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Work in Progress: Villa Cavrois

Croix, France, 1932
Designed by Robert Mallet Stevens(1886-1945)

History and architectural value of the Villa Cavrois
Very last significant project conceived by Mallet-Stevens, the villa Cavrois has been ordered by a couple, Paul and Lucie Cavrois, with seven children, who wanted to live in the countryside, not far from the textile factories that Paul owned. It has been a true opportunity for the architect to build a Gesamtkunstwerk as he designed the whole project, at each step and level, from the garden to the furniture, the screws, the windows... He has worked in the Wiener Werkstätte spirit for creating this very modern style architecture with classical conceptions of the way of life. The villa stayed in the hands of the family until 1987 when it has been sold to a real estate company which tried to destroy it. Classified Historical monument in 1990, it has been bought by the state in 2001 as it was in near-ruin conditions.

Paul-Hervé Parsy, curator and manager of the Orion Castle and the Villa Cavrois, tells us about the status quo of this huge undertaking to save and restore the building and make it ready to be visited as a house museum.

Who is the owner of Villa Cavrois?
The management of the villa is entrusted to the Centre des monuments nationaux (CMN) by the state. The CMN manages 98 national historical monuments, among which are the Arc de Triomphe and the Panthéon in Paris.

Who are working on bringing Villa Cavrois back to live?
The restoration project and works has been directed by Mr. Michel Goutal, chief architect for historical monuments, and his team, in particular Ms Beatrice Gransard. Since 2008, the CMN is in charge of the program and definitions of the restoration.

What is your role?
The CMN has to assume the restoration program and the opening to the public. It has also a responsibility of protection and conservation of this monument. As manager I have to respect these claims and to conceive either the daily life than the cultural events of the villa. I have also to manage the team, the relationships with the geographical context, the budget…

How long will the restoration take?
The restoration program has taken 13 years, from 2002 to 2015, due to the complexity of this work.

Will there be a conservation management plan?
As in any other monument, our mission is to preserve it by managing the conservation aspects of the monument, the architectural level but also the furniture, the decorative parts and the technical data.

What about the design of Villa Cavrois is of most value to you?
What is the most impressive value of this villa is his size: 60 meter long, with 3 levels of roof terraces, 1800 m2 of living spaces, 840 m2 of terraces, looking as a sort of steamship in a green park.

What is the biggest challenge with regard to the restoration?
When the state has decided to buy it, the villa was in a pathetic near-ruin condition: broken windows, stolen marble, burned wood-parquet. Some trees were growing on the terraces. As decided in 2008 by the national commission for Historical Monuments the claim was to restore it to its July 1932 condition, when it was open for the first time for the marriage of one of the daughters of the Cavrois. One of the biggest problems was that we had neither archives nor any documentation about the villa. Along all these years we had to do a lot of research, through historical photographs, publications, technical documentations of the companies which have worked for the villa, and also archaeological-type research on site for finding how to respect the original architecture and design.

When do you expect the renovation to be completed?
May 2015!

Will Villa Cavrois be open to the public and what purpose will it serve?
The villa will open for the first time on June 13th. The whole villa, including the basement will be open to the public. The purpose is to offer the opportunity to discover a masterpiece of architectural modernity conceived for a very classical bourgeois family. In terms of spaces and decors, the villa is influenced by the Austrian modernity of Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffman. The spatial organization is also based on a XVIII° century conception. This contradiction between modernity and classicism – symbolic for France? – makes of this unique modern castle an exceptional example of architectural chef-d’oeuvre.

How many visitors do you expect?
It is our goal to welcome 35,000 visitors, from all over the world, each year.

How will the house be managed?
There will be a team of 15 people, including administrative and financial management, educational department and technical staff.

Villa Cavrois on Screen: is there any film footage available about Villa Cavrois’ history that we can find online?
We can recommend the following websites where films and photographs are on line:
www.villa-cavrois.fr
www.monuments-nationaux.fr
www.regards.monuments-nationaux.fr is the pictures database of Centre des monuments nationaux where images of the Villa Cavrois can be consulted.

What interesting information can you share with us that we haven’t asked you?
The villa will be open every day except Tuesday, from 10h30 to 18h30 (May to October) or 17h30. There is a bookstore and the possibility to use a tablet for the visit.

Thank you, Paul Hervé, for this interview!

Photos: © Jean-Luc Paillé / Centre des monuments nationaux