Noble effort: 17th century castle
Pierre Yovanovitch never dreamed of owning a château. He was not even particularly interested in having a country house. “I thought it would be too complicated,” the Paris-based interior designer explains. Back in 2009, however, he was flipping through a magazine when he spied a real estate listing for a 17th-century château in Provence. “I knew the area well,” he says. “My curiosity was aroused.” He decided to take a look.
In the living room of Paris designer Pierre Yovanovitch’s 17th-century château in Provence, the custom-made sofas are covered in a Rogers & Goffigon linen, the circa-1940s armchairs are by Otto Schultz, the cocktail table is a 1949 design by T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, and the stucco mantel, in the traditional style, is by Joël Puisais; the watercolor, Jigsaw 1.5, is by Francesco Clemente, the 1931 oak sofa is by Axel Einar Hjorth, and the custom-made rug is by Holland & Sherry.
After driving along a two-mile stretch of road through thick forest, he rounded a bend, and the château suddenly appeared before him. “As soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to buy it,” he says. “It’s as if the house was meant for me.” When Yovanovitch signed the purchase agreement in Paris a few months later, he was handed an enormous key dating from the 18th century, which he tried to slip into his hand luggage for a flight the following day. “The woman at security said, ‘What’s that, some kind of tool?'” he recalls.
Yovanovitch designed the master bedroom suite’s sofa, made of rough-hewn oak beams and covered in a wool-mohair by Chapas Textiles; the circa-1950 chair and cocktail table are by Paul T. Frankl, the owl painting is by Omar Ba, and the rug is by Ateliers Pinton.
In a little more than a decade, Yovanovitch, a largely self-taught designer, has shot to the top of the French decorating scene. He started off working in fashion, for Pierre Cardin, before founding his firm in 2000, and he has since gained acclaim for interiors characterized by pure lines, rich textures, and the use of top-notch 20th-century American and Scandinavian design.
A Hans Wegner table, a 1950s American chair, and a circa-1948 light fixture by Paavo Tynell in the office; the walls are paneled in oak, and the floor is paved with Jura and Hainaut stones.
His own country estate exemplifies that refined aesthetic. Located near the village of Aups, in the southern foothills of the Alps, and constructed in the early 17th century, the property had belonged to the Fabrègues family (after whom it is named), Provençal artisans who were made nobles in the 1400s. In the 18th century, a formal garden was created nearby and parts of the nearly 1,000-acre property were transformed into farmland. In the 19th century, colored tiles depicting the different seasons were added atop the château’s four towers.
A custom-made ceramic light fixture hangs above a grand staircase, which is lined with Provençal tiles.
Yovanovitch was seduced by the minimalist spirit of the 17th-century architecture. “Back then there was very little decoration on the walls,” he explains. “Homeowners would put all their money into the ceilings and fireplaces.” He also appreciates that the property is relatively close to Saint-Tropez and Marseille while still being remote. “There’s not another structure in sight,” he says. “The space, the silence, and the smells of the forest are magnificent.”
The dining room table, chairs, and buffet were designed by Christen Emanuel Kjaer Monberg in 1923 for a Copenhagen home; the light fixture is by Paavo Tynell, and the carved-wood and painted portrait is by Stephan Balkenhol.
Initially, he planned a modest renovation. But when he realized the roof needed extensive repair, he decided to examine the entire structure, learning, to his horror, that it had no foundations aside from under one of the four towers—the only part of the château with a cellar. “Otherwise,” Yovanovitch says, “it was built directly on clay. The facade had a tendency to tilt forward.” To reinforce it, foot-thick metal beams were installed behind the walls. “I ended up saying, ‘I’ll just gut everything,’ ” he recalls. “Once you start, however, you don’t know when things will stop.”
A view of the château, whose rooftop tiles were refabricated based on original drawings; the garden was designed by Louis Benech, who added linden trees and an orchard.
The restoration took three years. The majority of the ceilings were demolished, with the exception of the one in the dining room, which dates from the 19th century. He also kept the grand staircase, which he refers to as “a big, modern cube.” He reduced the thickness of the stone slabs in the entry hall, too, in order to install under-floor radiant heating. One of his best memories, meanwhile, was watching the craftsmen replace the colorful roof tiles: “They were so happy, they would sing while working.”
Wall sculptures by Richard Nonas (left) and Michel Gouéry in the entrance hall; the circa-1960 cast-iron urn is American, and the floor is paved with Burgundy stone.
Style-wise, Yovanovitch wanted to create a look that is very much of today without losing references to the past. For instance, he installed traditional gypsum fireplaces sculpted with birds and ducks, while most of the furnishings are 20th-century gems, in many cases quite rare. The sofa in the living room was one of only five in that style designed by Axel Einar Hjorth in 1931. The dining set was a unique commission done in 1923 by the Copenhagen architect Christen Emanuel Kjaer Monberg; the blue-painted table comes with extensions that allow Yovanovitch to host dinners for up to 20 people. “It corresponds to my idea of how the dining room of a modern château should look,” he says. “Rather cold, with strong, simple lines.”
The 1953 stool is by Carl Malmsten, and the showerhead is by Dornbracht.
Now that the interior is finished, Yovanovitch has begun rehabilitating the gardens with the help of renowned French landscape architect Louis Benech. Already, a new pool has been installed and miles of dry-stone walls have been repaired. “I think I still have 20—even 40—years of work ahead of me,” he says with a laugh.
The tub in the master bath is by Agape, the fittings and towel rack are by Dornbracht, and the floor is marble.
Indeed, Yovanovitch is the first to admit that buying the property was une vraie folie—crazy. “It’s four times too big for me, and the grounds are enormous,” he says. “It drains endless amounts of money and all your energy. Still, I absolutely love it here.”
Yovanovitch designed the bed and sconces in the master bedroom, the floor lamp is by Gabriella Crespi, and the rug is by Ateliers Pinton.