Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A tear down

It is hard to imagine that the house decorated in the mid-1970s by David Hicks for the Schlumbergers, Le Clos Fiorentina, ten years later was in danger of being demolished, yet this was so - according to Hubert de Givenchy. After learning it had been stripped of its fireplaces, suffered badly from damp and was to be replaced with an Italian-style palazzo, he eventually bought the house and made it what you see here.

I frequently say how photographs of interiors speak for themselves and here it is no less true. What I mean is, beyond the contents of the rooms, they speak to me and I hope, therefore, to you. They speak to me of a sureness of touch, composure, lack of pomp and, to use Coco Chanel's phrase, the elegance of refusal - a quality rarely seen in today's decorating.

It is difficult when faced with perfection, as I feel I am here, to find words that are not redundant. The previous paragraph sums up what I feel about these rooms but I can say that the materials used - tinted and waxed cement, limestone, terracotta tile, woven rush, Cogolin raffia matting, Provençal prints, white cotton and linen, polished wood, bone, plaster, bronze, Baccarat crystal, glass, silver, pottery from Apt, books, paintings, regional furniture - add up to more than the sum of the parts. There is a serenity here, almost an attentive and listening quality, that speaks of friendship, hospitality, consideration, comfort, summer, sea and southern light.

I think it is interesting to compare Mr Givenchy's decoration to David Hicks' of the same spaces - beautiful, highly colored, equally welcoming in its own way but a different order of personality... and I don't mean that negatively.

Compare too, Billy Baldwin's and Van Day Truex's decor with this of Mr Givenchy, and you will see a number of similarities - in the use of natural materials, the emphasis on good construction, a use of regional styles and the vernacular of a country, uncluttered lines, rationality, a lack of faddism - and above all, suitability.

I have just realized I mention Van Day Truex a lot but have never posted about him. I shall remedy that pretty soon.

The "Bunny" room, named for its sole guest, Mrs Mellon.

Mr Givenchy's close friend, Walter Lees' bedroom. Mr Lees died earlier this year at the age of one hundred.  If you go here you will see the same monogram used on pillows in Mr Lees' Paris sitting room. Mr Lees, previously unknown to me, was a very interesting character and worth knowing more of.

Photographs by Agence Top, Paris / P. Chevallier from The Givenchy Style, Text by Françoise Mohrt, Foreword by Hubert de Givenchy, The Vendome Press, New York 1998 - a simply marvelous book which I am most fortunate to have been loaned by a very kind friend.


  1. There are words, thoughts, in this post, I will contemplate, meditate upon tonight in bed as I wish to remember and be inspired by your post (see my most recent post for why):


    the elegance of refusal

    And this:

    There is a serenity here, almost an attentive and listening quality, that speaks of friendship, hospitality, consideration, comfort, summer, sea and southern light.

    OH--and this:

    the use of natural materials, the emphasis on good construction, a use of regional styles and the vernacular of a country, uncluttered lines, rationality, a lack of faddism - and above all, suitability.

    Thank You!

  2. How have I never seen this before? I must say -it's the most perfect house of all time, at least, for me. You captured it best with the Chanel quote. It's masculine yet elegant -truly perfection! i'm actually printing out these images in color for my clipping files! Why do these amazing books always have to be so rare?

  3. So this post led me to research Walter Lee and I found that his estate was just sold by christies this past July following his death and what a FASCINATING life he led! This is why I love your blog! I just bought the auction catalog on ebay and can't wait to get it to explore his collections further -what an eye!

  4. I am very delighted by the experience of beauty, including of judgment, which I enjoy in looking at the first photograph of the interior. It raises confident expectations of outstanding company. I'm very pleased to have seen this.

  5. Oh, I am such a bad fellow blogger. I've been intending for days to send you some pictures of these rooms (that I haven't seen you publish yet, so I'm hopeful they'll be fresh for you). I like every word you say here, lack of pomp, sure touch and all. Delightful post.

    AND, I am always glad to see the refusal of elegance quote properly attributed to Chanel, rather than Vreeland, who often quoted it. I quoted it, giving Chanel credit, in a post several months ago, and got into a blog spat with a woman who was correcting me incorrectly, giving the quote to DV...sigh...


  6. Isn't that book as perfect as these rooms. I have to say Givenchy wins hands down in the interiors race-as designers go-(though Chanel is a tie-though I place her a little earlier on timelinewise) His is innate style resonates in every room and house he touched. Mention of Billy & VDT, though I think theirs has a more spare edge to it. G. even in these rooms is totally lavish & in creating the space for himself his individuality emerges as something completely unique unto itself. Designer's can't give a client style- beautiful rooms yes. pgt

  7. It’s a real delight to catch up on these recent essays and these last images are truly perfection. I have seen other photographs of the Givenchy home but these are superior by far -- and I didn’t know until now that it was Le Clos Fiorentina.
    It’s good to look to admirable people and their work; the world needs steadfast (well, as much as possible) heroes. Hubert de Givenchy -and probably Cameron- seem to be associated with quality in every way.

  8. I ask you all to forgive me for being tardy in replying - its been a hell of a week though having said that, looking back, it's hard to say why. Maybe just the way I reacted to it all!

  9. Bruce Barone, thank you. I'm truly honored.

    ArchitectDesign, I'm glad you liked this place - I just fell for it completely. If I had a place in the country that is how I would furnish it - not that twiggy, horny (let me rephrase that) antlered, quilty nonsense!

    It did not occur to me to buy the catalogue but I may well. Walter Lees seemed to have had an interesting life indeed - friend to Givenchy, the Windsors, and the royal family. Did you notice the kilt in the photograph?

  10. Dilettante, thank you. I have the impression that you, as do I, enjoy yourself immensely when you write so I appreciate your comments.

    I checked the Chanel quote on line because I wanted to be sure it was Chanel who said it - as I had remembered. Definitely Chanel.

  11. Little Augury, thank you. I must say I love these rooms but I'm not deciding yet who of that crowd I think is the best - if ever I could. Chanel's Baroque rooms are certainly impressive.

  12. le style et la matiere, thank you very much. Givenchy's Clos Fiorentina is perfection in my estimation. As much as I liked David Hicks' interiors for Sao Schlumberger they pale besides Givenchy's - not quite an impersonal critique, I know, but why not?

  13. I am very familiar with these rooms and I've looked at them scores of times. They are so perfect...the right balance of elegance and casual comfort.

    If one looks at Givenchy's rooms from previous decades, one can see that with time they became much simpler and he of course sold off all of his very elaborate and rich court furniture. These rooms are perfect for those who admire the charm and romance of the past but want to live in rooms that are appropriate for our time.

    I think Walter and Hubert are two peas (perfectly tasteful peas) in the same pod.