Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My new favorite house: Champ Soleil

When visiting Newport, Rhode Island last week, I went on a private trolley tour that focused on the wonderful architecture of the area. Our tour group saw literally dozens of beautiful homes. As we turned onto Bellevue Avenue, one of the most famous thoroughfares in Newport, the trolley paused in order to let pedestrians pass. In an aside comment, the driver pointed out a home that is privately owned, and is (in his words) perhaps the least used home in Newport, only lived in three weeks a year. I turned to see the home, and was mesmerized. As soon as the tour was over, I got into my rental car and went back for a closer look.

The home is called 'Champ Soleil'. It is described as a Louis XIII French Norman-style chateau, and was based on La Lanterne, a residence near Versailles. It was built in 1929, and the architects were the great New York firm Polhemus & Coffin. The 18th century iron gates were recently refurbished; according to the tour bus driver, the cost of the gold leaf was $12,000. I love the detail on this gate, and the small suns that reflect the name of the beautiful chateau. I also think it is charming that one of the pillars flanking the gate is covered with ivy, whereas the other one is untouched by the vine. The lanterns on the pillars are the perfect touch.

When I returned to look at Champ Soleil in more detail, I took a picture through the gates. The proportions and symmetry of this chateau are so pleasing; homes with one window on either side of the front door, especially floor to ceiling, have great appeal to me. The roofline is my favorite style, hipped, and I find the small scale dormers on French style homes to be particularly charming.


This side view of Champ Soleil, from a real estate listing in 2003, show the gabled wings on the side of the home. From a head-on view, the gabled wings are completely obscured by the trees in front of the home. It is interesting to note that the former owner, Russell Barnett Aiken (step father to Sunny von Bulow), had the shutters and front door painted white; they now seem to be a stained wood tone . An article on the home in Forbes (it was 'home of the week' in the July 1, 2003 issue of Forbes) noted that the home has 22 rooms, an elevator, and one of the finest croquet courts in the country.


Between the front of the home and the gates is the 'parterre', a formal garden constructed on a level surface that incorporates hedging and gravel. French parterres are often in the design of a knot garden.


The rear view of Champ Soleil. Doesn't it seem like the great architects always make sure that the back of the home looks as beautiful as the front? In this case, I think the back of the home is more beautiful than the front, and although the structure of the house is symmetrical, the gabled wings have interesting differences that make them more interesting. The graceful stairs transition from the upper part of the lawn to the lower part, in effect making the area just outside the home like an outdoor room.


Although there are few indoor pictures of Champ Soleil, I found this tiny little picture of the library. Champ Soleil was decorated by Maison Jansen in the late 1940s while the home was owned by Roberta and Robert Goelet, and the paneling for this room was brought over from France. Maison Jansen's most famous client was Jacqueline Kennedy; she used the firm to redecorate the White House during her husband's administration.


When researching this post, I came across a real estate site that offers Champ Soleil for monthly rental. For a mere $120,000 a month, Champ Soleil can be yours to rent! The listing notes that the home is 13,500 square feet, and has 9 bedrooms and 8 baths. The listing also had a few more interior pictures, including this one of the front hall with its elegant iron railing, marble floor, and arched doors.


Champ Soleil also boasts an elaborate ballroom with large crystal chandelier.


I found this picture to be absolutely fascinating. In a post last year, An Aesthete's Lament and Architect Design mentioned that a Lanterne Style home is one of their favorite designs, and the hallmark of this style is that the house is one room deep and 'see through', which allows for the maximum amount of light and air to flow through the house. This can be seen quite clearly in this picture, from the real estate listing. Upon rereading the An Aesthete's Lament's words, I see that Champ Soleil is referenced in the post. Aesthete also referenced a Lanterne style home designed by the architectural firm Bories and Shearron, which can be seen on their website.


