Monday, July 28, 2014

AN octagonal house with four terraces - "La Folie Monvel"

   Bernard Boutet de Monvel, the distinguished French painter, wants to build a house in all the lovely places where he goes, because he hates hotels. It follows that it is now five houses; and the only reason he does not have more, he says, he does not travel enough ...

Treanor & Fatio, Architects

   In 1936 he came to Palm Beach for a month's rest. He enjoyed the winter climate so much that he decided to build a folie there. When he left "La Folie Monvel" was already under construction. Folie, a French term meaning "madness", describes eccentric or fantasy structures that were built mostly from the 16th to 18th centuries. 

   The artist solved his terrace requirements by having four. The south one is the entrance court, the north terrace is for a swimming pool, the east, completely surrounded by a high hedge, is for sunbathing, and the west is to enjoy the view over a nearby meadow of wild pink and white vinca major, and a golf course.  Modern Regency in feeling, with a central living-dining room and four small square rooms projecting out from it, from alternate sides of the central octagon. The space left between these projecting wings formed the four terraces.

Bernard Boutet de Monvel asked three things about this house to its architect, Mr. Maurice Fatio: a purely geometric plane (square, round or octagonal), complete privacy and a good northern light. He could not say why he wanted a geometric plane: he simply loved these figures. In any case, the result was this fun octagon that can be seen on the floor plan.

   He had stipulated, when he discussed his winter home in Palm Beach with the architect, Maurice Fatio, that he wanted privacy and a studio with a north light, and that he had a penchant for a house which would not be irregular in shape but a pure geometrical form. This last stipulation might have proved a cramping restriction to some architects, but inspired Mr. Fatio to create an ingenious octagonal house, most efficient for its purpose.

Terraces lay on three of the sides, with a driveway entry on the fourth, or southern, side.

The octangular pool at Bernard Boutet de Monvel's Palm Beach is 25 feet by 25 feet in size; 7 feet deep at the north side, and 4 feet 3 inches deep at the south side by the steps.
   The western terrace offered a view of the lake, and the northern terrace, the site of the swimming pool, looked on to the Palm Beach Country Club golf course.

Bernard wanted a house with privacy and plenty of northern light. Fatio achieved both by placing the house on Hi-Mount Road, the islands highest area. The house had four rectangular rooms—two bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchen—that projected from a central octagon that functioned as living room, dining room, studio.  

A perfect intimacy was achieved by building the house on top of the only hill in Palm Beach. A terrace overlooks a lake, another golf course; and to the east terrace, a view has been open to the sea.

   The studio-dining room is an extraverted room in a most attractive way. It looks outside through three sets of glass doors under half round arches, one pair of doors onto each of the living terraces. The glass doors that lead into the little hallway to the kitchen and front door, and those that open into the dressing room, and bedrooms, have mirrored panes reflecting like windows. The interior treatment, with the wood flooring following the shape of the room and continuing in horizontal courses up the walls to merge with the lofty ceiling, has somewhat the quality of the cypress groves from which the wood came. The uncluttered simplicity of the interior, depending on this beautiful natural wood, the brilliant blue glass top for the central table, the light summery rattan furniture and the tree forms of my favorite palm, the fishtail, in tubs here and there, all contribute to the outdoor atmosphere. The plan and treatment should be stimulating to anyone considering a week-end or vacation house.

The interior of the house had natural-colored rattan furniture with dark blue upholstery. The walls and ceilings were completely covered in natural cypress, and the floor was oak laid in an octagonal pattern.

Light - a sine qua non of the artist - is provided by a huge window facing north in the large octagonal room, that balance a fireplace on the opposite wall.

The main room, octagonal - which combines a room and workshop - opens four smaller square and independent parts. Adjoining terraces complete construction on three sides, while the entrance is through the fourth side
 Bernard Boutet de Monvel in Palm Beach before the portrait of WK Vanderbilt in 1937.

  Inspired by two pavilions designed by Louis Sue for the Paris Expo 1925.

