A House in the Country, Without Ever Leaving Central Paris

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PARIS -- What did Louis XVI's younger brother, the composer Cole Porter and the British-French financier James Goldsmith have in common? One of the most surprising properties in the aristocratic district of Faubourg Saint-Germain: a secluded house and garden hidden away near the Invalides, on the Left Bank.

A visitor approaching from the street first sees a traditional 19th-century apartment building. But, through a large wooden gate at the end of the building's cobbled courtyard stands the unexpected: a white-brick, half-timbered structure that looks like it might have been plucked from the Normandy countryside and deposited in the center of Paris.

Built for Monsieur, as the Comte de Provence was known, the property dates to the construction of a stables complex that he commissioned from the architect Alexandre Brongniart in 1777-78. Mr. Brongniart went on to design several mansions nearby that became landmarks on the rue Monsieur, the street named for his patron.

(Unlike his brother, Monsieur escaped the Revolution to reign later as Louis XVIII.)

What remained of the original design was a converted stable and the residence, most probably once used by the count's écuyer, or equerry in charge. By the 20th century, the two buildings had been merged into a desirable townhouse with more than 20 rooms in a bucolic setting that includes a garden covering 500 square meters, or 5,382 square feet.

Porter, the Yale-educated scion of a wealthy family from Indiana, came to France in 1917 to join the Foreign Legion, though there is skepticism about this. After his marriage to Linda Lee Thomas in 1919, the couple moved into the Left Bank property. The Porters decorated lavishly: Platinum paper covered the walls and zebra skins upholstered the furniture in interiors that were reflected in dozens of mirrors.

And they entertained extravagantly, bringing the Ballets Russes from Monte Carlo to dance before their guests and giving garden fêtes orchestrated by the society party hostess Elsa Maxwell with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway reportedly in attendance.

Living well in Paris apparently stimulated the composer's creativity, with "Paris" (1928) beginning a string of Broadway successes and songs like "Anything Goes" and "Night and Day," just a couple of the celebrated melodies written during his Paris period, which continued even after the Porters left the city in 1939.

The house and garden today reflect its previous owner, Mr. Goldsmith, who bought the property in 1972.

He also had homes in London, Spain and Mexico and a personal life as tumultuous as his professional one of financial coups and political crusades. Mr. Goldsmith married three times and had eight children, including two by his last mistress, a beautiful French aristocrat.

Since his death in 1997, at 64, "the family has continued to use the house, but they don't come often and have now decided to put it on the market," said Nicolas Hug of Menager-Hug, the Paris agents exclusively handling the sale.

The asking price is about €40 million, or about $51.6 million.

Most of the 766 square meters of living space is spread over two levels, with the ground level divided into two wings. Upstairs, the wings are linked.

Three large reception areas or living rooms dominate the layout. There is also a wood-paneled library, a dining room, a kitchen and 10 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, 5 dressing rooms, a secretarial office and staff quarters.

One remarkable feature is the large ground-floor living room with a beamed ceiling, now used as a home cinema, whose four double French windows open onto the terrace and garden. Another is the master suite, with its own large living room/study, spacious bedroom, grand dressing room, large bathroom and gym.

In the tower at the top of the house is a suite of two children's bedrooms, a bath and a playroom with a child-size cabin snuggled in under the eaves.

In the opposite wing, stairs lead to a small two-bedroom apartment suitable for children, guests or staff members.

Almost every room in the house has a striking view of the garden and, from the upper floors, the panorama includes the unbroken enfilade of neighboring gardens. Fringed by mature sycamores, lindens and shrubs, the large lawn is protected by an ivy-covered wall.

Three pavilions in the inner courtyard have been converted to guest bedroom and bathroom suites; a fourth houses an office.

"It's like living in the country with the luxury of being in the middle of Paris," Mr. Hug said. "And it's superprotected. From the outside, you can't imagine anything like this is here."

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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