More Than Just a Famous Garden

MENTON, FRANCE - When Margaret and Michael Likierman first saw Les Colombières, a Roman-style villa that was reinvented by the artist and landscape architect Ferdinand Bac, the house bore little resemblance to its glory days of the 1920s and 1930s.

The residents "were camping when we first saw it,” said Mr. Likierman, a retired retailer. "There were cracks and rain damage everywhere.

But now the home with its 14 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, striking red-and-yellow exterior and renovated interiors lined with frescoes has been put on the market for €22 million, or about $27 million.

Mrs. Likierman, who like her husband is British, is a passionate gardener. She first saw Les Colombières while on a tour of its well-known garden , that, though private, can be booked for guided visits in the summer.

The Likiermans bought the house three years later, in 1995. They took up residence in 2000, after a five-year renovation that cost about €4 million.

Mr. Bac was born in Stuttgart in 1859 under the name Ferdinand Sigismond Bach, and after moving to France gained prominence as a writer, designer and illustrator for publications including the newspaper Le Figaro. But he is perhaps best known for his work as a landscape architect, and he once wrote, "The soul of gardens contains the greatest amount of serenity in all of man's work.

But there was much more to his work at Les Colombières than the famed gardens.

"We loved the house, so we tried to preserve it,” Mrs. Likierman said. "Ferdinand Bac left an enormous archive, so it was quite easy to restore.”

Despite their desire to retain the original work of Mr. Bac, the couple knew that some changes had to be made. They found there were limits, however, as the entire estate was classified in 1990 as a historical monument of France and thus benefits from state protection.

"We gave it three things so that it might have a future for people with money: a pool, air-conditioning, and the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms,” Mrs. Likierman said.

Mr. Bac discovered the three-story house, which was built in 1790, when he was looking for a winter home for friends in 1919. He completed his renovation in 1924.

Many of France’s most prominent citizens at the time, including the writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau and Marshal Joseph Joffre, a World War I hero, visited the estate during his residence, which ended in 1939.

The villa was used during World War II as a convalescent home for Italian soldiers and, later, as a luxury bed-and-breakfast.

Mr. Bac painted the frescoes that still adorn many of the walls in the house, which covers 800 square meters, or nearly 9,000 square feet.

"Most of the scenes depicted are idealized landscapes from countries around the Mediterranean, including Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Morocco, by day or by night,” Mr. Likierman said.

The design in the Venetian Room, for example, shows a Carnival scene and is accompanied by a Murano glass chandelier and gondola lights. The Parrot Room is lined with wooden cabinets decorated with paintings of the birds.

The multilevel gardens that are part of the 3.5 hectares, or about 9 acres, of grounds are planted with cypress, carob and olive trees, and are studded with statues including a head of Medusa. They were landscaped by Mr. Bac himself and have a view of the old city of Menton and the Mediterranean.

"Bac wanted to create a garden reflecting his idea of civilization and the Mediterranean,” Mr. Likierman said. "He hated flowers.”

Posted by LIZA FOREMAN on 2/21/2013 4:52:42 PM

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