Louis Sue and Andre Mare, Grand Salon, Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1925
   Bernard Boutet de Monvel was born in Paris in 1884, the son of Maurice de Monvel, a painter and etcher. A student of Luc Olivier Merson, Bernard attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts from 1908 to 1910. De Monvel was a talented portrait artist, but he was best known for his fashion illustrations in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and as an illustrator of children's books. De Monvel died on the island of San Miguel in a plane crash in the Azores on 28 October 1949. He died in the same plane crash that killed the boxer Marcel Cerdan and the violinist Ginette Neveu. He had sold "La Folie Monvel" just months before, wanting to return to France after the war.

   A Harper's Bazaar article gives some insight into his thinking regarding his fondness for geometric shapes - "Bernard Boutet de Monvel's focus is to search among all tangled lines that blur the vision of ordinary people, just a few lines, a few essential lines: those that give the woman, animal or a home, both his personality and projecting its sculptural beauty." 

Self-portrait with the Place Vendȏme in the background.

   Starting in 1926, de Monvel made yearly trips to the United States, where his society portraits were in much demand. De Monvel, elegant, charming, amusing and always beautifully dressed, attended the same dinners and balls as upper crust New York society, where he would easily attain new clients. The portrait above, of Mrs. Payne Whitney, cost upwards of $10,000, a staggering sum during the Depression.

Millicent's mother had been a life-long patron, and de Monvel often painted generations of a family.

Barlow was a society decorator under the professional name of Ernesta Beaux and was the wife of composer Samuel L. Barlow.

Fatio and de Monvel made a unique agreement to cover the cost of the house's design: Fatio offered his plan in exchange for a portrait of his daughter. 

    In 1990 the four wings were demolished and the octagon moved  to a corner of the property in order to build a new and larger house.

   BING - A better understanding of  the terrain(the highest hill in Palm Beach) can be found at Bing's Streetside view.

January 1938


  1. fabulous house -sad that people think they need huge houses at the beach- this was perfection.

  2. This is my favorite house I may have ever seen in my entire life (as a beach or second house)!


    Remember (is anyone still alive who remembers Jerome Zerbe???

    I think he either invented this house...or "copied" this house.....or two geniuses (what is the plural??)

    invented the same floor plan???

    I honestly think Jerome Zerbe built this exact house on the shore in Connecticut (the River shore) right near Katharine Hepburn! And again in the Bahamas....and again a few more times!

    Almost the exact floor plan! Perhaps both inspired by the man at the Paris show in 1925! I adore the "sleuthing"!!

    Dreamiest beach house EVER!!!


    ps will research!

    wonderful post! Bravo!!!

  3. My favorite part of the entire story: Fatio gave him the plans in return for a portrait of his daughter! And a more charming portrait of a child I have never seen!

    How sad he died in a plane crash! And pretty young? (how old?) Oh well; a good way to go!

    My favorite blogpost ! Completely captivating! Part of it reminds me of my guest house we built! (I had not seen these when we built it! I was inspired by the pool house at Yves St. Laurent's pool house in Provence! Take a peek!

    I think they all were derived and inspired by this man!! Bernard Monvel!

    And he is the only person I have ever seen portraits by; whom I would hire to do mine!

    Beautiful and colorful.....and his portraits capture the personalities of the subjects!

    Thank you~!! WOW!!!!

  4. Beautiful portraits! Each very distinctive......and capturing the "spirit" of the subject!


    Thank you for the GREAT post!!!

  5. Monvel and Millicent's mother were longtime companions/lovers until death. He painted the most beautiful portraits of Millicent's boys in the same vein as Fatio's daughter...lifelike with botanical imagery...capturing their handsome innocence of youth. You can see their portraits in the latest Millicent book, A LIFE IN FULL.

  6. Lovely! I ordered that book! and it just arrived!

    thank you : "the Swan"!!

    I will read it!!


  7. an absolutely perfect house. this man was an artistic genius.