image credit: unknown
The Villa Kerylos
is a marvel to those who like me love a good house museum. Unlike the Cerralbo Palace
in Madrid or the Nissim de Camondo
in Paris which I wrote about earlier,
each of which was designed in the latest fashion when built during the Belle Epoque, this house was built as a fantasy paying homage to ancient Greek style.
image credit: Richard Rabel
Theodore Reinach (1860-1928) was a French citizen with a passion for ancient Greece. With a successful career in Paris, he treated himself to building a luxurious villa in the south of France at Beaulieu-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, where his wealth and imagination allowed him to go wild. His architect Emmanuel Pontremoli was a fellow enthusiast of all things Greek and had travelled to Greece and Asia Minor participating in archeological digs which made him just the right person to build this Grecian domestic temple. Knowing that it would be almost impossible to faithfully recreate an ancient dwelling (after all, when was the last time you saw a 2500 year old house that hasn’t been remodeled!), Reinach gave Pontremoli the freedom to reinterpret the past and include the latest comforts of turn of the century Europe by embracing running water, heated floors and electricity. Over the course of six years from 1902 until 1908, the villa sprang up on the very tip of a spectacular promontory.
The house is centered on a large open courtyard that allows air and light to filter deep into the home. Majestic Doric columns line the space and give an immediate feeling of grandeur. The play of light and shadows cast by the columns continually changes throughout the day, which gives life to the heart of the villa. The main rooms all radiate off of this space. Some of my favorites include the library, which is a vast open room rising a story and a half. Fitting for such a scholar, the room is dedicated to Athena and is filled with antiquities that would inspire anyone lucky enough to have use of the space. The incredible chandelier is a copy of one in Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. As in the rest of the villa, the furniture is all done in exotic hardwoods based on models discovered at Herculaneum in the 18th century and in the Museum in Naples.
image credit: House Beautiful
Taking great care to fully commit to his project, artists were called in to cover the floors in detailed mosaics while walls were decorated with vibrant frescoes. Scenes were faithfully copied from Greek and Roman vases found in Europe’s great museums. This is a wonderful example that shows modern decorators weren’t the first to love colorful spaces and busy patterns. The deep rich ochre red – a color found in the palace of Knossos – used here on the walls of this space could easily be used today in an entrance foyer on Park Avenue.
image credit: (left) Villa Kerylos; (right) LostPastRemembered blog
A sign of the good life has to be the incredible bathroom pictured above. Based on the Grecian balaneion, a thermal bath enjoyed by the ancients before long dinners, this recreation is clad in exquisite Carrara tiger marble. Steps lead down into the three-foot deep central bath decorated with mosaics representing the sea floor and taps hidden behind bronze grills supply the water. On a warm Mediterranean day, the coolness of this room provides a welcome respite from the heat.
image credit: Anna M. Stevenson
Although Reinach died in 1928 and left the house and contents to the Institut de France, his family was allowed to continue to live in the villa until 1967 when it was classified as a Monument Historique by the French government.
image credit: (left) LostPastRemembered blog; (right) Anna M. Stevenson
Aside from the wonderful details that truly make the house, the overall decorative scheme works because it flows very well from room to room. When decorating your own home, be vigilant that each room segways seamlessly without interruption. I can’t say that I have any plans to do something like this for my clients, but I will keep some of those colors in mind the next time I’m called in to create a dramatic entry hall! Villa Kerylos
is certainly an interior designers inspiration!
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city
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