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You can almost imagine living in La Villa Cavrois at Croix, a beautiful and functional property with an understated yet elegant and sophisticated interior. The materials used in this masterpiece – the work of the celebrated French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens –will fascinate you. The villa’s colours, dimensions and countless reflections were custom-built in the last century for a visionary captain of the textile industry. The park and its long water mirror add to the serenity of the property, providing a place of peace and harmony.
The bold influence of Art Deco showcased at its best
Other examples of Art Deco buildings include the post office, with its interlacing patterns of red bricks and Cubist-influenced mosaics, the old cinema Le Carillon, and the stained-glass windows of the two chapels that make up the basilica – tumbling roses on one and autumnal colours on the other. The music school, the local council rooms and the train station – with its buffet adorned with ornate flowers– provide more examples of Saint-Quentin’s splendid Art Deco heritage. It’s enough to have you dancing the Charleston in the main square!
If you arrive in the mining basin via the train station in Lens, you’ll be immediately struck by the Art Deco features that quickly dispel any usual clichés about mining areas. In the station’s welcome hall, mosaics evoke the region’s mining heritage, while the station’s Art Deco exterior tricks you into thinking a steam locomotive may pull in any minute. In Bruay-la-Buissière, a short distance from Lens, you’ll love the large outdoor swimming pool designed in the form of an ocean liner, and the changing rooms will give you the feeling of being on a Transatlantic crossing! The building is one of the few remaining examples of pools from this era still open to the public; likewise, the nearby Stade-Parc. These two facilities were built for the use of the area’s miners in 1936. The theme continues in Béthune, where the town hall, houses, the main square and the Saint-Vaast church all echo a bygone era – the town lives and breathes Art Deco.
The region’s Art Deco design culminates in Lille at the top of the 341-foot (104-metre) belfry, which is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s from the bottom of the belfry that you can best appreciate the vertical lines and orange-red bricks of the structure. To extend the charm of your Art Deco walk, look for the façade of l’Huîtrière (The Oyster Place), a now-closed restaurant that was once a local institution.The building – like a publicity poster for the dishes it served up –is awash with Art Deco imprints of fish and crustaceans. Still in the old town, the patisserie Meert is a feast for both the eyes and taste buds. Enter this shrine to Art Deco with its gilding, vaulted ceilings and wrought iron balconies to taste Meert’s famous vanilla waffle. Then it’s off to Lambersart, just to the north-west of the city centre, where l’avenue de l’Hippodrome is a procession of Art Deco delights starting at No.309. You’ll be amazed to discover a small replica of Villa Cavrois, the large modernist mansion built in Croix in 1932. Next, it’s on to Roubaix, and La Piscine, a museum of art and industry that’s housed in the old swimming pool. Here, a gorgeous sun-like stained glass window radiates an incomparable warming light onto the pool and marine decorations that surround it.
The town hall in Cambrai was the subject of a controversy between those who wanted to rebuild it in pre-war architectural style and those who wanted to take a much more modern approach. It’s fair to say the modernists won the argument! One of the region’s last Art Deco buildings resulted in the style being adopted throughout the town, from the tree-lined Saint-Martin mall near the main square to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry building, where a mosaic of the sun illuminates the floor. Even the theatre’s playhouse is surrounded by dramatic galleries and topped with a cupola, ornately decorated with muses, horns of plenty and floral friezes. Get ready to be transported back in time!
Imagination and inventiveness are the hallmarks of Lafitte, the architect who was the driving force behind the reconstruction work of La Salle Sthrau. The former chapel at the Jesuit college in Maubeuge was destroyed in 1914, but has since evolved into a simply sublime building. Be dazzled as you pass through an austere entrance to be greeted by vivid colours, ironwork, glass and ceramic decorations that run the length of its two levels. A monumental staircase links a music hall on the ground floor to an upper floor ballroom – complete with glass ceiling. This is one step back in time to the Roaring Twenties that you won’t forget in a hurry!
Dunkirk’s ‘Excentric’ quarter was the brainchild of the architect Francois Reynaert, who designed and built 35 houses in the Rosendaël area of the city from 1929 – each house more original and modernist than the next. An entrepreneurial designer and former mason, Reynaert was a gold medallist at the InternationalExhibitionof ModernDecorativeand IndustrialArts in Paris 1925. He had boundless imagination, devising the motto “Everything is material for everyone”. Some of the houses are now listed as historical monuments of France. They make for an amusing stroll, taking in their fun names and an architecture that is quirky but full of charm; the fresh air rolling in from the North Sea is an added bonus.
The “Lourdes du Nord”, as Pope Leon XIII called it, was topped with a Golden Virgin 230 feet (70 metres) above the ground when it was built between 1885 and 1895. The statue proved a beacon of light and hope. After shelling in 1915 destroyed the basilica during World War I, the statue remained precariously mounted atop the remnants of the building. The image became famous and was printed on postcards, giving rise to the legend that “When the Virgin of Albert falls, the war will end.” (The statue finally fell during the closing weeks of the war in 1918). The basilica was faithfully restored to its former glory after the war thanks to international funding. Nowadays, it’s an understatement to say that it stands out in a town awash with Art Deco architecture. The height and exuberance of the décor risks giving you vertigo: frescoes, stained glass, mosaics, marble altars and painted ceilings – be impressed by artistic debauchery, scarcely visible details and symbolic instructions. You won’t know where to look!
A visit here is like a trip back in time to the years between the Belle Époque and the Roaring Twenties. The arrival of the railway line linking Paris to Le Tréport allowed wealthy Parisian families to indulge in trips to the seaside. Then came an explosion in the construction of luxury buildings, all constructed with open balconies and bow windows. They were built in a medley of styles, from Anglo-Norman and Flemish to Moorish and Renaissance. Each villa is different and tells its own story. Position yourself on l’esplanade du Général Leclerc with your back to the sea as the sun sets over the blushing facades – it’s a perfect picture. When you study these superb homes more closely, you’ll discover the ornate details, including ceramic gems, exceptional mosaic friezes and intricate wrought iron balconies. They are both unique and romantic!