A fashion muse’s provence hideaway comes fully furnished

Betty and François are selling their immaculate RM47m estate

By JAMES TARMY

The famed interior designer François Catroux has designed yacht interiors for Barry Diller, castles for the Rothschilds, an apartment for David Geffen and houses for himself that equal or even surpass his famous clients’ residences.

One such project — a 10-acre (4ha) compound in Provence — has been his and his wife Betty’s vacation home since the early 1990s.

“It was sort of half a ruin,” Betty Catroux says. “I don’t know how long it took (to renovate), but François did everything — I didn’t do a thing.”

After some reflection, Betty — who has been a model and muse for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent — settled on a construction timeline of “about two years”. It certainly, she added, “took quite a while to furnish”.

Now the house, the grounds and everything inside is on sale for US$11.5 million (RM47.03 million), listed with Alexander Kraft of Sotheby’s International Realty France. “Now, François wants to go to the sea,” says Betty. “He bought something next to Nice, so we’re going.”

The property consists of a 16th Century stone house, which is divided between main quarters and a separate guest section. In total, it measures about 5,300 sq ft. (There’s an extra 750-sq-ft caretaker’s cottage nearby.) All told, the property has nine bedrooms.

A House Made for Hosting

The house has concrete floors embedded with river stones

“François likes to entertain,” Betty says. “Me? I like having no one in my house, so it was up to him. He had a few friends come and entertained comme il faut, but I was like a guest, I’m telling you.”

Going a step further, Betty then calls herself “a terrible host”.

“When everyone goes to the pool, I go to my room to avoid my guests,” she says. “But of course everyone is delighted, because no one wants to see the host anyway.” And who were these presumably famous guests? “It’s not very elegant to quote names, and people who know us, know anyway.”

Nevertheless, the house is designed with entertaining in mind. There’s a large living area with a vaulted ceiling and cement floor that’s been embedded with river stones.

Betty characterises the decoration as a mixture of themes. “It’s very sobre, not a showcase at all. You can look at the pictures and judge for yourself,” she says. “I know when things are beautiful, and everything François did is perfection. I just got to look around. I was very happy, and very lucky.”

The Property

Among their many improvements to the buildings, they added a massive outdoor terrace, a two-car garage, and a pool house. Perhaps most impressively, the property is covered in landscaped gardens, with boxwood, lavender and flowers. There are allées of cypress trees, a tennis court and ample outdoor lounge areas.

Once again, Betty deflects any and all credit for the manicured grounds. “It was all François’ idea,” she says. “He wanted it all to be green, and we have the most amazing gardener working for us, and for years, he’s kept it perfectly.” (The gardener can stay with the property, should the next buyer desire.)

The estate is located in a rural setting, but it’s relatively close to a variety of towns and cultural offerings. It’s a 10-minute walk from the town of Lourmarin, which Betty notes was the birthplace of the writer Albert Camus.

“Once a summer we give a big dinner, but otherwise we just had neighbours come for drinks,” Betty says. “That’s how people live in the country, people just come by for a drink.”

No Regrets

Of her two favourite neighbours — Pierre Bergé and Anne Cox Chambers — only Chambers, a media magnate, is still alive. “She used to make the New York City Ballet come to dance in her garden,” recalls Betty. “Plus, she drinks a lot, and so do I, and I love her for that, too.”

One of the property’s 9 bedrooms

One of the property’s 9 bedrooms

The fashion designer Saint Laurent, Betty says, visited the house only once, when her daughter got married. “Saint Laurent is someone who never left his house,” she explains. “He would never go to stay at someone’s house, and we were very lucky, because we all had our own houses, and we all just wanted to stay at home.”

Despite calling the home “a piece of heaven”, Betty has no regrets about selling the property — and everything in it.

“Listen, I have no attachment to material things,” she says. “So, it doesn’t move anything in me to sell, and I love the idea of starting new and leaving the rest behind. That’s the way I function.” — Bloomberg