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Feb / Mar 2014
Rare Find

WRITER: Warren Singh-Bartlett PHOTOGRAPHER: Sabrina Bongiovanni

Looking to buy in Geneva? We were given exclusive access to a once in a lifetime property that’s about to go up for sale. Baroness Lambert’s beautifully-decorated, three storey art-filled home smack in the heart of town isn’t just spacious and beautifully-appointed, it comes with its own, very enviable roof terrace to boot.


On the south-eastern side of Boulevard Helvétique, opposite the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire and just off the grassy, tree-lined square that is capped at one end by the golden onion-shaped domes of Geneva’s Russian Orthodox Church, Rue Abraham Constantin runs between the Rue Le Fort and the Boulevard des Tranchées.

It’s a quiet, leafy and well-heeled part of town, home to a number of private banks and lawyers, several embassies, some excellent schools (the Collège Calvin, as well as the Glacis des Rive preparatory school, are a five-minute walk away), the Modern Art collection at the Petite Musée and the Chinese and Japanese collections at the Baur Foundation, as well as the delectable pastries and coffees at the Épicerie du Mont-de-Sion.

The road is named after a 19th century Italian-Swiss painter and enamellist. Halfway along stands Number Four. This grande dame, built in Geneva’s solid greenish-grey stone, with its semi-Parisian gables, painted wooden shutters and heavy wooden door, has a history of its own. Originally home to Marcelle Moynier, the grand-daughter of Red Cross co-founder, Gustave, for just over 20 years, it was also home to a 90-seat salon where Mlle. Moynier would stage performances by the Marionnettes de Genève, her much-loved puppet theatre founded in 1929.

Owned by the Baroness and the late Baron for the last 27 years, Number Four currently serves as a family home and by extension, a space for Lady Lambert to display her collection of photography (which includes pieces by the likes of Mike Kelly, Cindy Sherman and Robert Frank) and contemporary art that she has lovingly collected over the course of the last few decades. And so you will find a sketch by Cecil Beaton or Aldo Rossi, for example, alongside canvases by Philip Taaffe and Margherita Manzelli or a framed embroidered cloth by Tracey Emin.

“I have a very visual memory,” Lady Lambert explains, “I like to look.” If ‘looking’ has remained a life-long interest, so has its counterpart, understanding. While the Baroness no longer makes documentary films about 1960s Dutch revolutionaries nor indeed, has chance encounters with political figures like Iran’s Amir-Abbas Hoveyda, her appetite for both world affairs and visual representation not only remains strong, it is very much in evidence in the books and other objects she has around her home. “Things rather matter to me,” she continues, “there has to be a certain harmony, it’s almost obsessive.”

Obsessive or not, harmony is a perfect description of her home, a seamless mix of the traditional and the contemporary. Designed as both fantasy home and private universe, it is the joint work of the Baroness and French interior designer, Jacques Grange, who worked frequently with Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé and who Lady Lambert describes as “an artist”.

Their approach was that what made sense to keep, remained and so original features like the simple stucco ceiling mouldings in the dining room and main office/library, wood panel doors and cabinets, marble fireplaces and delicately inlaid flooring that is as much marquetry as it is parquetry, exist alongside furniture and artworks that run the gamut from period and Mid-century, to Post-modern and Contemporary.

“If you buy things you like,” the Baroness explains succinctly, when I ask her how she has managed to make the disparate works and different periods coexist so seamlessly, “they all end up going together, even if they’re not of the same period.”

So you will find furnishings by Mario Botta – who also designed the airy, cappuccino-coloured Post-Modern Swiss headquarters for the former Lambert family bank in Villereuse – and Joseph Hoffmann (there’s a white version of his 1905 Sitzmaschine in the master bathroom) as well as bedside lamps by Jean Royère, a room screen by the legendary Jean-Michel Frank and a carpet in the living room that is one of three made – the others belonged to Yves Saint Laurent and Warhol’s manager, Fred Hughes. Many of the pieces, like a pair of Mattia Bonetti lamps and a small, delicate table lamp in the hallway by Frank Lloyd Wright, seem to straddle the world between sculpture and household object.

Spread over three floors, the warren of rooms, a succession of living, office, dining and bedroom and bathroom spaces, plus a leavening of nooks and crannies perfect for reading or retreating from the world, each decorated in its own style, rise towards a secret fourth floor - neat rooftop garden.

From up here, the city falls away towards the lake, the spires and tiled roofs of the Old Town, the green swathe of the Jardin Anglais, the water fountain and the snow-dusted peaks of the Alps and the Jura all form part of the vista.

After moving in, the Lamberts had the home subtly modernised. Both the kitchen and the master bathroom were expanded, the latter by knocking together a couple of small, dark rooms, to create one sprawling but intimate all-white space that serves both as bathroom and boudoir and is entirely unexpected in a building of this period.

The attic, originally transformed into a loft-like bedroom for their children, is now used as an airy, open-plan office. Here, the bones of the home are permitted to show through, in the form of the timber trusses and crossbeams that make up the building’s structure, which sit comfortably alongside the African cushions and rugs and Modernist jute armchairs and slender wooden day beds designed by Mattia Bonetti. The desk itself is subtly guarded over by a mesmerising pagan wooden totem from Afghanistan’s Wakkhan Corridor. With its unmistakable Alexander the Great topknot, it only exists because it was rescued from a rubbish pile in the early 1960s by an explorer friend of the family.

As with other grand family residences of its generation in Geneva, the house is arranged around a small roofed central courtyard. The three-storey atrium brings light and air into the centre of the home. Overlooked by a series of internal windows, the glass lanterns, geometric stencils, ochre-washed walls and terrazzo tiling suggest a little bit of the Levant, via Tuscany and possibly Marrakesh, in deepest Switzerland.

Around this, the corridors, covered in African striped cotton, themselves galleries in miniature, lead to a succession of differently decorated rooms, each with their own personality. Certain rooms are more period-specific. In one, you instantly find yourself in an early 1960s bachelor pad. In another just down the hall, the Ikat-inspired Lemanach fabric covering the walls, ‘trompe l’oeil’ painted blue faience, imperial Tughras, calligraphy and illuminated pages from antique Qur’ans transport the visitor to a much earlier era. Bathrooms, while equipped with every modern convenience, are unmistakably, if subtly, Deco. Taken all together though, the artful blending of periods and styles, as well as the time-dissolving effect of the artworks, lends the home a timeless feel.

For all its grandeur, this is a gentle home. Rooms are spacious but on a human scale. There are no vast echo chambers. Surfaces are tactile, edges are softened and walls are washed in colours that nevertheless tend towards subtlety. Nowhere does a visitor feel overwhelmed or deliberately miniaturised. The classicism here is not of the kind you’d find, for example, in imperial St. Petersburg.

Welcoming and warm, it is grand in the way of great homes that are built to be lived in, rather than displayed. It is, in other words, a luxurious cocoon, the ideal home for those who must live in the city and yet wish to entirely forget that there is a world beyond their doors.


This amazing one-of-a-kind home is currently for sale, partially furnished or unfurnished. Interested parties should contact BESPOKE directly.

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