Via New York Times:
“The ghosts of two women — one French, one American — haunt the villa called La Pausa in Roquebrune-cap-Martin, on the French Riviera. Both were self-made , rail thin, high maintenance, ambitious, wealthy, elegant, social and social-climbing. They used La Pausa, a 10,000-square-foot house high on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, to entertain with an abundance of servants and style.
The Frenchwoman was Coco Chanel. She built La Pausa in the late 1920s for 1.8 million francs, a fabulous sum at the time. She was guided by her lover, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, the second Duke of Westminster, and Robert Streitz, an architect still in his 20s.
The American was Wendy Reves, an ex-model whose third husband, Emery, a Hungarian-born literary agent, writer, publisher, art collector and financier, bought La Pausa in 1953. Coco decided to sell the house after the Duke of Westminster died and she lost the will to spend time there. When Emery Reves died in 1981, Wendy stayed on. After her death in 2007, the house was frozen in time and shut tight.
Now La Pausa is for sale for 40 million euros — about $52 million — for the second time in two years. (It was put on the market by Sotheby’s in 2011 but pulled off the following year because of pending litigation. The legal issues have been ironed out, and the London-based firm Knight Frank put it back on the market in early May.)
Pieter Van Naeltwijck, an American-educated Dutchman who has become famous along the French Riviera as the preferred realtor of movie stars and Russian oligarchs, is in charge of the sale. He drives around the Côte d’Azur in a new Bentley — the latest addition to his car collection — that he just bought for about $300,000. He talks about ferrying Angelina Jolie via helicopter to see properties in southern France and the challenge of finding a summer rental for Ringo Starr. Last month, he invited me to tour La Pausa. I in turn invited my friend Hugues Moret, who is France’s ambassador to Monaco.
The house draws its inspiration from Coco’s past. The austere stone staircase curving up from the main entrance hall; the pillared cloister enclosing the courtyard; the arches framing doors and windows — all are modeled on the 12th-century convent-orphanage where she was raised. The design also pays tribute to Chanel No. 5 with patterns of five windows repeated throughout the house. Coco and the Duke wanted everything to be built with the finest materials. She ordered more than 20,000 curved tiles to be handmade for the roof, and furnished the house sparsely in shades of white and beige. Each bathroom has a servant’s entrance so that one’s bath can be drawn and one’s clothes taken away for cleaning and pressing without any disturbance.
She named it La Pausa after the legend that Mary Magdalene rested near here under the olive trees on her flight from Jerusalem after Jesus’s Crucifixion. La Pausa refers to the place where one “pauses.” (In 2007, Chanel’s master perfumer Jacques Polge created a powdery, iris-based scent called 28 La Pausa as part of his “Les Exclusifs” collection.) Coco brought in ancient olive trees and planted “groves of orange trees, great slopes of lavender, masses of purple iris, and huge clusters of climbing roses,” American Vogue wrote about the house in 1930. The magazine declared La Pausa “one of the most enchanting villas that ever materialized on the shores of the Mediterranean.”
There is an old tennis court but no swimming pool on the six-acre plot. “Neither Coco Chanel nor Wendy Reves liked swimming,” said François de Bruyne, a realtor in Knight Frank’s Monaco office.
I didn’t see any irises in the gardens, but Coco’s olive trees are still there. So is a framed line drawing of her in one of the sitting rooms by Jean Cocteau, which he dedicated to her in October 1952 — apparently forgotten and left behind. So are her walk-in oak clothes closets. (The Reveses changed the décor but left the original structure of the building and its seven bedrooms, three living rooms, dining room, two kitchens and staff quarters essentially unchanged.)
The closest I got to Coco were the electric call button servant stations that alerted servants with a lit-up button when they were needed in one of the rooms. In the top left-hand corner were lights for Mademoiselle’s bedroom and Mademoiselle’s bath. Coco filled the house with artistic types like Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, Paul Iribe, Salvador Dalí and Luchino Visconti. Emery and Wendy Reves’s guest list was flashy in a different way; Noël Coward, Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and Aristotle Onassis were among those who visited. Sir Winston Churchill was a guest of both women, although he came much more frequently and stayed for months at a time to paint after the Reveses bought the house. (Emery Reves was Churchill’s overseas literary agent and publisher.)
If Coco loved simplicity and elegance, Wendy loved flamboyance and clutter. She bristled when others referred to La Pausa as Coco Chanel’s house. “She would always say, ‘This is my house. This is no longer the house of Coco Chanel,’” said Eliane Blanc, the 86-year-old housekeeper who continues to look after the house today. “‘Stop with Coco Chanel.’” In the mid-1980s, Wendy donated the artworks she had collected with Emery (including sculptures by Rodin and paintings by Cezanne, Renoir, Bonnard, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Seurat, Manet and Monet worth hundreds of millions of dollars) to the Dallas Museum of Art, which recreated several rooms from La Pausa to house them.
What is left are Wendy’s many collections of things: Russian icons, porcelain plates, crystal perfume bottles, glass hearts, vintage sunglasses, belt buckles, seashells, cameos, painted fans, soup tureens, vases, antique horn hair combs, twig baskets in the shape of ducks, Texas memorabilia, needlepoint pillows (with messages like “Good Girls Go to Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere” and “It’s Expensive to Be Rich”). Wendy also loved leopard prints, so there are rugs, pillows, upholstered chairs and throws in leopard skin (all seem fake) throughout the house. A handful of her filtered cigarettes sit in a china cup on a side table in one of the drawing rooms. Her black lace peignoir hangs in the dressing room off her bathroom. Her feather boas have a closet of their own. “Everything is exactly the same was it was when she died,” de Bruyne said.
But the furnishings do not come with the house. Their ultimate destination is unknown. So who will buy La Pausa? Several wealthy Russians have expressed interest. One wanted to turn the house into a restaurant. But this is a residential area, and there are zoning restrictions. Presumably a nonprofit organization like a museum or foundation would require permissions from the municipality and the French state.
Moret, the French ambassador, was struck by the historical importance of La Pausa and suggested that Chanel could move to preserve it. “This is part of France’s heritage,” he said. “We have to find a way to keep it in the family.”
A new owner would have to install central air-conditioning, a new heating and electrical system, new plumbing, new windows, a modern kitchen and modern baths, a swimming pool and pool house. The road and the stone steps leading to the house need repairing. The garden needs landscaping. Even Knight Frank’s color brochure on the property admits La Pausa does not mean perfection. “The villa,” it says, “is in need of some modernization and updating.”
Van Naeltwijck is more direct. “It would be wonderful for someone with money,” he said. “It needs everything.”–NY Times