Inside Maison Louis Carré by Alvar Aalto

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Maison Louis Carré – Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s only remaining building in France – is a modernist architectural masterpiece situated about an hour outside of Paris. Open to the public from March to November, it’s a must-visit, Scandinavian gem for architecture and design buffs looking to get a deeper insight into his design process. As an avid Aalto fan myself, I’d already visited his home and studio in Helsinki, and was keen to step off the beaten tourist trail of Paris and step inside another Aalto interior, which combined architecture, furniture and design into a total work of art.

The house is located in the remote village of Bazoches-sur-Guyonne and was the home of French art dealer Louis Carré. He acquired the sloping site in 1955 and the following year met Aalto at the Venice Biennale while the architect was supervising his pavilion there. They immediately bonded over their love of fine things – fine art, good wine, the good life – and became friends for life.

Carré commissioned Aalto to design him a house that could serve both as a private home but also a space to display his art collection and host small exhibitions and events. The house was completed in 1959, followed by a swimming pool further down the slope in 1963.

Aalto designed a sloping, modern, white building that discreetly follows the incline of the south-facing site. It is white-rendered brick with a local sandstone base and dark wooden screens that are a familiar motif of Aalto’s architecture. The main entrance to the house is on the side of the building facing the drive up the hill, and is marked by a break in the sloping roof and a row of slender wooden batons.

Inside the plan is arranged around a tall entrance hall, it’s wood panelled, free-form ceiling soaring up above like something from a sacred, cathedral-like space. The curved shape was partly inspired by Carré’s love of boats and the room was intended as a public space to display works of art. Light filters into the dark hall from windows above the front door as well as Aalto’s own sculptural pendant lights that mimic the stripes of the wood panelling on the exterior.

A few steps lead down to the main living space. Carré originally didn’t want any stairs in the house because he had trouble walking, but Aalto, working with the natural contours of the land, made them shallow and wide so you hardly notice you’re gliding down them. From the entrance hall and the top of the steps you get a view right down through the space to the windows at the end, drawing your eye to the green landscape beyond. The windows run the full width of the wall and bring the outside in.

The large living space has been cleverly zoned with cosy, little nooks. There’s a workspace in the corner, a cluster of chairs around the fireplace and a lounge area by the window. Planters along the windows bring an element of greenery into the space, while the wood panelling makes the space feel warm and inviting. All the furniture and lighting is designed by Alvar Aalto, some specifically for this home – something that was typical of Aalto, who liked to create a complete concept that fused everything together into a seamless whole. All Carré had to bring with him was a suitcase of clothes.

Aalto’s famous vase sits on one of the tables. You can read how it was made by glassblowers in my blog post from my visit to the Iittala factory.

There is also a small, book-lined study coming off from this room and two bedrooms coming off the large hallway in the middle. At the other end of the house is a dining room and kitchen, while the staff had the top floor above. These unusual, wiggly lights were designed to illuminate Carré’s art on the walls of the dining room.

Outside at the back of the house, the land steps down to a swimming pool. Wooden shutters soften the clean lines of the white architecture.

Carré died in 1977 and his wife Olga lived on in the house until 2002. The house is now owned by the Association Alvar Aalto en France and has been open to the public since 2007.

Maison Louis Carré, 2 chemin du Saint-Sacrement, 78490 Bazoches-sur-Guyanne
Open Saturdays and Sundays 2pm-6pm by guided tour, advanced booking required, more information here

All images: Cate St Hill

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