May 4, 2015

Cecilia Dupire Modernizes an Old Villa in the French Village of Haut-de Cagnes

Swedish-born interior designer Cecilia Dupire answers our questions on her purchase and modernization of a house in the French village of Haut-de-Cagnes!

by New York Spaces

Haut-de-Cagnes. Photographs by Christophe Merath.
Cecile Dupire in Haut-de-Cagnes

NYS: You are a designer based in New York. What made you want to buy and restore a French home in Haut-de-Cagnes?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: We bought this house after we had traveled a year around the world after leaving London. We looked for a change in our lifestyle and thought this was the perfect setting for our one year old daughter. We fell for the old unique charm of this 17th century setting.

NYS: How did you find the home and what drew you to it?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: It was the Swedish artist Hans Hedberg (a ceramist who taught Picasso the art of ceramic) good friend of my grandfather who introduced us.

This was not at all what we had meant to buy, we initially looked for a villa with a swimming pool but we fell for

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the village, its charm, and the friendliness of its inhabitants.

NYS: How would you describe Haut-de-Cagnes?

A unique world on its own that cannot be replicated. A magic hill overlooking the Mediterranean. A maze of small streets with surprises at each corner. At the top, the main square with the Grimaldi castle and cafes and restaurants to meet friends, and the school, with hens (deserving pupils get an egg!).

NYS: As a designer, you know more than anyone what could possibly be in store for you...how was that idea exceeded or lessened by your experience on restoring the house?

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Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: I think the essence with a house like this is to work with its character and soul. To respect its past while transforming it to suit into the future. It's a process of learning and respecting old techniques of building and restoring rather than a totally new transformation.

NYS: The house was once home to the Prince of Baroda. What interesting stories did you learn about his life after finding the house?

Ye,s and by many of the anecdotes that people from the village told us about. It was once home to the Prince of Baroda (aka Princie) from 1976 until his death in 1985, when he apparently committed suicide in the house the day after his 40th birthday. The world's largest pink diamond, "Princie", auctioned for about $40 million, is named after him. The family history is quite extraordinary, his father ruled the kingdom of Baroda, Gujarat, India until he left for Europe in 1951 after the end of the British rule. Some sources say he was the 8th richest man in the world, but the most colorful person amongst the family seemed to be Princie's mother, a flamboyant jetsetter.

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NYS: When was the house built?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: This house is one of the youngest in the village the first part dates back approximately 250—300 years. There has been four different additions over the years.

NYS: What is the layout of the home like?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: It is unusual. The house is on several different levels with 4 floors and three terraces on 3 different of the levels.

NYS: You wanted to modernize yet preserve the character of this Medieval home. What was the plan?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: To open the small rooms with care to make a more modern layout and let a bit more light in by opening up a few new windows.

NYS: What was your priority?

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Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: To keep its uniqueness by respecting its history.

NYS: What are the exterior views like, and what made you so intent on preserving them?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: We have a beautiful cascade stone garden surrounding the house. There are Mediterranean Sea views to the south and the view of the Alps to the north. From that direction, you can see the whole village.

NYS: What is important about the exterior of the house? Why are freestanding walls a rarity in a medieval village?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: The oldest houses of the village were mostly bound together almost like a protective wall surrounding the Castle. Since our house is slightly younger it is still very much in the village but has the advantage of a surrounding garden and light intake from all sides of the house making it very bright in comparison to the older houses.

NYS: What approach did you take in your dining room?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: I wanted to open it up adding additional windows so that it would feel more like an eagle nest. (The village is on a hill partly so that one, in the old times, could detect enemies from far.) I wanted to play a bit on this ancient idea.

NYS: How did you maximize the views of both the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea in the dining room?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: By taking down walls, and adding more windows.

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NYS: What did you do to the exterior of the home?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: We did as little as possible, not to change the integrity of structure too much.

NYS: What was the original stone garden like? How did you change it?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: I have literally just tried to re-create what was there originally by reading and learning about old techniques of building. I have done minor changes to the layout like enlarging the dining terrace to fit better with our lifestyle. A garden and a house like this is about preserving a heritage if one wants to do everything new one should find a place somewhere other than a Medieval village in France.

We have dismounted thousands of stones in its lower parts to then rebuild the stone walls without cement like in the old days. The inside and outside walls have been painted with home-made lime paint as used in Pompeii.

NYS: You stated that you restored the entire house in the traditional manner of the village, but what does that entail for you in terms of appearance?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: It is more "old fashioned" than other works that I am generally doing but it has been the greatest learning process and pleasure to work on it.

NYS: What was your palette like in the main rooms? In the private quarters? Why did you choose these

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particular colors?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: Again, the palette was a nod to the history of the house and village. The paint application is very old-school, and I kept the walls as simple as possible. A bit sunny, but still neutral. And as with all my projects, I used pops of color in accessories, like in pillows, carpets, etc.

NYS: How did you approach the interior design? What type of furnishings did you gravitate toward?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: I went a lot to antique and flea markets to create a genuine and eclectic feel.

NYS: Where did you search for antiques and modern furniture that would blend together?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: See above where I shopped. I have always favored very sleek modern furniture, clean and almost geometric. It works very well with antiques. I always try to fuse the old with the new in all of my projects. Again, a reflection of history within a modern context.

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NYS: You chose some very modern furniture for the terraces. What were your thoughts here?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: This is my own modular furniture collection, which I designed, Zig. An "old" setting does well sometimes to have a clean and modern edge.

NYS: What inspired you about this project?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: Everything historical. I feel like I have said this in so many different ways, but it really informed what I did with the house, every detail.

NYS: Have you had a mentor in particular that has influenced your design aesthetic?

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Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: I think the whole French lifestyle has been very informative as well as my wonderful mentor Michael Philip Wolfson, who taught me the importance of understanding the old in order to create something new

NYS: What did you want the overall feel of the house to be?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: A mix of traditional/modern, also comfortable, expansive, relaxing, and also a warm place to have family life.

NYS: Would you do it again?

Cecilia Dupire of Cezign: Absolutely. Maybe I would enlist a bit more help next time, but this kind of project is very attractive to me.

Swedish-born Dupire is principal of Cezign and a renowned interior architect/designer (including furniture). As a designer Dupire has worked on projects for W Hotels & Equinox, and can claim Philip Michael Wolfson, the former head of design for Zaha Hadid, as a mentor.

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