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24 September 2009

Villa Bettencourt: Less is More when it's only the Best


On the few occasions I venture out of my monastic cell, invariably I'm asked what I think about the Banier-Bettencourt Brouhaha. For those of you not familiar with the current court case involving the photographer François-Marie Banier and the billions of the richest woman in Europe (and heiress to the L'Oreal fortune) Mme Andre Bettencourt, read here.



This isn't the first time Banier's friendships with older women have stirred controversy. In fact, it was reported in the French press that Madeleine Castaing's family were asked to testify on behalf of the prosecution. Banier befriended MC in the '60s and they became inseparable - forming what her biographer Jean-Noel Liaut called a Harold and Maude relationship. In her last moments, Banier captured MC, who was always very particular about her appearance, sans perruque - ruffling many feathers.


This summer while trolling the Strand, I came across photos of Mme Bettencourt's villa outside of Paris in the Architectural Digest book International Interiors. I don't know about you, but I was more than a little curious to see what the wealthiest woman in Europe's residence looked like.


The villa, conceived in the Classical style, was built in 1951 - a rarity in a time when the wounds from WWII were still healing and few had resources to expend on residential architecture.

Besides the priceless sculpture and paintings we would expect to find in such an exalted domain, sumptuous furniture commissioned by Mme Bettancourt's father from the Art Deco maestro Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann enrich the cooly elegant and restrained interiors created by interior designer Serge Royaux.

The Rotunda: Even the piano is by Ruhlmann! Royaux, whose disdain for superfluity much appealed to Madame, designed the large semi-circular sofa.

Photos by Pascal Hinous

17 comments:

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Wow, fabulous post. It's amazing to see the sophistication in the interiors and the custom pieces by Ruhlman.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Love the brown study (is that what it is?).

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Aesthete, it is indeed the study. that's my favorite room as well - probably because it is the most layered of all...like a dark chocolate cocoon.

little augury said...

EEE, I want to know what you think about the family linen? The austere appearance of the villa is quite arresting especially with the unlined curtains quite obvious. You do as you please being the richest woman in Europe. The library chocolate linen velvet? The art obviously meticulously collected,and hung the same- the Lady knows what she likes and it is only the best. GT

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Emily-

These interiors are fantastic...inside glance at some of the most beautiful pieces.
Your post is very timely--today it was reported that the Nanterre court is NOT going to be investigating M. the potential defendant...and it slightly looks as if the case against him is falling apart.
My questions: what did he do with his 'billions' (yes) of EUROS...not mere dollars.
Let's see how this plays out. And blessings to Mme...perhaps he has made her life entertaining and happy and gay, and perhaps she feels very generous...and perhaps he took some advantage. We may never know.
Let's see who will auction the estate when that day comes..will be like an earthquake on the antiques scene. Can't wait.

home before dark said...

I'd love to see the art of the WWIE. The library is the only room that feels human. I'd take Oscar de la Renta's NY apt over this one any day. Hell, I'd take Miles Redd's bathroom over this. Curious about this and Madoff's penthouse that seems so underwhelming. I'm sure up front and personal it might induce swooning.Less is more is not a personal aspiration, unless, of course, it comes to things like swine flu or something!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

DDS, you say exactly what John Richardson said in the Times article - if he has brought some brightness her way and she wants to give him a gift, it's her perogative.

AND o.m.g. I didn't even think of the possibility of the Ruhlmann furniture coming on the market for the first time??!!!

hansaxel said...

Beautiful pics!!! Classic but amazing looking...
For the record, Francois Marie Banier had a very intense relationship with Madelaine Castaing (just the way he has with Bettencourt)... he actually once broke her arm during a fight!!... He is doing the same things with all these ladies: like a bad and fascinating child, who would be at times sweet, and at times hysterical and over demanding...

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Emily, thank you for alerting me to the Banier/Bettencourt situation. Fascinated by this sort of predicament in families. it is sad that the old lady's pleasure has to be priced by the daughter. But at the same time how galling to see her mother being taken for a ride.

Since they're all rolling in money, I tend to side with Mme Bettencourt. Banier won't be able to spend his ill-gotten gains and they may filter back into the art world eventually. A rather rum but ultimately satisfactory re-destribution of wealth.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I've loved following this story. You sold me on the book -i'm off to find a copy!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Home, apparently Modiglianis, Maillols, and much more... And I couldn't agree more with you about the almost institutional feel. In fact, the writing that accompanies the spread compares the villa to an embassy.

Rosie, what's one billion when you have 13? Money can really destroy families - the sense of entitlement that can come along with inherited wealth (or perhaps in this case as well having access to it) can have devastating consequences.

Errant Aesthete said...

Thank you for the introduction to this intriguing tale. I think the wealthy, and most particularly, those widowed and of advanced years, always suffer from criticisms of "companionship" that are thought untoward by others. Although their needs and desires may be as simple as a basic human connection, those who stand to profit and/or gain cannot rest or resist.

balsamfir said...

The very wealthy can be imperious, driving family to be a little distant; a paid companion is very manageable and will always try to entertain. However, I know of similar situations in less wealthy families. Women don't stop wanting companionship when past their prime, any more than men do. Few children sue when their father acquires a 40 year younger wife. I think this might not have gone anywhere if Banier hadn't been greedy and acquired paintings coveted by the government of France. I think the rooms too formal for me, and somehow stuck in time, but certainly they look perfect for throwing parties and rather comfortable.

vicki archer said...

Fascinating tale. These kind of relationships always intrigue me, I wonder how great a part loneliness played between them. Great pics....Have a wonderful weekend, xv.

Lauren said...

Thank you for this post. I hadn't even heard about the scandal, but it is quite a fascinating tale. Lovely, lovely images and posts all around, by the way. This is my first time reading your blog and I've gone back through your archives— so many beautiful rooms and interesting stories!

Michael said...

Absolutely stunning! I want to see more! I have always been fascinated by Mme Bettancourt. She is quite the reclusive one.

Anonymous said...

Serge Royaux is the best ever. I found quite many of his decorations in second hand magazines. He is so architecturally precise he deserves the Nobel-price.