By Colin Randall in Paris
THE TELEGRAPH, 8 April 2006—Avilla on the French Riviera built by the Second Duke of Westminster for his lover, Coco Chanel, and later the setting for banquets attended by royalty, statesmen and film stars, has been put up for sale.
With its spectacular views of Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean, an acre-and-a-half of exotic gardens, pool, seven bedrooms and vast reception hall, La Pausa – as the house was known in its heyday – is expected by its present owner, a German businessman, to fetch around £7 million.
As La Pausa, built in the belle epoque style for which Roquebrune Cap Martin became renowned, the property was a favourite retreat of Sir Winston Churchill, a close friend of Emery and Wendy Reves, who bought it from Chanel in 1953.
The beautiful surroundings also fired Sir Winston’s artistic imagination, inspiring his painting The View of Menton and Italy from La Pausa. It is now known as Villa Egerton, apparently the choice of subsequent British owners.
But 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.
To please his mistress, the duke bought five acres just outside Roquebrune Cap Martin in 1927 and commissioned a young architect, Robert Streitz, to design the house.
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 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.”
Chanel lived at La Pausa during the Second World War, having closed down her Parisian fashion house when the German occupation began.
But after resuming her work in the post-war years she sold the house to Mr Reves, a writer, publisher and financier who also acted as Sir Winston’s overseas literary agent.
Sir Winston had several prolonged stays there, becoming such a local fixture that the mayor of Roquebrune declared him an honorary citizen in 1956.
Among other guests who enjoyed the Reves’s hospitality at La Pausa were Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, Anthony Eden, the Duke of Windsor, Konrad Adenauer, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and Noel Coward.
Several rooms of the house were recreated at the Dallas Musum of Art in Mrs Reves’s native Texas after her husband’s death.
Sir Winston’s painting is among Churchill memorabilia displayed in one of the rooms along with a first edition volume of his A History of the English Speaking Peoples, which he proof-read at La Pausa.
Villa Egerton is being marketed by the London-based international estate agents Aylesford, whose representative in the south of France, Patrick McCrea, said: “It is very rare for a property of this kind to become available because so few were built and even fewer remain.”
Mr McCrea, who also handled the recent sale of Somerset Maugham’s house at Cap Ferrat, said: “The books, the art and the period furniture are gone, of course but you can imagine the sense of history. Houses like these were built for grand entertaining.”