A vacation retreat and guesthouse near Cannes, France, designed by Francis Sultana.
Photo: Richard Powers

Francis Sultana Conceives a Resplendent Retreat Overlooking the French Riviera

In the hills above the Côte d’Azur, the designer devises a vacation home filled with whimsical collectible design and exuberant artworks

On the pool deck, Santa Barbara umbrellas shade chaise longues designed by Francis Sultana with cushions in a Perennials fabric. Photo: Richard Powers

About five years ago, longtime clients of designer Francis Sultana summoned him to the Côte d’Azur in France for what would be their fourth project together. The couple had acquired a property with two houses in a lovely location, tucked away in the hills outside Cannes, offering sensational views. Both structures called for major renovations.

The site’s charming original house, now the guest cottage, had been built in the 1960s, while the main, larger residence was added later, in the ’90s, by owners with a particularly Americanized vision of the South of France. Sultana took both houses “down to a shell,” as he puts it, and rebuilt the interiors.

“They wanted a comfortable place where they could be with family and friends,” says the designer. “Everyone with their independence between the main house and the guest cottage and the pool.” Sultana’s focus was on enhancing the indoor-outdoor living, which also entailed redesigning the gardens and adding a lawn where children can play.

A George Condo painting presides over the main house’s entrance hall, which features a Mattia Bonetti hanging lantern and a console table topped by André Dubreuil lamps; the rug, stair runner, and wall sconce are by Sultana. Photo: Richard Powers

Sultana compares the property to a classic American estate. In addition to the 20,000-square-foot main residence and the 8,000-square-foot guesthouse—each with five bedrooms and five baths—there is also a pool house and an outdoor kitchen for grilling. Everything is designed to function year-round.

For Sultana, one of the main challenges was to conjure a more consistent, unified feeling of laid-back Riviera chic across the entire property. “I wanted to keep the style in a low-key way, to keep it all relaxed,” he says.

In the main salon, an armchair and sofas by Mattia Bonetti are grouped with a cocktail table and circular side tables by André Dubreuil as well as a pair of tufted stools by Syrie Maugham; the floor lamps are by Bonetti, the table lamp is by Dubreuil, and the sculptural bronze side tables are by Sultana, as is the rug, while the curtains were made by Designs of the Time in a Antico Setificio Fiorentino fabric. Photo: Richard Powers

When it came to the interiors, the designer says, the clients “wanted to create something a bit 1950s, Grace Kelly on the Côte d’Azur. Very dolce vita.” He responded with a palette dominated by gold tones and citrusy hues as well as a spirited array of custom furnishings and decorative elements he commissioned from Mattia Bonetti and the late André Dubreuil, both masters of highly original, often fanciful objects.

The clients were seeking “a comfortable place where they could be with family and friends”

Francis Sultana

There is the sunny salon, for example, which Sultana anchored with plump, yellow-upholstered Bonetti sofas, their backs undulating like pairs of lips. Joining them are multiple tables by Dubreuil and lamps by both designers, not least one of Bonetti’s torchère floor lamps with branching lights that protrude surreally from a serpentine column.

For the guesthouse living room, Sultana created the mirror and floor lamps that surround the Jamb mantelpiece, as well as the sofas and glass-top end tables; the cocktail table is by Mattia Bonetti, the gueridon is by Garouste & Bonetti, the rattan chair is by Bonacina, and the painting is by Sue Williams. Photo: Richard Powers

Sultana also commissioned Bonetti to create a floor-to-ceiling decorative screen to provide partial separation between the salon’s bar and the dining room. The openwork design of large yellow and white floral forms echoes details on the Bonetti dining table nearby. “I wanted something like an architectural intervention by Mattia,” says Sultana, “to complement the sculptural qualities of the furniture, to give it all strength.”

Sultana contributed a number of his own bespoke designs, including the upholstered bed with a monumental headboard and a sinuous chaise with richly sculptural legs in the primary bedroom. Here, again, there are multiple furnishings by Dubreuil and Bonetti, highlighted by whimsically ornamented Bonetti nightstands topped with elegant lamps in wrought iron and glass by Dubreuil.

As part of his makeover of a vacation retreat and guesthouse near Cannes, France, designer Francis Sultana commissioned Mattia Bonetti to create an array of exuberant furnishings, including the main dining room’s chandelier, table, and sideboard with cherublike figures. Works by Marc Chagall hang on both sides of the mirror. Photo: Richard Powers

The art, meanwhile, is a mix of works previously owned by the clients and new acquisitions. “It was all about balance,” says Sultana, who hung modern masters, including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Marc Chagall (a favorite of the wife’s) alongside contemporary works by Yayoi Kusama, George Condo, Sue Williams, Huma Bhabha, and Secundino Hernández.

A de Gournay wall covering clads the primary bedroom, where Sultana custom designed the Savoir bed dressed in Gayle Warwick linens; the bench, low side table, and floor lamp are by Mattia Bonetti, the bedside lamp is by André Dubreuil, and the curtains are made of an Élitis fabric. Photo: Richard Powers

The entire project took about two and a half years, remaining more or less on schedule despite the COVID pandemic. “The result is a happy house,” Sultana says. And perhaps nowhere more so than on the outdoor terraces, where he custom designed chaise longues and gently curving sofas with elegant, nature-inspired details and upholstery in that jaunty Grace Kelly palette of yellow and white. Sweeping vistas out over the Bay of Cannes help with the effect.

“The clients love this place, their child loves it, their friends love it,” says Sultana. “It all just really works.”

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2024 Summer Issue under the headline “Sunny Side Up.” Subscribe to the magazine.

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Francis Sultana Conceives a Resplendent Residence Overlooking the French Riviera

Cover: A vacation retreat and guesthouse near Cannes, France, designed by Francis Sultana.
Photo: Richard Powers


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