Becoming the owner of a historic house can be a daunting prospect. Part caretaker, part curator, you’re in danger of having every aspect of your life, taste, and décor choices placed under extreme scrutiny, with little or no options for alteration or expansion. It helps, therefore, to find a property that is a fully realised masterpiece, without the need for substantial modernisation or restoration; enter, Villa Seynave by Jean Prouvé and Neil Hutchinson and its finely tuned modernist architecture.

modernist villa in south of france
A sublime holiday villa in the south of France

This is a modestly sized villa located on the edge of a golf course in Grimaud, a seaside town on the bay of Saint-Tropez in the south of France. Designed as a holiday home, the house was commissioned by a businessman and finished in 1962. The design epitomises the low-profile, lightweight approach that characterises Prouvé’s work. The use of new, lightweight materials like plywood, aluminium, and glass panels give this long, low building an airy feel, with subtly curved exotic wooden panels on the façade, slender mullions and large expanses of glass. 

the modernist villa by Jean Prouvé & Neil Hutchinson in the south of france
The façade includes curved panels of tropical hardwood

Prouvé was relentless in his pursuit of prefabrication and industrialisation methods for architecture. The Seynave house highlights a few of his methods, such as the prefabricated concrete blocks that are distributed throughout the floorplan, containing the kitchen, storage areas, and bathrooms. Coupled with a lightweight post and beam structure, the cores support the flat roof. Simplicity is the key; the house has no heating, because it was designed for use during the balmy Mediterranean summers. Prouvé worked with architect Neil Hutchinson on the structure, and there are key interior elements, including the kitchen and cabinets, designed by Charlotte Perriand, adding to the sense of occasion and historic value. There is also an integral lighting system by the industrial designer Serge Mouille.

interior of modernist Villa Seynave by Jean Prouvé & Neil Hutchinson
Prefabricated concrete core elements house services and storage

The Villa Seynave is now on the market, on offer through the Paris-based Architecture de Collection website. The designer himself was adamant that a building be no different than a piece of furniture. In recent years, thanks largely to the tireless work of gallerist Patrick Seguin, Prouvé’s reputation (and value) has been transformed by highlighting the sculptural value of his scarce pavilion projects, bringing them onto the international art market as both pieces of architecture at Château La Coste and sculptural objects, collected by the likes of the Museum of Modern Art and the Pompidou Centre. 

wood clad interior of modernist Villa by Jean Prouvé & Neil Hutchinson (photograph by Manuel Bougot)
Unfolding screens can subdivide the space

The villa has been magnificently preserved, with all the original joinery and wall panels, as well as such period pieces as the steel fireplace, sunken conversation pit and sliding partitions to subdivide the space. Despite the verdant outlook (and the proximity of the golf course), the house is just 300m from the region’s beaches.

Prouvé is still best known for his industrialised housing systems, such as the prefab aluminium Métropole houses. One-offs like this modernist villa are rarer, but still display the innovation and experimentation that have become the architect’s legacy. §