Friday, 11 March 2011

Jacques Garcia . Chateau de Champ de Bataille. Authentic Decor . Real Frenchness

Originally specializing in contemporary architecture (Tour Montparnasse and
Hôtels Meridiens), Jacques Garcia’s early projects were ultra modern. His
personal tastes were drawn to the 17th century (the period of Mazarin) and he
began collecting what has become a fabulous collection of furniture, objects and
art. He began a mission to assemble his own collection of royal furniture and
objects which had been dispersed during the French Revolution. Often he
acquired these for a minimal amount as their provenance had not been correctly
attributed. He instinctively knew that each of these pieces was different from the
others, feeling they were “filled with soul”.
During the 1980’s Jacques Garcia worked with private clients. At the beginning
of the 90’s, his work with the owner of the Lucien Barrière hotel group introduced
a new phase in the public sector, with work on the Hôtel Royal de Deauville and
the mythical Hôtel Majestic at Cannes. His appointment to handle the ultraprestigious
pied-à-terre (of 6000 square meters) of the Sultan of Brunei in Place
Vendôme received wide press coverage, but it was in 1996 with the opening of
Hôtel Costes that “le style Garcia” became the talk of Paris. In stark contrast to
the prevailing minimalist style, Parisians were fascinated by the “audacity” of
seeing “so much personality in a public place”. It was the perfect demonstration
of the Jacques Garcia principle - “I think for a place to work, it must above all be
a place where the paying clients feel like they are simply guests.”
Jacques Garcia became the “in vogue” decorator for the finest restaurants and
luxury hotels. In Paris there are currently 24 chic hotels and restaurants proudly
associated with his name, including Le Fouquet’s (part of the Lucien Barrière
group), Ladurée, L’Hôtel des Beaux Arts, le Rivoli Nôtre Dame, l’Esplanade,
L’Avenue, la Grande Armée, le Ruc and le Cabaret.
Jacques Garcia’s deep knowledge and empathy for the French heritage has
been demonstrated in the contribution he has made to important historical
exhibitions such as the Carnavalet’s Marie-Antoinette exhibition and the Silver
Furniture exhibition at the Château de Versailles (21 November 2007 - 9 March
2008). He also is responsible for the décor in one of the most charming
museums in Paris - Musée de la Vie Romantique with its George Sand
The impressive official recognition for his achievements includes - The Medal of
the City of Paris (1994), Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (1997) and
Commander of Arts and Letters (2002). He was also awarded the Prix Mont-
Blanc du Mécénat culturel -- Mont-Blanc prize for cultural patronage (2001) and
the Oscar Wilde Prize (2002). The same year, L’Académie des sciences
morales et politiques awarded him the prestigious Henri Texier prize for the
restoration of his château Champ de Bataille. The colossal work undertaken in
the vast (38 hectare) gardens of Champ de Bataille earned his nomination as
Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole in 2005. In 2006 the Ministre des petites
et moyennes enterprises (minister for small and medium business) presented
Jacques Garcia with the insignia of Officer of the Legion of Honor for his
dynamism as a businessman and his capacity to promote the “excellence of
French savoir faire” throughout the world.
In 1992 Jacques Garcia bought Champ de Bataille, an imposing 17th century
château in Normandy. His restoration of the château and the gardens
represents, as Franck Ferrand aptly says: “the supreme feat of a life that has
accumulated many great achievements.”
In contrast to a museum, this is a spectacular private residence, reflecting the
unique taste of the owner. A 44 page glossy Champ de Bataille book has been
produced. The introduction written by Jacques Garcia begins:
“This is the realm of opulence…
Jean de la Varende once wrote about Champ de Bataille: “This is the realm of
opulence. The décor is secondary to the declaration of power.” It’s this grandeur
that inspired me to buy the property in 1992.”
He concludes:
“Make it big and aim for the top: my perpetual ambition has found its absolute
definition at Champ de Bataille.”
Having lunch and spending the afternoon exploring Jacques Garcia’s magnificent
château is the perfect climax to the most beautiful week of your life!

Jacques Garcia, at ease with his mother, Jeanne, at the Château du Champ de la Bataille in Normandy.

Published: August 24, 2006 New York Times
Le Neubourg, France

JACQUES GARCIA slipped off his boat shoes and swung his bare feet onto the leopard-skin sofa in his hunting salon. Of all the 50 rooms in his 17th-century chateau, the hunting salon is his preferred refuge, with its stuffed jungle cats, Empire chairs and walls covered in 100 pairs of deer antlers. Mr. Garcia, the interior decorator responsible for all of it, plumped a pillow and beckoned his well-coiffed 84-year-old mother, Jeanne, to join him.

Ensconced next to her son, Mme. Garcia leaned back coquettishly with her Jack Russell terrier, Olympe, and Mr. Garcia’s matching dog, Léon.

“Here’s a real family picture,” said Mr. Garcia, 58, putting his hands behind his head and smiling wide.

“Here with the grandchildren,” his mother added with a little sigh.

It was a Saturday morning at the Château du Champ de Bataille, an hour’s drive from Paris in the Norman countryside. Widely believed to have been built by the architect Louis Le Vau in 1653 — a trial run before Vaux le Vicomte and Versailles — the chateau, which Mr. Garcia has completely renovated over nearly 15 years, is his weekend home. But about half of it is also open to the public from April to November, as are 94 acres of gardens reconstructed over 12 years with the aid of an original drawing by Le Vau’s landscape architect, André Le Nôtre. The project is scheduled to culminate early in 2007, with the opening of a hotel and restaurant on the property.

The domestic scene at Champ de Bataille is far from Mr. Garcia’s blue-collar upbringing on the outskirts of Paris. He acquired his taste for high living in his youth, visiting chateaus as a tourist during boyhood summers and later fraternizing with aristocrats while studying drawing in Paris.

