The other day I grabbed a stack of old, not yet vintage, Architectural Digests from the shelves and rediscovered this beautiful villa designed by American born Parisian interior designer Charles Sévigny. It was featured in the July/August issue of 1973 and, though I purchased this magazine from a dealer only years ago, I am struck at how relevant his rooms remain today.
Charles Sévigny was designer to the beau monde of the international jet set, decorating houses for Hubert de Givenchy and Yves Vidal, who later became his partner in life and in business. Trained as an architect in America, Sévigny moved to Paris in 1948 to run an American interior design magazine and subsequently won commissions to redesign all the American ambassadors’ homes in Europe. This led to a commission in 1950 to design the first boutique in Paris for Knoll furniture. Through a series of introductions his partner, Yves Vidal, was appointed as President of Knoll’s office in France and, together, he and Charles contributed to the expansion of Knoll.
For the Marbella, Spain, vacation house of Baron Hubert von Pantz and his American wife, Terry, Sévigny created relaxed and open spaces utilizing both Spanish and American design elements. Built by American architect Robert Mosher, the villa exemplifies the Andalusian aesthetic with white plaster walls and local tiles for the floors. Instead of curtains, which Sévigny deplored, grill-work window panels were devised to cut down on glare, adding an Orientalist note. The overall affect is relaxed and chic with a touch of earthiness.
The gallery, featured in the top two photos, served as an outdoor sitting room, situated between the patio and the living room. Aside from an overabundance of interior foliage a Sévigny room holds up. The architecture of the room itself is nicely proportioned and pleasing to the eye. Imagining it empty it holds great potential. But it’s not often a furnished room from 1973 can hold up like this one does. Its success lies in Sévigny’s architectural style, influenced by his years spent at architecture school. While most of the lines are straight they don’t appear rigid or angular, lending his rooms a sense of harmony, serenity and proportion. And his use of natural materials – cotton, leather, wood, tile and natural fibers – lends warmth. The lines are simple and the overall affect is restful.
Sévigny succeeded in balancing modern and rustic elements by distributing them throughout the grand salon – the modernist furniture with pillows covered in colorful local textiles; Saarinen tulip side tables resting on a grid-patterned floor Sévigny devised using wood beams to break up the monotony of tile from room-to-room; a modernist painting hanging above an antique Spanish chest; a red lacquer piano juxtaposing a pair of earthen Roman columns.
The simply appointed dining room benefits from a dynamic blue-and-white geometric patterned rug. The silvered chandelier and antique Spanish plates introduce Andalusian tradition while the dining chairs and plastic and chrome console table provide American modern contrast.
The pergola is wonderfully atmospheric, possessing an exotic allure. It so nearly perfect I would have trouble changing a thing. There is a place to sit and converse, with a table to place your drink … there is a commodious lounge to rest upon … and pillows piled on the floor to stretch out with … and tables at which to dine placed underneath trees strung with shimmering lanterns. Outdoor rooms don’t get much better than this!
I hope you enjoyed discovering – or rediscovering – one of my favorite designers from the “nearly vintage” 1970’s. For purists, vintage is defined as anything fifty years or older.
Architectural Digest, July/August, 1973. Photography by Jacques Primois
In 2010, we had the pleasure of staying at Mr Sevigny’s incredible home in Tangier. His talent as a designer is only surpassed by his graciousness and hospitality. We will never, ever forget that magical stay.