Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
It’s been cold! The lawn has been regularly covered in a white dust of ice. There have been storms and flooding in various parts of France. Luckily, we’re not in a zone inondable (flooding zone). In fact the town sector of Mazamet is a safe zone not prone to be affected by natural risks. I have heard of serious hail storms, though. There was one so bad about fifteen years ago that destroyed a number of roofs in town and part of our greenhouse.
Recently I’ve been in contact with a couple who’s interested in taking on one of the old historical properties in town. I always find this fantastically exciting. A wave to the Guichets who bought the house across the street from us 👋. Projects like Les Pénates going on next door are fabulous, and a great way to give new meaning to old architecture; that being said, there’s also something fabulous about keeping a house going. Handing a home over from one generation to the next, each making its contributions. In its own way it’s a celebration of life. Continuity in a world full of turmoil and change.
In an entirely accidental encounter a couple of weeks ago we were driving back from walking the dogs and the enormous gates of Villa Molinié were open and a small group was talking outside. Mike stopped the car for a second and one thing led to the next and suddenly we were being shown the interiors. Fascinating place. The entrance is through a conservatory, which may seem an odd idea, but was in fact popular in the Belle Époque period as an early take on double glazing. The structure protects the rooms that face it from direct exposure to the elements, and even a little bit of sun creates warmth that you can then let into the house. I once saw a superb house in Ville d’Avray where this was so magnificently done it looked like the scene from a film. Palm and citrus trees, a crystal chandelier, a bench where you could sit to take off your muddy boots. Sublime. Once you’re in house you see wood everywhere. Beautiful honey oak parquet, stunning panelling, and at the end a marble staircase with outstanding ironwork.
On the left there’s an anteroom with a corner fireplace. It opens both onto the conservatory and onto a magnificent white salon. The formal living room. This room isn’t panelled, instead it has glorious plasterwork. It also has an extraordinary window bay, I don’t say bay window because it’s so large; And there’s another Belle Époque quirk which is a functional fireplace with a window above it.
Going back into the hall and approaching the front door is the entrance to the dining room. It was designed with a strong arts and crafts feel. If someone told me it had been designed by William Morris, I wouldn’t blink. Currently it’s all dark wood Tudor panelling with attractive ceiling decorations and solid wood coving. This would be a real work of art either sanded down and waxed in a light colour or simply painted. I wish the owners had opened the windows and curtains so I could see the light in the room; although it is south facing so I imagine good. I’d personally go with painted as that’s easy and would transform the room.
Behind the dining room is the scullery. As was the custom at the time in France, servants and noise were kept at as much of a distance as possible. If you recall, number 42 had two kitchens. The upstairs kitchen was “fine” and adjoined the scullery where china and crystal were kept. The downstairs kitchen (semi-basement) has a massive fireplace where meat would have been roasted and things with stronger smells would’ve been tended to. Anyway, back to the other Villa. Behind the scullery is a large kitchen in a very unfortunate pale mental asylum blue. On the ground floor is also a small office and a wc.
Up the stairs and past a fairly monstrous stairlift there’s an elegant landing with mouldings and access to four bedrooms. All have original marble fireplaces. The master bedroom is fabulous. Not a little bit fabulous but very. The problem at the moment is seeing through the clutter. Sometimes one walks into a country house and it’s cluttered with beautiful things in wonderful colours. That is not the case here. This room has a balcony which overlooks the garden. The two best/biggest gardens in Mazamet are at the Reberga house facing the park and this one. Personally I think this one is much more charming. It needs some editing but it’s a truly spectacular starting point. Even now in winter it didn’t look sad.
Another interesting feature is the survitrage throughout. Depending where one is in town, one isn’t allowed to change the windows, that’s our case. To resolve this issue they added secondary glazing. The architecture is interesting. Very sober and straightforward. Clean lines but with some panache. You can barely tell from the pictures, but just like us there’s a full third floor with maid’s bedrooms and a bathroom.
And that’s the villa. I wonder if the people visiting it this weekend will like it? The property certainly deserves a new set of owners with the energy and style to make the house relevant again.