Villa Bettencourt: Less is More when it's only the Best

On the few occasions I venture out of my monastic cell, invariably I'm asked what I think about the Banier-Bettencourt Brouhaha. For those of you not familiar with the current court case involving the photographer François-Marie Banier and the billions of the richest woman in Europe (and heiress to the L'Oreal fortune) Mme Andre Bettencourt, read here.

This isn't the first time Banier's friendships with older women have stirred controversy. In fact, it was reported in the French press that Madeleine Castaing's family were asked to testify on behalf of the prosecution. Banier befriended MC in the '60s and they became inseparable - forming what her biographer Jean-Noel Liaut called a Harold and Maude relationship. In her last moments, Banier captured MC, who was always very particular about her appearance, sans perruque - ruffling many feathers.

This summer while trolling the Strand, I came across photos of Mme Bettencourt's villa outside of Paris in the Architectural Digest book International Interiors. I don't know about you, but I was more than a little curious to see what the wealthiest woman in Europe's residence looked like.

The villa, conceived in the Classical style, was built in 1951 - a rarity in a time when the wounds from WWII were still healing and few had resources to expend on residential architecture.

Besides the priceless sculpture and paintings we would expect to find in such an exalted domain, sumptuous furniture commissioned by Mme Bettancourt's father from the Art Deco maestro Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann enrich the cooly elegant and restrained interiors created by interior designer Serge Royaux.

The Rotunda: Even the piano is by Ruhlmann! Royaux, whose disdain for superfluity much appealed to Madame, designed the large semi-circular sofa.

Photos by Pascal Hinous