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Magazine    March 2001

Those who think that Versailles is one of the world’s most extravagant and lavish estates should peruse The Finest Houses of Paris. The pages of this extraordinary volume are
filled with 220 lush, full-color photographs—quite remarkable since the book contains just 208 pages in all—of the most exclusive residences in what was known in the days of Marcel Proust as “Le Faubourg St. Germain.”

It was in this enchantingly aristocratic quarter of Paris, an area of great 18th-century houses set between elegant courtyards and gardens, that the most affluent literary and social salons thrived and where the rich and privileged once received guests in style. One look at the luxe interiors of the Hotel Lambert and it becomes quite clear that receiving in style remains very much the order of the day. It is in the hotel’s Galerie d’Hercule that author Christiane de Nicolai-Mazery tells us, “an invitation to dine is something that is looked forward to for weeks, discussed for months, and remembered for a lifetime.”

Nicolai-Mazery, who also wrote “The French Chateau; Lifestyle and Tradition,” was given access to houses so exclusive that many owners insisted on anonymity. One who agreed to be named was Baron Guy de Rothschild, who allows us into what is undoubtedly the most beautiful private house in Paris, past or present, the astounding creation of architect Louis Le Vau and the painter Charles Le Brun. Redecorated by the famed Italian designer, Renzo Mongiardino, it contains the baron’s fabled art collection that dates back several centuries.

Each turn of the page provides for more breathtaking images from photographer Jean Bernard Naudin. The magnificent townhouse of designer Hubert de Givenchy is filled with cherished memories of his famous clients, from the Duchess of Windsor to muse Audrey Hepburn, and the palatial apartment of Comte Hubert d’Ornano, founder of the Orlane cosmetics empire, and his aristocratic Polish wife mixes impeccable 18th-century furniture with contemporary art. 

All things considered, the most impossible thing becomes not the immense grandeur of these estates, but resolving at last to set the book down for the evening.  

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The Finest Houses of Paris by Christiane de Nicolai-Mazery and Jean Bernard Naudin (The Vendome Press, $50).
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