The Master Mixer by Silke Bender | 6th September, 2019 | Personalities
Lavish, yet contemporary, and always timelessly cool. Nobody combines seeming opposites as skillfully and elegantly as Jacques Garcia, who created some of the most iconic interiors of world renowned hotels like the Hôtel Costes in Paris or the La Mamounia in Marrakesh. A visit to Garcia’s home at the Château du Champ de Bataille in Normandy.
Among the many projects interior designer Jacques Garcia has worked on during his long career, the Château du Champ de Bataille is the biggest, but also his most personal. “My greatest triumphs and most dreadful trials have taken place there,” Garcia says in his Paris office, which is located opposite the Tuileries Gardens. The white-haired patrician gentleman is old-school – from his brightly polished shoes down to his starched collar. For the last 40 years, his Studio Jacques Garcia has been something of a style ambassador of the Grande Nation – the France of old, from the time of the Sun King to the nineteenth century. Hardly anyone knows how to replicate the royal attitude to life from this bygone era with the same level of authenticity as Garcia, or how to transplant it into the present as well as he does.
The walls at the entrance to his office are covered in photos of the opulent interiors he has created in hotels, castles and villas around the world: the Hôtel Costes and the Royal Monceau in Paris, the Danieli in Venice, the Wynn in Las Vegas and the La Mamounia in Marrakesh. The list of world-famous luxury hotels Garcia has made his mark on seems infinite. Having been commissioned by the French government, he redecorated the apartments in the Palace of Versailles and the Richelieu wing of the Louvre Museum, both of them icons of French history.
His own magnum opus, however, has been the Château du Champ de Bataille in Upper Normandy, roughly 90 minutes’ drive from Paris. The castle is one of France’s national monuments, so you can imagine the battles he fought with the authorities about the renovations. But that is all in the past now. Today, the castle and its parklands are open to the public, at least partially. Garcia travels there almost every weekend. So, which wing does he live in? “Whichever one I want,” he says smiling. “A castle has to be lived in, otherwise it loses its life force. It’s just like in matters of the heart – long-distance relationships don’t work in the long run. I don’t see myself as the owner, but as a temporary caretaker.”
“People have lost their appreciation for the timeless.” JACQUES GARCIA
Garcia dedicated more than 20 years to restoring, redecorating and furnishing the seventeenth century estate. In it, the antiques aficionado has brought together all the treasures he has been able to collate throughout his life: carpets, art, books, furniture and historical fabrics. The magnificent castle had been ransacked during the French Revolution and left to fall into ruin. Garcia’s aim was to restore it – as faithfully as possible – to its former glory under the Ancien Régime. The longing for the Sun King and prerevolutionary times is one of the enduring quirks of the French national self-image. Many people love to hark back to the time when the style and opulence of the French court was a paradigm the whole world tried to emulate.
This longing also touched Garcia, the son of a Spanish immigrant and a French mother from the lower aristocracy. His father worked as a heating engineer at the Gare de l’Est train station in Paris, his mother flirted with communism. “In many ways, I am a paradox,” Garcia admits. “A dreamer who followed his subconscious, but also a materialist who knows how to attain his goals. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character.” Garcia’s francophile father often took him along on forays through the flea markets and antiques markets of Paris. At the age of eight, the young Jacques had already built a shed in his grandparents’ garden in the country. “That was my very first castle. You can only dream of things that don’t, or don’t any longer, exist: the Tower of Babel, the Colossus of Rhodes or the Sun King and his castles. Everything else is simply reality. If I had been alive back then, maybe I would have hated these things.”
Studying interior design was the logical choice for him. It’s hard to believe, however, that Garcia’s very first apartment was totally dedicated to modernism. “I painted everything white: from the parquet flooring to the walls, which I decorated with monochrome images by Yves Klein, slashed canvass paintings by Lucio Fontana and color field paintings by Josef Albers. Back in the late ’60s, all these were being sold at bargain prices,” he says. “By the way, I don’t just live in places decorated in the style of the Ancien Régime. I have a number of homes and each one of them is different. Some of them could actually be called rather modern.” Many criticisms have been leveled at Garcia during the course of his career: that he keeps alive a reactionary style, that he is too focused on the ornamental or even that he is a megalomaniac. However, nobody can deny that he has a real eye for objects of timeless value.
“There’s no such thing as too much opulence. It’s about creating harmony.” JACQUES GARCIA
As early as 1980, when he had just opened his own design studio at the age of 33, he was already going full force. Garcia acquired and completely restored the first floor of the Hôtel de Sagonne, a seventeenth century city palace in the Parisian neighborhood of Le Marais. He furnished the entire apartment in the opulent style of its era, and so was frequently featured in the French media. Jacques Garcia became famous, to some extent for being an antipode to the trend towards modernism. “Maximalism and minimalism are more similar than you would think,” he says. “Both emanate from a brimful creative spirit. It is only when you don’t know how to control this creativity that it all turns into miserabilism.”
When he acquired the run-down Château du Champ de Bataille in 1992, he was not yet the star he is today. He only had the money required for the purchase because he had just designed the interior of a city palace at the Place Vendôme for the Sultan of Brunei. “Back then, the size of the castle was definitely a stretch for me,” Garcia now says. “But I saw it as my destiny. Because of the Champ de Bataille I was forced to think big and work more efficiently. I also changed my focus and began designing hotels.” His efforts were a resounding success, for example the pioneering Hôtel Costes in Paris in 1995.
During the yellow vest protests this past spring, the Fouquet’s restaurant on the Champs Élysées, which also featured Garcia’s unmistakable style, went up in flames. “Rebellion is part of the French national character. I thought what happened was sad, but not a catastrophe,” he says. “The restaurant can be rebuilt.” He posits that we still live in quasi-feudal times full of social injustice. “But people today have lost their appreciation for the timeless, that’s the real tragedy.”