After delving a bit further into what information exists on architect Robert Mallet-Stevens I became more fascinated with his distinctive oeuvre. I have to admit I was barely familiar with his name or body of work, or had forgotten him since those days of Design History 101 long ago. There are scant few photographs of his projects, and a mere spattering of surviving examples of his work in decent condition standing today. It was after probing deeper that I learned Mallet-Steven’s had directed that all records and archives of his work be burned upon his death. Perhaps he intended to have the last word after being slighted by the likes of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, proponents of Modernism’s monolithic dogma. Unfortunately for us we have only what photographic legacy remains of his work.
In 1926-27 Mallet-Stevens designed six houses on this Paris cul-de-sac and gave it his name.
One of the most important and well-preserved examples on this cul-de-sac is the Villa Martel that Mallet-Stevens designed for the sculptors and twin brothers Jan and Joël Martel at 10 rue Mallet-Stevens. If not for press photos supplied by Therese Bonney, an avid proponent of Modernism, via her wire service to American newspapers, the visual history of Villa Martel would be lost but to memory.
The press photo above captures Joël Martel standing before the just completed Villa Martel.
In this rare photograph brothers Jan and Joël Martel are captured in their atelier at 10 rue Mallet-Stevens, Villa Martel, shortly after its completion. The inset photo shows the same space as it appeared in the 1980’s. Other than for the furniture every detail appears to be intact.
In this striking photo the curves of the nautilus-inspired staircase contrast with the cubist sculptural form of the mirrored column and the organic classicism of the sculpted figure.
A top-down view of the spiraling staircase of surreal proportions.
An alternate view of the spiral staircase was one of few photographs taken for publicity supplied by Therese Bonney around 1927.
This photo of the upstairs terrace was also supplied by Therese Bonney for publication.
In the above archival photograph that originates from the private collection of Catherine Gilbert a glamorous cylindrical belvedere on the rooftop terrace overlooks the Paris cityscape.
In this rare photo of an alcove situated beneath the mezzanine of Villa Martel a ghostly figure of a woman is seated at a table. A much-copied Art Deco lamp rests before an Art Nouveau figure on the stairway’s sculpted landing.
In subsequent years the Martel studio would become a private residence. The lofty main studio with its expanse of glazing became a living room. In the vintage photo above taken around the 60’s all but the furnishings and plants remain the same, from the gridded framed windows to the gridded beamed ceiling to the cubist-patterned tile flooring to the tubular steel stair rails.
In the vintage photos featured above and below it appears the original contrasting cubist tile pattern used for the roof top terrace was replaced at the entrance to the cylindrical viewing deck, all showing signs of age and wear.
In the photo above, taken in the 1980’s, the Cubist-style window and patterned carpeting of the Art Moderne spiral staircase pulses with jazz age energy.
The villa was recently featured in the September/October issue of French AD.
The street-side elevation.
The metal front doors were created by Jean Prouvé, a young metal-worker at the time.
The kitchen is visible through a steel sliding door created by Jean Prouvé in the entrance. Above the radiator is a statue by Songye topped by a Pierre Chareau (1972) door frame containing a Pahouin collage of Eileen Gray.
Jean Prouvé’s Tropique chair (1950) stands before the endless winding staircase.
In a vestibule off the main room a dining table by Jean Prouvé (1930) is surrounded by Tropique chairs (1950). On the left, a prototype of a zinc jardiniere by Jean Burkhalter (1927).
The kitchen retains its original details.
Another details of the kitchen in original colors.
A low lounge chair by Pierre Jeanneret for Chandigarh (1955) rests at the foot of the original bed designed for Jan Martel by Mallet-Stevens. On the radiator stands a bronze horse attributed to Elie Nadelman (1910).
More recently, Villa Martel was featured on Curbed’s blogsite. The photo above shows the exterior as it appears today in all of its original, restored, glory. The planted terraces soften and humanize the cubist angles.
This photo of the living room, originally the Martel brother’s expansive, light-filled studio, duplicates the view in the vintage photo featured earlier, where the piano is placed on the landing between the two stairways. Architecturally, every detail of the original design is intact.
Additional photos of these creative spaces capture the studio cum living and dining areas, and a bedroom configured on the mezzanine illuminated by a skylight.
The architect’s own living room at no. 12 rue Mallet-Stevens was inspired by the DeStijl movement.
As I plundered deeper into Mallet-Steven’s remarkable body of work with limited recorded visual history I encountered several interesting projects: the home of artist Tamara de Lempicka, famous for her dazzling and glamorous Art Deco themed paintings; Villa Poiret designed for fashion designer Paul Poiret in the Île-de-France in the 1920’s; and, several set-designs created by Mallet-Stevens for French silent films. Look forward to these rare images in my next post, Monsieur Moderne: Part Très.