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Design Journalist Marie Kalt Gives a Glimpse Behind the Curtains of Karl Largerfeld’s Many Houses

In Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Houses, French co-author Marie Kalt gives a glimpse behind the curtains of the star designer’s many houses.

karl lagerfeld houses

Karl Lagerfeld in front of a tiered bureau with amaranth and mahogany inlays, attributed to Jean- François Oeben

The late Karl Lagerfeld was a man of many talents, and many houses. The German couturier will always be synonymous with transforming the fortunes of Chanel, but he was also an avid collector, decorator, and photographer, using his multiple houses as canvases on which he could project his passions and interests. Throughout his life, Lagerfeld bought and renovated at least 20 properties. After his death in 2019 at the age of 85, a number of the designer’s possessions were auctioned by Sotheby’s. Those items’ descriptions were written by author Patrick Mauriès, who was inspired to explore and chronicle Lagerfeld’s many homes. Mauriès enlisted the help of noted design journalist Marie Kalt and together the pair created an anthology of Lagerfeld’s abodes, from the 19th-century villa near Versailles in which he lived prior to his death to his pied-à-terre in Monaco, called Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Houses.

A blue sitting room with a set of painted wooden seats attributed to Bruno Paul

“It was fascinating to write but also quite difficult for many reasons,” Kalt recalls. “There are not too many people left who experienced his homes, so it was tough to identify precise memories. They had anecdotes about Karl, but few really knew the houses or the individual objects, which made them difficult to retrace.” The author trawled through myriad auction lots and magazine articles to piece together the details of his houses. What she found was a man whose enigmatic and somewhat eccentric public persona was mirrored in his private interiors. “Each house had its own precise inspiration and it told him a story,” Kalt explains. “He would then delve completely into it, everything to do with that particular period, then reinvent that story in his own manner.” She continues, “He was obsessive about the details, but I don’t think he was ever a true collector. There were not many objects that he really loved. He bought them because they were part of a bigger project: to create a house to live in, to entertain in, and to use as a stage or set for his pictures.”

karl lagerfeld houses

Lagerfeld at the Unknown table by George Sowden, with Riviera chairs by Michele De Lucchi

Lagerfeld’s homes were often photographed, both by the designer himself and as part of the numerous profiles of him over the years. Kalt notes that his private apartments in Monaco (Le Roccabella, “which he didn’t really like” and Vicolo del Divino Amore in Rome) appeared less frequently in photoshoots, as Lagerfeld preferred to spotlight his more extravagant properties. “The big places where he really invested his money, time, and energy were his houses in France – mainly Hôtel Pozzo di Borgo in Paris and La Vigie on the Cote d’Azur,” Kalt says. “He approached designing his houses as seriously as he would if he was working on a fashion show or fashion collection. He wanted to make them absolutely picture perfect.”

A sitting room with Masanori Umeda’s boxing ring and a George Sowden armchair

Whatever home Lagerfeld turned his attention to, he would completely immerse himself in the era and style he wished to capture. Kalt recalls how the designer would leave books at her office following conversations about certain periods, styles, or objects. “He was a precise person and when he got into something, he would read everything about it,” Kalt says. “That was reflected in his bookshelves and the thousands of books he collected in his life. He read those books; they were not just put on the walls. He was immensely knowledgeable about interior design and decorative arts.”

karl lagerfeld houses

German advertising posters from the 1910s and 1920s

The 13 properties featured in the book each exhibit eclectic tastes, from art deco to ultra-modern. However, it was difficult for the authors to find anything that felt perennially personal to the designer. “The most beautiful houses and best interior design always tell a story of some sort,” Kalt explains. “They reflect the owners’ deep tastes. “But with Karl you could feel that, over the years, he would love something and then he would dismiss it; then he would love something else and dismiss that. He was secretive and from these homes, you don’t understand much about the man because there’s nothing very personal, apart from tiny details here and there.”

The designer at his work table with his favourite Lalique crystal glass

Those tiny details include the occasional object that pops up in multiple houses across different eras, like Lagerfeld is offering small crumbs of insight to those with the keenest eye. “It was fun to trace pieces from place to place; you can see he has kept some for 30 years,” Kalt says. “For example, the Robsjohn-Gibbings furniture in his house in Pavillon de Voisins was also in his house in Biarritz and in Hamburg, too. “It’s the same furniture that has moved from one house to the other, though in the last house he had it patinated silver because he thought that would look better with the design he created for that home.”

karl lagerfeld houses

The designer in the photo studio at the back of 7L bookshop in Paris

Of all the places featured in Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Houses, it is the sole property in his homeland that most captivated Kalt. Despite insisting for many years that he would not return to his native Germany, Lagerfeld purchased neo-Classical Villa Jako in 1991, living there until 1998. “The Hamburg house is my favorite as I thought it was probably close to what he really liked – that early 20th century German taste,” Kalt says. There were beautiful pieces in there. I also loved the building and the idea that he finally ended up buying a house in Hamburg, nearly walking distance from his family home when he was a child. There was something quite moving about that.”

A hammered brass cup by Josef Hoffmann, a mahogany cabinet by Louis Süe and André Mare, and The Red Coat Trimmer (1914) by Pierre Legrain

Each of Lagerfeld’s legion of homes speaks to his ever-evolving tastes; from opulence to understated elegance and all manner of aesthetic in-between. Forever a fashion icon, Lagerfeld also proved to be an idiosyncratic interior designer, leaving the world with a collection of compelling spaces, whose stories and sub-texts are still being decoded.

karl lagerfeld houses

The Pavillon de Voisins, which Lagerfeld christened the Villa Louveciennes

Originally published in the May 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

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