Villa Laurens is a mansion completely built according to the plan of its first owner, Emmanuel Laurens, back in 1898. He wanted to construct not just a building but a work of art.
This grand house is located in the Belle-Ile district in the city of Agde, France. The architecture of the building combines elements of both Art Nouveau and Neo-Grec styles.
Emmanuel Laurens was born in 1873. He was from a wealthy family of master masons who had a history dating back to the eighteenth century. His father was an engineer, and his uncle was an architect in the French city of Agde.
In 1897, at the age of 24, Laurens inherited a huge fortune from a distant relative. In the same year, his father passed away, so Laurens also inherited a plot of land in Agde.
Now in possession of both land and money, Laurens decided to express his architectural style and build a unique villa for himself. He had always been a traveler, collector, and music lover, and now he hoped to combine all these passions into decor, furnishings, and lifestyle.
Despite having no knowledge of architecture, Laurens drew up unique plans for his future villa. At this time, the Art Nouveau style was emerging, and his design was very inspired by this recent trend.
Working with various renowned Art Nouveau painters, decorators, and designers, Laurens became the owner of an artistic, luxurious villa in 1898.
Villa Laurens consists of many rooms, each of which was associated with his trips abroad. They were named in honor of the countries that inspired them.
The living room was famous for its decorations by Eugéne Dufour, and Emmanuelle’s study was notable for the monumental painting on the ceiling created by Louis Anquetin. Even the bathroom was grandiose, being equipped with a bath-pool, and the windows contained stained glass.
Some of the furniture for the mansion was ordered from specialist cabinetmakers in Montpellier, Léon Cauvy and Paul Arnavielhe. There was also furniture credited to Carlo Bugatti.
In 1920, Emmanuel Laurens created a special music room to celebrate his wedding that year to the opera singer Louise Blot. A chapel-sized dome was installed in this music room to complement and enhance her voice.
Laurens enjoyed an excellent quality of life in this mansion, constantly inviting guests around to show off his masterpiece. Needless to say, Villa Laurens was the scene of many parties.
Unfortunately, Laurens led a fairly expensive lifestyle which, combined with risky investments, saw his fortune diminish. Eventually, he did not have enough funds to manage the mansion anymore, and he was forced to put it up for sale.
In 1938, Laurens sold the building for a life annuity. Having once roamed this grand building, Laurens was now obliged to set up home with his wife and mother in a separate part of the villa, where their employees used to live.
World War II broke out, and the mansion was occupied by German troops. The soldiers are said to have left some markings and cartoons on the walls, reminiscent of garrison life.
Emmanuel’s wife passed away in 1954 and he followed her not long after, in 1959, penniless. The mansion was left without owners and without attention, so naturally, it fell into decline.
Over the following years, Villa Laurens was badly damaged through rain and neglect.
The city of Agde eventually managed to acquire Laurens’s mansion in 1994. Two years later, the villa and its grounds were included in the list of historical monuments. This meant that the gardens, ponds, orangery, and the hydroelectric turbine were also protected.
In 2003, the Hérault Méditerranée agglomeration in the Occitanie region was given the responsibility of restoring the building. The aim was to open it up to the public.
Since October 2019, the villa has been undergoing restoration work which is thought to have cost around ten million euros. Where it isn’t possible to restore the decor to its original standard, new artwork that remains faithful to the spirit of Emmanuel Lauren’s style will be sought.
The music room was the first room to be tackled. Unfortunately, some of the canvases that covered the walls have suffered irreparable damage over the years, so instead, modern artists Ida Tursic and Wilfried Mille were commissioned to provide new artwork for the room.
Some of the furniture from Villa Laurens is currently on display in the Agde Jules-Bardou museum while it waits to be returned to its original home.
Since restoration began in 2009, Saturday morning tours have been offered so that the public can see how the project is progressing. It is hoped that by the end of 2020, the mansion will be fully open so that visitors can enjoy the art and architectural work.
Romain Veillon is the owner of the photographs included in this article. Many thanks to him for letting us use them. Romain has a beautiful collection of photos on his Instagram page.
Romain is passionate about travel and photography, and he specializes in exploring abandoned heritage sites around the world. Each of his photographs has its own story, allowing you to plunge into the past. If you liked his photos here, then take a look at his website at this link.
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