Because of its incredible history, Chateau de Villette in Burgundy has earned the moniker Le Petit Versailles.”
The centuries-old estate, designed in the mid-17th century by Francois Mansart with construction overseen by his nephew and the chief architect of Louis XIV, Jules Hardoiun-Mansart, shares many similarities with what was once the royal residence of France’s ruling monarch: the abundance of limestone surfaces and façade details; the creation of a reception next to the main grand hall; and the transformation of bed chambers into apartments, via the additions of an antechamber, dressing room, and several alcoves.
The gardens of Chateau de Villette are attributed to Andre Le Notre, who designed the oft-imitated gardens of Versailles – a central garden axis, intricate and symmetrical parterres dotted by conical topiaries, and a marble statuary can be found. The sprawling grounds, 75 hectares in all, feature a breathtaking cascade fountain, two lakes and an orangerie.
Over the centuries, the chateau hosted notable figures. Two of its original inhabitants, the Marquis and Madame de Condorcet, entertained the brightest minds during the Age of Enlightenment, with guests including the Marquis de Lafayette, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
Villette would change hands several times, too. Among the owners was Madame Pernod in 1936, widow of the Pernod Absinthe aperitif founder; in 1941 she sold it for cash to her son-in-law, Robert Gerard, who would devote his resources to its preservation and restoration even after parts of it were bombed during World War II. Upon Gerard’s death in 1998, Villette was sold to Chinese-American luxury real estate entrepreneur Olivia Hsu Decker, whose tenure at the chateau was short-lived. However, she would occasionally rent out the palace as a movie location – you might have even seen it on the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code.
Today the owners of Villette are Sergei and Irina Bogdanov, who have carved out a name for themselves resurrecting forgotten estates to their former glory, like the Villa Astor in Sorrento and Villa Balbiano on Lake Como. The Bogdanovs have enlisted the help of interior designer Jacques Garcia, who himself is the owner of a majestic property called Le Chateau du Champ de Bataille.
In bringing Villette to the present, the new owners wanted to remain faithful to the architecture, preferring styles that were in vogue during the reigns of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. Decorating fashions come and go, they reasoned, but this grand style that befits the scale of the manor transcends time and trends.
With that edict, Garcia – a master of the baroque and rococo styles – sought the finest furnishings that would best complement what was already in the chateau. Provenance was an important factor, with pieces from Versailles bought at auction. Among the French furniture are vases, jars and screens from the reign of China’s Qianlong Emperor. After a six-year refresh, Villette is poised to serve its new owners.
Room after room, from the grand salons to the bedrooms, are Bergere chairs, duchesse chaise longues, and canopy beds in rich silk jacquard. Gilt rococo carved mirrors and sconces can also be seen throughout.
The true highlight of the chateau, however, is the dining room, said to be the first in France – and one of the finest examples of the decorative arts, featuring intricate rococo boiserie with blue tone-on-tone chinoiserie scenes painted in the 1700s. Chinoiserie, fantastical imaginings of the orient by French artists, became de rigeur in interior styling at the time. Taking cues from the Chinese sceneries encased in the carved frames, Garcia had the dining room painted in pale blue, contrasting delicately against the plaster-like woodwork.
While Chateau de Villette remains a private home, the Bogdanovs have opened it up to those who want to rent it for special events like weddings and conferences. Should your heart desire, it’s a special place to live out your Marie Antoinette fantasies.
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