never been there, and I'm always fearful that my rather schoolboyish French would make life less than ideal. A visit would do no harm, however.

  2. This post has produced pure envy in me - a sensation at once painful and pleasurable.

  3. Columnist, Provence is a must. Occasionally, I fantasize about retiring there ... but having said that, where don't I fantasize about retiring to. Edinburgh, for example, the Borders, Maine, Skye, Trough of Bowland.

    Anonymous, I agree.

    Rose, I know, I know.

  4. i worked at les 4 sources for rory cameron in the early 80s, so i know this wonderful house very well. any idea who lives there now?

  5. Anonymous, thank you. I do not know who lives there now though - I wish I had photos of the interior now but they are not published I think. May I ask what you did in that house? If you would rather say privately, email me through my profile. Unless you want otherwise all information will stay private.

  6. no problem - i cooked. for mr cameron, m occelli and a galaxy of illustrious guests. if you wanted to know who, that would probably be better as a private message. did you ever visit the house? i don't think i have any other photos that would help you - wish i'd taken more now. i could describe how the rooms inter-connect, though, if you wanted to know. mr cameron was a delightful man - a considerate and generous employer, with a wonderful culture and a wicked sense of humour.

  7. Anonymous, forgive me for not replying to you but I have been sidetracked by the end of the summer semester and have to a degree been concentrating on that, posting a couple of times and ... well, you know how it goes. I do apologize though.

    I'd love to talk more so if you'd like to email me through the link on my profile I would be grateful. I have just finished the biography of Van Day Truex, a friend of Mr Cameron's, again and saw for the first time the obelisk that covers Truex's ashes - to me this group, Cameron, Truex, Baldwin represent a high-water mark in 20th century design and I'd like to know more.

    Please contact me