Under the Provençal Sun
This stunning summer retreat was a collaboration between Rudy Ricciotti and Marchi Architectes
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 7/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Situated between Toulon and Marseille, Bandol is a French seaside resort where the population of 8,000 multiplies tenfold in the summer months. Past visitors have included Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley, and one of today's most famous full-timers is Rudy Ricciotti, winner of the Grand Prix National d'Architecture in 2006. Known for his radical approach, he has been lauded for innovative projects such as a black concrete dance center in Aix-en-Provence and the Footbridge of Peace in Seoul, South Korea.
When Parisian lawyers Julien Hay and Claire Mendelsohn decided to build a villa in Bandol for their family, Rudy Ricciotti Architecte seemed the obvious firm for the job. "We were looking for a committed, intransigent architect who would make a real gesture," Mendelsohn explains. Hay adds, "We consider architecture to be an art form. If you commission a portrait from a painter, you wouldn't tell him what to do. The more talent an architect has, the less you should direct him."
Perched on a hillside with views of vineyards, a wooded valley, and the Mediterranean, the site was very narrow and extremely steep, but Ricciotti was up to the challenge. "All my houses disappear into the belly of the earth," he says. Indeed, this four-level, 3,800-square-foot structure artfully espouses the line of the slope, with a plant-covered roof and a facade largely clad with stones unearthed on-site.
The shape of the house may be simple, a long rectangle, but construction proved extremely complicated. According to Hay, the four-year project took on "pharaonic proportions." Runoff problems meant the foundation had to be reinforced, and it took several attempts to ensure that the 100-foot swimming pool was watertight. All the wooden forms for the concrete had to be mounted manually. "The concrete arrived in a lorry with a pump and, when they started to inject it, the formwork exploded," Mendelsohn says. "They ended up pouring it by hand with buckets. When you think that the main facade is 217 feet long, you can imagine what that involved."
Further complicating matters, Ricciotti's career truly took off as the project advanced. The more prestigious competitions he won, the less time he had to devote to the villa. Nevertheless, the construction certainly turned out to be spectacular. For the owners, strong points include space, light, and the impression of being outside. The swimming pool provides a particularly breathtaking example. Built into the side of the house, adjacent to the topmost roof deck, the pool has clear glass sides that double as huge windows for the TV room on the level below, so you can admire not only the swimmers in the water but also the Provençal landscape beyond.
The owners were rather less at ease with Ricciotti's uncompromising approach to the interior—even if they admit to being initially seduced by it. "I was completely in tune with his provocative discourse, which asserted a lack of interest for anything linked to comfort," Hay admits. "He proposed having the fewest bedrooms possible, the fewest bathrooms possible, the largest spaces possible." For instance, Ricciotti suggested that the whole house needed just one toilet. There ended up being four. The same number of bedrooms are spread over the top three levels.
To make the interior more livable, the couple called on Marchi Architectes. "The spaces were magnificent as they were, so we didn't compartmentalize them," Adélaïde Marchi says. Her husband, Nicola Marchi, contributes, "That's where we got the idea to let light filter through partitions." The Marchis chose beech wood in the form of slats to provide a gentle counterpoint to Ricciotti's concrete and glass. "It really is quite delicate to intervene in the project of another architect. We were careful not to modify or pollute Ricciotti's design," Nicola Marchi continues.
Some of the screens front a cupboard or a wardrobe. Others line the walls or morph into bunk beds. The screens' sculpted profiles echo the shapes of the surrounding landscape.
The furnishings are lighthearted, laid-back, and low-slung to keep the stunning views intact. Pop-y colors come courtesy of cotton prints, bought at a market in Toulon, and vintage classics include pieces by Pierre Paulin, Willy Rizzo, and Joe Colombo. In the dining area, a vintage Italian table has a pedestal base that lights up. Olivier Mourgue designed the living area's anthropomorphic seating. Lined up against the raw-concrete wall are a half dozen metal chairs that used to be in the waiting room of Mendelsohn's father's medical practice. They're now reupholstered in brightly colored vinyl.
Now that the villa is finished, the couple confess to feeling as if they are living in a work of art. Hay believes the project brought together a group of like minds: "I think we're all strong-willed, us as clients and Rudy as an architect." It just might be proof that strong wills often spawn genius.
PROJECT TEAM CHIRI: METALWORK. CARSANA MARIO MOBILI; MÉDITERRANÉE CHARPENTES: WOODWORK. L'ATELIER DU BÂTIMENT: BUILDING SHELL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCES FROM FRONT. IKEA: SEATING (EXTERIOR), CEILING FIXTURES, OTTOMAN (LIVING AREA), TABLE, CHAIRS (KITCHEN), TABLE, LAMPS (MASTER BEDROOM), BED (GUEST ROOM). THROUGH EBAY: CHAIRS (DINING AREA). ANNE NILSSON: VASE. THROUGH DAMIEN LECLERE: LOUNGE SEATING, TABLE (LIVING AREA). WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION: MICROWAVE (KITCHEN). MIELE: COOKTOP. GLEM GAS: OVEN. QUADRO: SINK FITTINGS. TRECA: BED (MASTER BEDROOM). CERAMICA DI TREVISO: TILE (BATHROOM, GUEST ROOM). HANSGROHE: SHOWER FITTINGS (BATHROOM), TUB FITTINGS (GUEST ROOM). HOESCH DESIGN: TUB (GUEST ROOM). THROUGHOUT SAINT-GOBAIN: GLASS. FARROW & BALL: PAINT.