Now “un self-made man,” as the French say — he began decorating for rich and well-placed clients in 1980 — he has a roster that includes the sultan of Brunei and is best known for two Parisian interiors, the Ladurée teahouse, an ornate space of marble and friezes on the Champs-Elysées, and the lavish Hôtel Costes, at 10 years old still one of the trendiest destinations in town. He has designed hotels, restaurants and cafes worldwide, including Spice Market in Manhattan, which opened in 2004, and the Hotel Victor in Miami Beach, completed in 2005.

But the Château du Champ de Bataille, which he bought from a local landowner in 1992, is Mr. Garcia’s most ambitious project ever. “I was faced with one of the great masterpieces of French architecture,” he said. “I just wanted to make it more sublime.”

He did not touch the facade, apart from lightly gilding the trim, but the inside was another story. After the French Revolution, the chateau was passed from owner to owner without ever undergoing a major restoration. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was turned into a hospital, its grandly proportioned salons chopped into small rooms.

Mr. Garcia has a particular talent for excavating the bones of interiors obscured by centuries of face-lifts and changing fashions. He tore down walls, rebuilding a suite of grand rooms on the second floor overlooking the spectacular gardens.

Then he decorated, in his signature mix of French historical styles. His grand dining room, billiard room and various sitting rooms are adorned with what Jean-Jacques Gautier, an art historian who has written about the chateau, calls “a sampler of all that is most beautiful from the 17th and 18th centuries.” Unabashedly elaborate, the rooms are all used by Mr. Garcia, who is at ease in his princely surroundings, which include a two-story chapel, a curiosity room filled with ancient manuscripts and rare objects, and 15 bedrooms, each with a bathroom built to look as if it came with the house.

“Jacques Garcia has revived the chateau and made it even more extraordinary than it was originally,” said Mr. Gautier, a researcher at the Mobilier National, which was founded in 1662 and furnishes the official residences and workplaces of the French government. “He created a link between the Baroque period — and all that represented in terms of fantasy and originality — and our time, by somehow rediscovering something of that exuberance.”

Mr. Garcia said he is “against historic reconstitution” and more interested in “finding the soul” of a space. And he is against signaling the presence of a masterpiece in a room, preferring to create an overall atmosphere.

“When you go into a museum,” he said, “they spotlight something to explain, ‘That’s beautiful.’ But chez vous? How ostentatious!” He pointed out a Delacroix study hanging nonchalantly next to the fireplace in his hunting salon. “It’s up to you to see it.”

During the week, Mr. Garcia lives in Paris in what he describes as a “21st-century apartment” decorated with contemporary art near his office in the First Arrondissement. At the chateau, his small, jewel-toned bedroom is covered in painted Peking silk, a foil for a bed from Louis XVI’s Trianon apartment and a lacquered commode and occasional chair that belonged to Marie Antoinette.

His bathroom features a rare 18th-century sterling silver bathtub. “Louis XV had one, Marie Antoinette had one, but they were all melted during the French Revolution,” he said, turning on the water to prove that it worked. “But I hate baths!” He prefers the shower he put in an adjoining room.

On visiting days doors open to the public at 3:30 p.m., and guests, who pay 10 euros, are greeted with Mr. Garcia’s “Tuberose” home fragrance, diffused in the air and available for purchase, as well as a sign informing them that the restoration was financed solely by the owner. Mr. Garcia said he received no government subsidies, but was allowed a tax write-off.

The chateau, which Mr. Garcia opened to the public as soon as he bought it and kept open throughout the renovation, attracts 30,000 visitors annually. He said he hopes to triple that number in 2007, when he opens a restaurant and 18 guest rooms with bathrooms decorated in 18th-century style in the former servants’ quarters across the courtyard. He hopes these businesses will help him make back his investment, whose size he would not disclose. “It cost 15 years of my life,” he said. “Fifteen years of success of someone who makes a lot of money and put it all into this. A fortune!”

He calls the private hunting salon on the chateau’s first floor a “refuge room” where he can wait out the paying guests. “When the public is upstairs, we live down here,” he said of a revolving cast of invited guests that on a sweltering July day included three handsome young men, a woman in a muumuu brandishing a hand-held fan and his publicist, her husband and her daughter. “But when the public leaves, we install ourselves everywhere. It’s not a museum. It’s a lived-in house.”

Later, standing in his rustic-looking kitchen, where copper pots gleamed on walls and 2 of his 12 staff members were preparing lunch, Mr. Garcia spoke of his love of cooking. “But I don’t have time,” he added wistfully. A chef could be heard at work around a corner, out of sight in a streamlined modern kitchen.

When Mr. Garcia bought the property, the garden had declined into a field. “I wanted to create a third-millennium garden without the mark of an era,” he said, adding that apart from Le Nôtre’s plan, he took his inspiration from the gardens of antiquity, interpreted here in boskets, fountains, an amphitheater and a Roman-style temple, all used for open-air summer operas and theater performances.

“I thought about the source of things,” he said. “The garden isn’t à la mode. The house isn’t à la mode. It’s a house for eternity.” Mr. Garcia has no heirs, but said he plans to create a foundation to preserve the property.

A private hallway is lined with awards for his aesthetic accomplishments, including the medal of the City of Paris and his designation as a chevalier of the Legion of Honor. But in these minimalist times, his critics often complain that his style is “un peu too much.”

“Perhaps this famous grand French taste is too much,” he said. “Real French taste is what? It’s Louis XIV, it’s Mme. de Pompadour, it’s Marie Antoinette, it’s Napoleon and Josephine, it’s the Third and Fourth Republics, Marie-Laure de Noailles, Coco Chanel. That’s France. They’re all too much. And I’m with them.”

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