After discovering the renowned Bauhaus maestro Marcel Breuer, Louis and Babette Sayer turned to the proficient architect and designer with their aspiration for a place they can call home in Normandy.
Still in the Sayer family under the ownership of brothers Patrick and Gilles, who grew up spending time in the exceptional midcentury home design, the villa remains unblemished from its original condition.
In addition to having been exhibited at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris, Breuer’s villa Sayer has been classified as a historical monument. We caught up with the Sayer brothers to learn more about their story with the historical house.
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about your background?
Our parents Louis and Babette Sayer wanted to have a house built in Normandy, which would be different from the traditional local style. In the early 70’s, they enquired about Niemeyer and then discovered Breuer through an exhibition at the Knoll Parisian showroom.
Breuer had an office in Paris as he was involved in the French IBM building and the Australian High Commission. They met Mario Jossa, the office chief, who showed my parents several private house designs. They immediately fell in love with the double hyperbolic paraboloid roof design drawn but not built for Peter Ustinov in Zurich and for the Soriano family in Maine.
How did you come to live in your house?
The house was built in 2 years from 1972 by French contractors, and as young kids, we lived in the house during weekends and holidays.
Although the house was and still is quite extraordinary, it seemed very normal to us and we enjoyed every moment in it as kids. We could nevertheless feel that my parents were extremely proud to have had such a house built.
This sense of pride culminated in the early 2000’s when the house was admitted in the highly select club of Historical Monuments, usually the remit of older buildings.
What do you think was so special about the work of Marcel Breuer?
As far as this house is concerned, Breuer manages to make the occupants live in the surrounding fields thanks to almost unobstructed glass walls, with the roof stretched as a sail towards the sky, reinforcing the sense of communion with nature.
Do you feel a certain sense of responsibility when living in a house designed by such a famous architect?
My brother and I, who are now the “custodians” of this unique house, feel a strong sense of responsibility.
We are proud to open the gates of the estate once or twice a year on the occasion of the European Heritage Days in September to allow passionate people the opportunity to see the house and its integration in the nature.
Furthermore, there was a special relationship between the architect and my parents. As such, in spite of the passing away of our beloved parents, the executive architect, Mario Jossa, has remained a friend almost 50 years later.
Have you had to renovate any part of the house? If so, which area(s)?
Maintenance rather than renovation: the building has not aged and remains as contemporary as it was some 45 years ago.
The only change pertained to the paint of the main ceiling, given the movements of the roof resulting from the temperature changes and their impact on the steel cables maintaining the roof structure.
What’s your favourite part of the house and why?
It is probably our late father’s study, perched over the kitchen, beneath one of the escaping corner of the roof, the view is magnificent and the size of the room is almost “cozy”.
Last but not least, do you have any tips for people interested in buying an historical house today? What should they pay attention to and why?
There are no tips: when one buys a famous architect house, as with any art masterpiece, it must be love that guides the project.
Finance, returns, construction details are unimportant.