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History of the villa Cavrois

Designed between 1929 and 1932, the villa Cavrois is architect Mallet-Stevens's most emblematic achievement. As such, it was listed as a historic monument in 1990, then purchased by the French government in 2001.

A little history

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Nord region was one of the most industrialized in France. Roubaix and Tourcoing were major centers of textile production, earning Roubaix the name "city of a thousand chimneys". Cavrois-Mahieu, founded in 1865, produced high-end fabrics for Parisian houses. By 1923, the company had five factories and nearly 700 employees.

Company owner Paul Cavrois decided to build a home for his family. In 1922-1923, he purchased a plot of land in Croix, on the outskirts of Roubaix. Since 1870, the industrial bourgeoisie had been moving their homes away from the factories, to enjoy a healthier environment and a better quality of life. The commune of Croix is home to imposing middle-class residences, veritable little castles, characterized by their neo-regionalist style. In this landscape, the modern silhouette of the villa designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens stands in stark contrast.

Vue aérienne de la Villa Cavrois

© Archives Cavrois - Droits réservés

Meeting Mallet-Stevens

Paul Cavrois planned to build a villa to house his family of seven children. As a first step, he called on Jacques Gréber (1882-1962), an architect popular with the local elite, who proposed a residence in the "neo-regionalist" style then in vogue. This first project, known from seven drawings, never came to fruition.

In 1929, Paul Cavrois entrusted the construction of his villa to a much more innovative architect, Robert Mallet-Stevens. The two men had probably met in Paris at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs, where the pavilion for textile production in Roubaix and Tourcoing adjoined Mallet-Stevens's tourism pavilion and a square, whose cubist trees, signed by the architect and the Martel brothers, caused a scandal.

Jardin de l'habitation moderne de Mallet-Stevens avec les fameux arbres cubistes (en béton) des frères Martel

© Archives Cavrois - Droits réservés

Nothing predestined Paul Cavrois and his wife Lucie to commission such a villa: the couple were neither collectors nor linked to avant-garde circles. They were undoubtedly seduced by the prospect of the healthy, comfortable and modern living environment promised by Mallet-Stevens. Perhaps they also wanted to surprise and astonish those around them with a home that was out of the ordinary?

Whatever the case, Paul and Lucie Cavrois, convinced by their visit to the rue Mallet-Stevens, which the architect had just completed in Paris, gave himcomplete freedom to design their family home, provided they kept strictly to budget. Mallet-Stevens elaborated his project in 1929, and the villa was inaugurated three years later, on the occasion of the wedding of one of the family's daughters, Geneviève.


© Droits réservés - collection particulière

A modern château

Mallet-Stevens's archives have disappeared, making it difficult to trace the design of the villa, the result of which is the most accomplished example of his architectural thinking.

Mallet-Stevens imagined the villa Cavrois as a veritable modern château.

A château, the residence is so because of its imposing proportions (a 60 m-long façade, 2,800 m² of floor space) and its symmetrical two-wing layout, heir to the tradition of seventeenth-century aristocratic residences.

The villa's modernity lies in the simplicity of its volumes, the absence of decorative ornamentation, the multiplication of roof terraces, the state-of-the-art equipment (central heating, telephony, electricity, elevator, etc.) and the use of industrial materials and techniques (glass, metal, steel).

Villa Cavrois, façade sud

© Jean-Christophe Ballot / Centre des monuments nationaux

When he designed the villa, Mallet-Stevens didn't limit himself to outlining the architectural volumes: he also drew up the entire interior décor, down to the smallest furnishings. In so doing, he took to the extreme the concept of the "total work" that he defended within the Union des Artistes modernes. His work as an assembler also owed much to his experience as a film set designer.

The interiors of the villa Cavrois bear similarities to those he had designed for Marcel L'Herbier's films a few years earlier. According to the architect, domestic décor, as a living environment, should reflect the psychology of those who live there - in this case, a bourgeois family.

« Un intérieur du film "Le Vertige", mise en scène de Marcel Lherbier » [1927]

© Reproduction Thomas Thibaut / Centre des monuments nationaux

The abandoned villa

During the Second World War, the villa was occupied by the German army and turned into barracks. Following the Liberation, the Cavrois family commissioned architect Pierre Barbe to redesign the interior of the villa, creating two apartments for the family's sons.

After the death of Madame Cavrois in 1985, the property was sold to a developer who wished to subdivide the park...

Villa Cavrois, salle de bains

© Droits réservés - collection DRAC Hauts-de-France

The rebirth of a monument

Abandoned, the villa fell prey to vandalism and deterioration, despite being listed as a historic monument in 1990. Thanks to the mobilization of a preservation association, the French government acquired a large part of the property in 2001: the villa and the central part of the park.

Villa Cavrois, façade est

© Stéphane Couturier - Artedia

Major work was immediately undertaken by the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs (DRAC) of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region to restore the interior. The Centre des monuments nationaux will continue with the restoration of the park, between January 2012 and April 2013, and the villa's interiors, from July 2012 to May 2015. All of this work, carried out under the supervision of Michel Goutal - chief architect of historic monuments - is valued at 23 million euros.

It tookthirteen years to restore the villa and its grounds to their 1932 state. This exceptional project required in-depth historical and archaeological research, as well as the skills of highly qualified craftsmen, in order to restore Mallet-Stevens's design as faithfully as possible.

Come and see for yourself!

Échafaudages, façade sud, 2003

© Stéphane Couturier - Artedia