8 May 1997

ACT TO SAVE 'A MASTERPIECE'

The Villa Cavrois, an opulent building by Robert Mallet-Stevens,

lies desolate and derelict despite vigorous campaigning

by Andrew Mead

 

One of Robert Mallet-Stevens' major buildings, the Villa Cavrois (1932) in Croix near Lille, remains empty and in urgent need of repair despite an international campaign for its restoration. Earlier this year 30 high-profile architects - among them Tadao Ando, Sir Norman Foster, Hans Hollein, Renzo Piano, and Lord Richard Rogers - joined the Association de Sauvegarde de la Villa Cavrois in an appeal to the French Minister of Culture, Philippe Douste-Blazy. Describing the house as « a masterpiece », they urged him « to take quickly the efficient and appropriate measures for this building to recover its splendour and an image worth its rank in the international heritage. »

 

Mallet-Stevens, known for his film-sets and furniture as well as his architecture, designed Villa Cavrois for a local industrialist and his family. Some 60m long, with imposing cubic volumes and a cylindrical staircase tower, it is substantial - even vast - in conception : domesticity monumentalised. Among its sources are Josef Hoffmann's Palais Stoclet in Brussels and W M Dudok's Hilversum Town Hall (model for the villa's yellow-brick cladding). Mallet-Stevens was also responsible for the opulent interior (much use of marble veneers) and the furniture - now lost. An outsize master bathroom, sun-terraces and the like showed due obeisance to an era that exalted health, hygiene and contact with nature. « True luxury consists of living in a light, pleasant setting, generously aired and well heated, with the fewest unnecessary gestures possible and a minimum of servants, » was Mallet-Stevens' understated comment in an artilce in L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui on the house's completion.

 

The property came on to the market in 1986 and its present owner, Jean-Pierre Willot, apparently bought it as a speculation, hoping to demolish the house and divide the 2ha site on which it stands into plots for apartments. But although Villa Cavrois was classified as a National Historic Monument in 1990, and although Mr Douste-BIazy has seemed sympathetic to arguments for its restoration - promising state intervention and « les moyens les plus extrêmes » if Willot doesn't act - the situation is still unresolved.

 

Ironically, a French ministry of tourism page on the Internet last autumn urged visitors to Lille to Visit Villa Cavrois - those who did must have been surprised by what they found. Another important house of Mallet-Stevens, the Villa Noailles at Hyères, was once in a similar state but has gradually been restored. That must be some encouragement to the Association de Sauvegarde de la Villa Cavrois, which would like the house to become a « Villa Medici du Nord »; offering accommodation and exhibition space for local and international artists. Meanwhile, further appeals can be made to Mr Douste-Blazy, Minister of Culture, 3 rue de Valois, 75001 Paris Cédex 1.

 

 

The associaton is at 68 rue Jules Guesde, 59170 Croix.

Internet: http://www.nordnet.fr/mallet-stevens

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