World famous fashion designer Coco Chanel was a woman known for elegant style and her refined taste. She made a lasting mark on architectural design as well with the construction of Villa La Pausa on the cliffs of the exclusive neighborhood La Toracca located in the exclusive French Riviera town of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.
Tucked between Monte Carlo and Menton at the eastern end of the Côte d’Azur, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin — once the private hunting grounds of Monaco’s reigning family — is perhaps the most private.
Built in 1928 by the architect Robert Streitz for Coco Chanel and Hugh Grosvenor, the second Duke of Westminster, the sophisticated simplicity of La Pausa reflects Chanel’s active involvement in all stages of the design and creation of the property, which was her French Riviera residence from 1929 to 1953.
The design was inspired by the Cistercian convent orphanage where she was raised.
Chanel made repeated trips from Paris to supervise the work, paying such attention to the detail of its interior design that she insisted on the installation of a replica of the stone staircase she remembered from the French orphanage where she grew up.
The black-and-white world of the convent was captured in the white walls, the small paned glass windows and doors as well as the ironwork.
The four-level mansion is just over 10,000 square feet and sits high on a hill overlooking the coast and nearby Menton.
There are three living rooms, a dining room, seven en-suite bedrooms, two kitchens, a covered terrace and staff quarters.
There are panoramic views of the bay, Monaco, Cap d’Ail and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat from the house and the west-facing portion of the terrace.
A lower level on the terraced hillside has changing rooms for the swimming pool and bath, laundry and staff quarters.
There is a separate caretakers’ apartment.
In “The Golden Riviera,” the American writer Roderick Cameron, who lived on Cap Ferrat, described La Pausa’s large low-ceilinged rooms sparsely furnished with handsome pieces of Spanish and Provençal furniture.
Chanel was among the first to use a neutral interior color palette, which is still the epitome of style today.
The garden is equally simple, planted with lavender and rosemary and filtered with smoky light through centuries-old olives.
Chanel used her wonderful sense of luxury and great taste, but the property was financed by her lover, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster.
The small entry has a Romanesque vaulted brick ceiling and lights decorated with the crown from the Dukes’ Westminster’s coat of arms.
It was in Monte Carlo in 1923, at age forty-two that Chanel was introduced by Lombardi to the vastly wealthy Duke of Westminster, known to his intimates as “Bendor”.
The Duke of Westminster lavished Chanel with extravagant jewels, costly art, and a home in Mayfair.
His affair with Chanel lasted ten years.
In 1929, he gifted her with a parcel of land he had purchased near Monte Carlo where Chanel built an opulent villa, La Pausa.
It was during Chanel’s ownership that the house enjoyed its early celebrity. The Duke chose the location while sailing the Riviera with the couturier in his yacht.
The affair between the duke and the couturier ended in 1930, but she kept the house.
Aware of her enormous influence on the fashion world, the designer explained her decision to decline the offer of marriage to an English aristocrat by saying: “There are a lot of duchesses, but only one Coco Chanel.”
La Pausa has two suites — one for Chanel, one for the duke — are upstairs.
Hers had the view over the garden, which is filled with 350 olive trees and plantings of daisies, mimosa and iris.
In 2007, the garden inspired Jacques Polge, the celebrated “nose” at Chanel, to create “28 La Pausa.”
Chanel’s guests at La Pausa included her creative friends, artists, musicians, and writers like Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Paul Iribe, Salvador Dalí and Luchino Visconti.
In 1953, La Pausa was bought by a company established by Emery Reves, a literary agent, author and art collector.
Under the Reveses the villa became the center of Riviera social life, with guests including Greta Garbo, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duke of Windsor, Aristotle Onassis and Sir Winston Churchill.
Churchill, who used Mr. Reves as his overseas agent and publisher, stayed at the villa often, taking over the top floor and painting the garden.
Winston Churchill spent about a third of each year during 1956, 1957 and 1958, and as an honored guest was given an entire floor with rooms for his private secretary Anthony Montague Brown and office, while Lady Churchill had her own suite.
It was at La Pausa where Churchill wrote and edited part of his four volume “History of the English Speaking People.” It was also from where Reves sold Churchill to the world, making him a wealthy man.
The villa was also a social destination for such other figures as Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the Duke of Windsor (former King of England), Noel Coward, Aristotle Onassis, Rose Kennedy, as well as Graham Sutherland, Konrad Adenauer, Anthony Eden, and Paul Reynaud.
Considering the central role La Pausa played in the life of Coco Chanel, it’s no wonder that the history of the villa has focused mainly on Chanel.
Her garden design is filled with native Mediterranean plants, maritime pines and rare cactus that spill onto a serpentine path that curls down the hill and through a tunnel to reach the beach, which is on a small cove.
Classic, elegant and sophisticated are all words used to describe Ms. Chanel’s visionary talent for interior design, but it was her most intimate creation, Villa La Pausa, that became a lasting treasure of real style.