Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My new favorite house: Champ Soleil

When visiting Newport, Rhode Island last week, I went on a private trolley tour that focused on the wonderful architecture of the area. Our tour group saw literally dozens of beautiful homes. As we turned onto Bellevue Avenue, one of the most famous thoroughfares in Newport, the trolley paused in order to let pedestrians pass. In an aside comment, the driver pointed out a home that is privately owned, and is (in his words) perhaps the least used home in Newport, only lived in three weeks a year. I turned to see the home, and was mesmerized. As soon as the tour was over, I got into my rental car and went back for a closer look.

The home is called 'Champ Soleil'. It is described as a Louis XIII French Norman-style chateau, and was based on La Lanterne, a residence near Versailles. It was built in 1929, and the architects were the great New York firm Polhemus & Coffin. The 18th century iron gates were recently refurbished; according to the tour bus driver, the cost of the gold leaf was $12,000. I love the detail on this gate, and the small suns that reflect the name of the beautiful chateau. I also think it is charming that one of the pillars flanking the gate is covered with ivy, whereas the other one is untouched by the vine. The lanterns on the pillars are the perfect touch.

When I returned to look at Champ Soleil in more detail, I took a picture through the gates. The proportions and symmetry of this chateau are so pleasing; homes with one window on either side of the front door, especially floor to ceiling, have great appeal to me. The roofline is my favorite style, hipped, and I find the small scale dormers on French style homes to be particularly charming.


This side view of Champ Soleil, from a real estate listing in 2003, show the gabled wings on the side of the home. From a head-on view, the gabled wings are completely obscured by the trees in front of the home. It is interesting to note that the former owner, Russell Barnett Aiken (step father to Sunny von Bulow), had the shutters and front door painted white; they now seem to be a stained wood tone . An article on the home in Forbes (it was 'home of the week' in the July 1, 2003 issue of Forbes) noted that the home has 22 rooms, an elevator, and one of the finest croquet courts in the country.


Between the front of the home and the gates is the 'parterre', a formal garden constructed on a level surface that incorporates hedging and gravel. French parterres are often in the design of a knot garden.


The rear view of Champ Soleil. Doesn't it seem like the great architects always make sure that the back of the home looks as beautiful as the front? In this case, I think the back of the home is more beautiful than the front, and although the structure of the house is symmetrical, the gabled wings have interesting differences that make them more interesting. The graceful stairs transition from the upper part of the lawn to the lower part, in effect making the area just outside the home like an outdoor room.


Although there are few indoor pictures of Champ Soleil, I found this tiny little picture of the library. Champ Soleil was decorated by Maison Jansen in the late 1940s while the home was owned by Roberta and Robert Goelet, and the paneling for this room was brought over from France. Maison Jansen's most famous client was Jacqueline Kennedy; she used the firm to redecorate the White House during her husband's administration.


When researching this post, I came across a real estate site that offers Champ Soleil for monthly rental. For a mere $120,000 a month, Champ Soleil can be yours to rent! The listing notes that the home is 13,500 square feet, and has 9 bedrooms and 8 baths. The listing also had a few more interior pictures, including this one of the front hall with its elegant iron railing, marble floor, and arched doors.


Champ Soleil also boasts an elaborate ballroom with large crystal chandelier.


I found this picture to be absolutely fascinating. In a post last year, An Aesthete's Lament and Architect Design mentioned that a Lanterne Style home is one of their favorite designs, and the hallmark of this style is that the house is one room deep and 'see through', which allows for the maximum amount of light and air to flow through the house. This can be seen quite clearly in this picture, from the real estate listing. Upon rereading the An Aesthete's Lament's words, I see that Champ Soleil is referenced in the post. Aesthete also referenced a Lanterne style home designed by the architectural firm Bories and Shearron, which can be seen on their website.


Aerial side view of Champ Soleil, via Bing maps


Aerial front view of Champ Soleil, via Bing maps


Aerial back view of Champ Soleil, via Bing maps

Three aerial views of the property show the true size of this home, which appears deceptively normal sized when peering through the front gates (normal when one is used to looking at Atlanta homes). The property is over 5 acres, and covers the entire area from Bellevue Avenue to the street parallel to Bellevue; there is a back entrance on the parallel street, and the structure at the bottom left of the aerial back view is a 4 car garage with two separate apartments above it.

versailles pavillon de la lanterne 3

Reading about Champ Soleil piqued my interest in seeing its inspiration, La Lanterne, on the grounds of Versailles. La Lanterne was built in 1787 as a hunting lodge, and in 2007, La Lanterne became the second residence for the President of France. The current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, celebrated his marriage with model and singer Carla Bruni at La Lanterne by holding the wedding dinner in this magnificent setting.


La Lanterne is closely guarded; overhead flights are prohibited, and the building is surrounded by hedges, making photographs very rare. Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently held a press conference in front of La Lanterne, which enabled house voyeurs like me to see some of the beautiful detail on the house. Look at the iron grill work on the upper level windows, the swags carved into the stone above the floor to ceiling windows, and the light blue of the trim. I am curious about that lantern seen in the front door. It looks like the door is open, and the large lantern is in the foyer. What a charming touch! But, it does not look like La Lanterne is 'see through' with a view from the front to the back. Perhaps an interior set of doors are shut to prevent prying eyes from looking into this magnificent home.


Here is an aerial view of La Lanterne. I have a weakness for 'U' shaped homes, as they allow so much light on many different sides. The large size of this home enables a 'U' shape without the wings blocking the light, as often happens when a smaller home is created in a 'U' shape.

This post has had an interesting evolution, which sometimes happens when I innocently begin a simple post, and the research leads me down several different paths. I hope you enjoyed seeing both a beautiful home in Newport, as well as its inspiration on the grounds of Versaille!