Mallet-Stevens illuminates Villa Cavrois

Even in grey skies, Villa Cavrois looks like a sunny ship! Mallet Stevens understood everything about light.

Even in grey skies, Villa Cavrois looks like a sunny ship! Mallet-Stevens understood everything about light.

It is a long and grim drive from Paris to Lille on the Autoroute du Nord which also leads to Brussels and Calais. But if you are travelling with two very dear friends, an architect from Boston, and the daughter of the leading Texas architect Frank Welch, it is much more fun.

The children 's dining room

The children’s dining room made of Zingana wood with a sculpture by Jan and Joël Martel

We arrived in Croix, a suburb of Lille, driving through Villeneuve d’Asq and its beautiful contemporary art museum, and felt like being in any wealthy suburb in America. Large lawns surrounding 20 th century villas, which were built with textile manufacturing wealth of the triangle Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing…

The staircase and radiator all have lines

The staircase and radiator all have lines that match the large windows

Paul Cavrois was especially avant-garde in choosing Robert Mallet-Stevens as the architect for the spacious house, where he and his wife (his brother’s war widow) raised seven children. He employed 700 people in the textile industry and wanted a place for his children to lead a healthy life. Conceived as a work of art, Villa Cavrois was built between 1929 and 1932 and Mallet Stevens included all the furniture and decors. It is a technical, as well as an aesthetic manifesto, and it was recently restored for 23 million euros, by Centre des Monuments français, after being vandalized in 1990.

The swimming pool hidden under a terrace and their matching rails

The swimming pool is hidden under a terrace and  matching rails

The impression of happiness that one feels when entering the three acre grounds, cannot be shown on photographs. The yellow bricks covering the concrete building, make one believe that the sun is permanently shining. And light is one of the most important elements of this house with a North/South disposition. Terraces occupy a third of the general surface (830 sq meters of 1800 sq meters). Comfort and modernism create a rare feeling in this northern part of France with a climate similar to that of Belgium.

The bathroom is more like a ballroom

The bathroom is more like a ballroom, with its marble furniture and wall to wall carpeting pinned down with gold nails

Very inspired by the Bauhaus and by Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Mallet-Stevens has achieved here one of his chef d’œuvre, after the completion of Villa Noailles in Hyères. And what I liked most about it, beside the fabulous 27 m long swimming pool hidden against the house, is the variety of stripes he used all around.

The master bedroom with music coming out through a round speaker above the bed

The master bedroom with music coming out of a round speaker above the bed

Stripes on the radiators, stripes on the staircase, stripes in the children‘s rooms, stripes in the kitchen and in the bathroom. This is as if Mallet-Stevens had used stripes as his motto, in every color and every material.

The children's rooms have built in furniture

The children’s rooms have built-in furniture

One of my companions, architect Brigid Williams, from Hickox Williams in Boston, explained how inspired the building was, by ships. The round portholes, the low ceiling wooden smoking room, the numerous terraces with handrails and even the pool, are all references to ocean liners. Including the building’s reflection in the long garden « mirror ».

Directly in the hallway, light comes in from the South through the living room

In the hallway, light comes in from the south through the living room

The underground of the house is devoted to a wine cellar and heating rooms, where one can still see a drying cupboard for sheets. On the second floor is the linen room in the central part of the house between the children’s wing on the West with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the parent’s quarters on the East with two rooms and two bathrooms. On top, next to yet another terrace, the playroom is magnificent.

In the garden,  what struck me was the reference to Versailles or to classical French gardens as Vincent Scully would have called them. The perspectives are drawn through the grounds, with emphasis on 17 th century type stellar lines. Hedges, cedar trees, are lined up along symmetrical lines and one can still imagine the grounds as they were in the thirties, with a vegetable garden.

A funny little wall on the main terrace, forces the eye into the perspective

A funny little wall on the main terrace, forces the eye into the perspective

The large living room and the master bedroom with its gigantic bathroom, are quite fascinating and thrilling. I thought I would find this house very dry and cold and it was the reverse. I left the place totally exhilarated, blessing my two American friends for making me drive them so far North.

The villa looks a like a boat but feels very cozy

The villa looks a like a boat surrounded by cedar trees, but feels very cozy

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6 Comments on “Mallet-Stevens illuminates Villa Cavrois”


    Your piece captures the essence of this house perfectly in a few short paragraphs – though one could talk about it for hours! Villa Cavrois will see a surge of visitors when your readers get their hands on it (and realize they could stop at Duployez in Arras on the way home) … I’m spreading the word on the East Coast!

  2. Theodora Zemek

    Thank you Laure for yet another really interesting article, and also to Brigid for pointing out the ship references in this lovely house. I am having to “teach” design to a recalcitrant A level student this afternoon and I was trying to find an example of Deco/modernism – this does the trick nicely ! xxxxTheo

  3. Patrice Fustier

    Très chère Laure,
    J’ai vraiment adoré ton article sur la villa Cavrois
    Les photos sont superbes et les commentaires éloquents…… même pour un néophyte
    Merci et à très vite

  4. Craig Colmar

    Dear Laure,

    I receive your blog passed on by my friend Christiane Boesch. I was particularly happy to receive the latest, containing your excellent review of Villa Cavrois (complete with professional-grade photographs). The pioneering work of early modern architects, especially those influence by the Bauhaus movement, remains beautiful and timeless.


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