Villa Cavrois

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Designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens, 1929-32, for the Cavrois family. Concrete frame, red brick walls and yellow facing brick.

Hilversum town hall” was my first thought. Indeed, Mallet-Stevens took M. Cavrois to Hilversum before starting work on this family home. It’s a Gesamtkunstwerk again, but on a bigger scale than any of the other Modernist houses I’ve visited. The only other one I can think of on this scale is Eltham Palace (the clue’s in the name).

The villa is built on a slight hill between Lille and Roubaix, where the Cavrois factories were (so well out of range of the dirt and pollution). Strong horizontal planes with a couple of dramatic verticals, and a wonderfully circular tower that looks like a giant wood shaving. In addition to the large garden (and the grounds were more extensive before they were sold off for housing) there is also a narrow swimming pool with a couple of diving boards.

Inside is just as wonderful. My first impression was of space and light. All materials were carefully chosen and were highly luxurious: marble of various shades, zebrawood, velvet. As I recall, the only light bulbs that I saw were in the kitchen and scullery: all other lighting was diffused, hidden behind sconces or mysteriously glowing from cornices. There was a touch of De Stijl/Rietveld in the sons’ bedroom, and the floor-to-ceiling tiles in the kitchen were very practical.

F15FA6A4-F66D-44BC-8273-F4691F52E5E5It was also extremely modern in that it used the latest technology in place of an army of servants. (The shower in the parents’ bathroom had a thermometer dial the size of a dinner plate.) Like the Sonneveld House in Rotterdam, there were two wash basins in each bathroom, but my favourite discovery was the bidet on casters! Perhaps they are commonplace elsewhere, but this is the first I’ve seen. Enormously practical, of course, in terms of stowage . . . but nonetheless amusing. It also fitted in with Mallet-Stevens’s description of the house:

Home for a large family living in 1934: air, light, work, sports, hygiene, comfort, economical.

From 1988-2001 the house was derelict; it could have been quite a different story.

Note to self: it’s good to be exercising my fossilised French again, but I have definitely lost my touch. I’d been asking for le VIL-la Cavrois, whereas – as any fule kno – it’s la vil-LA Cavrois.

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