Aerial side view of Champ Soleil, via Bing maps


Aerial front view of Champ Soleil, via Bing maps


Aerial back view of Champ Soleil, via Bing maps

Three aerial views of the property show the true size of this home, which appears deceptively normal sized when peering through the front gates (normal when one is used to looking at Atlanta homes). The property is over 5 acres, and covers the entire area from Bellevue Avenue to the street parallel to Bellevue; there is a back entrance on the parallel street, and the structure at the bottom left of the aerial back view is a 4 car garage with two separate apartments above it.

versailles pavillon de la lanterne 3

Reading about Champ Soleil piqued my interest in seeing its inspiration, La Lanterne, on the grounds of Versailles. La Lanterne was built in 1787 as a hunting lodge, and in 2007, La Lanterne became the second residence for the President of France. The current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, celebrated his marriage with model and singer Carla Bruni at La Lanterne by holding the wedding dinner in this magnificent setting.


La Lanterne is closely guarded; overhead flights are prohibited, and the building is surrounded by hedges, making photographs very rare. Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently held a press conference in front of La Lanterne, which enabled house voyeurs like me to see some of the beautiful detail on the house. Look at the iron grill work on the upper level windows, the swags carved into the stone above the floor to ceiling windows, and the light blue of the trim. I am curious about that lantern seen in the front door. It looks like the door is open, and the large lantern is in the foyer. What a charming touch! But, it does not look like La Lanterne is 'see through' with a view from the front to the back. Perhaps an interior set of doors are shut to prevent prying eyes from looking into this magnificent home.


Here is an aerial view of La Lanterne. I have a weakness for 'U' shaped homes, as they allow so much light on many different sides. The large size of this home enables a 'U' shape without the wings blocking the light, as often happens when a smaller home is created in a 'U' shape.

This post has had an interesting evolution, which sometimes happens when I innocently begin a simple post, and the research leads me down several different paths. I hope you enjoyed seeing both a beautiful home in Newport, as well as its inspiration on the grounds of Versaille!


  1. Awesome post. That is such a sweet house. Great info on La Lanterne too, thanks!

  2. Ooh. I enjoyed this so much! More Newport, please!!

  3. Wow. So beautiful. Inspiring.

  4. Great post. I love what the news owners did with the house - I like the wood tone. I can't believe this house is only used 3 weeks a year, that is such a waste! And good catch on the beautiful lantern in the front foyer on La Lanterne, I would have missed that detail!

  5. ok.....i am in love with the Lanterne Style home in this post.
    my mom's home in maine is based on this same theory.
    her's is a 'see through', one room depth home.

    i love it...it feels so bright and cheery all year.
    yep, this works for me !!


  6. Great post. I love looking at houses and all of the details that I have never seen before.

  7. Splendid post. I learned so much. Nice work putting politics to a good end :)

  8. Fascinating -- thanks for the tour!

  9. Super post. The color of "La Lanterne" put it over the top for me. What stone looks so warm?

    I keep going back to the view of the narrow side of the house where you explain the "Lanterne Style" home. I prefer that to seeing the "wide-body" facades.

    The long thin house (Pattern 109) does so many good things. You mentioned great light (107). But also intimacy (127) because you can get a long way from a noisy room, and great outdoor spaces fitted in the crooks, notches and turns. Not the most efficient way to build these days unfortunately.

  10. Thank you for the comments, everyone.

    Terry, not only are houses not really built this way too often these days, but it is important to have a wide lot to make this style work. In this day and age, if a person has a wide lot, they are probably going to build a large house!

    I went to an open house last weekend at a charming house that had aspects of a lanterne house. The house was 'U' shaped. but one part of the 'U' was a master bedroom that did not stick out too far (so, the house was not truly 'U' shaped, more like a truncated 'U'). The living room was to the left of the front door, and it was only one room deep; there were French doors along the front and the back, which was quite charming.

    I heard that the when the owners built the home in the late 90s, they wanted the house to be as small as possible but still have all of the individual rooms that they required. The children's bedrooms upstairs are quite small, but a great size for children.

    The couple ended up having 4 children, and the house ended up being too small for them. I thought it was very charming, but alas, above my price range.

  11. P.S. I think those pictures of La Lanterne with the politicians in front was photoshopped extensively, don't you? The colors look a bit unreal.

  12. A few years ago, shortly after Russell Aitken died, his wife (Irene Roosevelt Aitken) put the house on the market and sold a lot of the contents at Sotheby's (or Christie's, I can't remember which). I grew up in RI and knew the house so I bought the catalogue out of curiosity. If I can find it (not sure if I can) I'll send it to you because it had some great photos of the interiors. The house has had a lot of interesting owners over the years.

  13. Anon, very interesting! I did see some of the Christie's catalogs on ebay, but did not know they had interior pictures.

    The trolley driver claimed that Sunny von Bulow's children are now the owners of the estate, but I did not read anything to support that claim. I saw that it was listed after Russell Aitken died, for just under $6 million. Why would the Aitken widow list the house if it was sold to Sunny von Bulow's children, given that Aitken was their step-father (it was not clear to me if Mrs. Aitken was Sunny's mother).

  14. Wonderful exterior and interior!

  15. What a small world, I have photos of this house ferom the main gate as well from my trip to Newport! Fascinating! I was so intrigued I bought one of the catalogs from chrities on ebay: can't wait to read more :-)

  16. Absolutely wonderful! I really really really enjoyed one - sure to be on the Washington List this week! for the 10th time???

    Sarah - this was wonderful, truly. so informative and so far reaching. I loved that original post of A.L.

    just wonderful. I wish I could have seen this and all the other houses in your companion piece!


  17. such a gorgeous home! Thanks for sharing!!

  18. Any one of us in blogland could have "refurbished" those suns on the gate with a little spray paint and saved about $ll,999.00 :)

  19. Lovely post! And funny that you went back to check the house out after the tour, as I'm guessing you probably saw several great homes. Agree with previous poster- only a few weeks out of the year! Shame!

  20. I so enjoyed reading and viewing the photos of Champ Soleil as well as La Lanterne. Thank you for the great information on these homes. Bev

  21. Wonderful post, houses, everything....talk about inspirational, xv.

  22. Love the house tour...love your blog. PS Saw some great Italian Intagalios listed at Skinner Auction house's July sale...(www.liveauctioneers.com/item/6515741)

  23. Fabulous post!!So much interesting information. I wondered if they would rent it out by the week? that would be 40K - we could invite all our blog friends for great reunion!! If we invite 100+ bloggers it could be doable. What do you think?

  24. You can find photographs of the interiors in 'Jansen' by James Archer Abbott published by Acanthus Press in 2006. Ground and first floor plans as well as interior and exterior images can be found in 'Newport Villas, The Revival Styles, 1885 to 1935' by Michael Kathrens published by Norton in 2009.

  25. Anon- thank you for the resources! I wish I had known about these books while I was in Newport, as all of the bookstores had dozens of books on Newport (particularly the gift shop in the Breakers).

  26. Thank you for these amazing pics. What a lovely home.

  27. Stunning post.
    I've always been drawn to houses that are only one room deep. The quality of light in the rooms is wonderful.
    Thank you for doing such a thorough research job for us. I truly enjoyed it. After reading your last couple of posts, I feel as though I've taken an extensive course on the houses of Newport. Do we get more?


  28. That's interesting, I rarely look at a home so deeply, unless I plan to live in it.

    Although French in style, this particular home reminds me of some you may find in Hampstead, a gentler part of London.

  29. The way you manage the pictures in your blog is marvelous. Just stunning.

    Boise real estate

  30. Champ Soleil is a beautiful home. The grounds are spectacular. There is color all year round.
    Russell Aiken was Sunny's step father but he was married twice. His first wife is Sunny's mother(Annie Laurie) Not the Mrs. Aiken's that sold the home.
    The house is definitely used more than 3 weeks a year. I don't know where the bus driver heard that gossip.

  31. Just discovered this-great research. I think you would appreciate a similar house near this one called The Orchid on Narragansett Avenue.

  32. The home was purchased by a couple from New York City. Messers Kenneth Zarrilli and Joshua L. McKinney-Zarrilli. We live in residence three months out of the year, while the refurbishing takes place. It is so lovely to have all the interest in our home..:)


Thank you for your comments! I strive to make my blog positive in tone, and appreciate the same courtesy when comments are made. Thank you!


Related Posts with Thumbnails