Vineyards thread across the foothills of Alsace, a region nestled in France’s northeast corner between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River. Villages with timber-framed houses and brasseries nod tenderly to the region’s agricultural past. They are the hidden pearls of Alsace, each telling its history through gastronomy and savoir faire.
Wingen-sur-Moder is one such gem. On the surface, the tiny hamlet on the Moder River may seem like an unexpected place to find one of France’s most exclusive villa hotels and three-star Michelin chefs, Jean-Georges Klein. But in fact, Wingen-sur-Moder is where René-Jules Lalique established his crystal-making factory and home nearly a century ago. It’s also where Silvio Denz, chairman and CEO of Lalique, found the inspiration to transform the provincial villa into a luxury hotel, food and wine destination while paying homage to the iconic crystal brand.
“I wanted to combine French savoir faire, epitomized by Lalique’s craftsmanship, with French savoir vivre,” says Denz, who purchased Lalique holdings, including the factory, the villa and a 20-acre park in 2008.
At first, he pondered turning the villa into a guesthouse to receive the company’s customers and business partners. He knew the 1920 villa “merited thorough restoration, true to the original,” but he soon realized that it was too small for a guesthouse and restaurant. He asked his friend Mario Botta — the Swiss architect of international renown, whose designs have included the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Tinguely Museum in Basel and the Cymbalista Synagogue at Tel Aviv University — to develop a design concept that “embodied the Lalique lifestyle at the highest level,” while ensuring adequate space to accommodate guests and contemporary comforts. He conceived a modern rectangular building for the restaurant, made of glass and borne on columns of red Vosges sandstone, resurrected next to the original villa and linked to the house by an all-glass walkway. The four glazed sides and plant-covered roof blend seamlessly on the property’s six acres of parkland, dotted with the calm of hydrangea, chestnut, birch, beech, oak, spruce and blue cedar trees. Botta saw the juxtaposition between the two buildings as a true expression of architecture, which often seeks to merge the past with present.
“The history of architecture is a history of different periods,” he once told Denz. “Villa René Lalique dates from the early 20th century and has the character of that period. The restaurant will be a contemporary expression, sensitive to present day.”
With this in mind, an ambitious design scheme was developed that encompassed the villa’s six exclusive suites, a lounge, a bar, a breakfast room and an adjacent restaurant with a large kitchen and a vast wine cellar. The exterior was restored exactly as it once appeared, complete with exposed timber and blue shutters, faithfully reproducing the look of the original building.
Denz then sought out the vision of interior designers Lady Tina Green and Pietro Mingarelli for décor. Best known for their interior design in the yachting world, the pair first met Denz in 2010 when they collaborated on the interior for M/Y “Silver Angel” yacht, which was refurbished in Lalique décor. Together, they fashioned the “Lalique Maison” art deco-inspired furniture and decorative accessories collection in 2011, inspired by original René Lalique motifs. In total, they created over 360 pieces of furniture, which are displayed in Lalique’s shops and showrooms worldwide.
“Lalique has always been inspired by art deco,” explains Denz. “Lady Tina Green loves art deco and she loves Lalique, so her style is a perfect fit with ours.”
In the end, the massive three-year renovation of Villa René Lalique produced a true homage to the craftsmen at the Lalique factory and to the century-old heritage of René Lalique himself. His philosophy — “Better to seek beauty than flaunt luxury” — endures in the family home, which was faithfully and authentically preserved. The designers worked closely with Denz to transform six distinct suites, each different and bearing the name of an emblematic René Lalique creation. (The exception is the “Zeila” suite, named after the famous panther of René-Jules Lalique’s granddaughter, Marie-Claude Lalique). The “Hirondelles” suite, adorned in red, was René Lalique’s former study, where he designed many of his iconic pieces, and is perhaps the most representative of French art de vivre, with its corner window and wonderful view over the wide-open spaces of the park. The largest suite, “Masque de Femme” (Mask of a Woman), stretches over two bedrooms and includes a lounge. Inspired by the panel created by René Lalique in 1935, it embodies René-Jules Lalique’s imagination, who was fascinated by women, nature and mythology. Pieces of crystal decorate the bed frames, dressing tables, bedside tables, couches and mirrors in each suite, while period photographs of the villa, René Lalique and the whole family embellish the walls.
“Most of the original pieces from the villa are fragile and are exhibited at the Lalique Museum, located five minutes away from the villa,” says Denz.
The story of René Lalique unfolds again in the lounge, where the crystal motif continues and features Lalique’s signature “Femme Ailée” armchairs by Lalique Maison. This is where guests may enjoy a midafternoon cocktail or their favorite book. The pièce de résistance, however, is the Botta-designed restaurant, headed by Chef Jean-Georges Klein. The 40-person restaurant is a showpiece on multiple levels.
The stage is first set with a majestic black bar, studded with crystal, which includes a hatch opening into the kitchen — where Chef Jean-Georges Klein, previously from three-star Arnsbourg Restaurant in Lorraine, executes his masterful menus with executive chef Jérôme Schilling, sous chef Michel Scheidler and team. The décor in the dining room dazzles at every turn: first with the pendant crystal cascade of three ornate Windfall chandeliers (one of Denz’s favorite pieces), then with the crystal serviette rings encrusted with pieces of the “Masque de Femme” by Lalique and Christofle and finally with the crystal cruets designed by René Lalique in 1924, with the original salt and pepper grinding mechanisms reimagined by Peugeot. It is obvious every detail has been considered at Villa René Lalique — even the glasses and carafes from the 100 Points range, conceived for Lalique in 2012 by the celebrated American wine critic James Suckling, have also been placed on the table.
And yet, the restaurant is not just captivating to the eyes. Like his gorgeous surrounds at Villa René Lalique, Chef Jean-Georges Klein developed a rich and colorful cuisine, full of contrasting looks, tastes and textures. His creative and seasonally inspired cuisine delights the senses, with dishes ranging from fillet of line-caught bass to marbled foie gras with Mirabelle plum and roast pigeon breast, rounded off with potato cappuccino and truffles.
Another space worthy of a visit: the stunning, 60,000-bottle cellar, positioned near the exquisite eternal crystal panels from Lalique and British artist Damien Hirst. The cellar has been lovingly tended by acclaimed head sommelier Romain Iltis, which includes an impressive range of rare vintages wines such as the 1865 Yquem.
Since its ceremonious opening in 2015, Villa René Lalique has enjoyed an enthusiastic embrace. Weekends are booked months in advance. From board meetings organized by partner The Macallan to wine-tasting events hosted by Suckling and celebrations for artists like Hirst, the villa has become a destination for the well-heeled in Alsace, Germany, Switzerland and the world who want to experience the true meaning of French art de vivre and savoir faire. The concept has proved so successful that Denz is planning another collaboration with Lalique and the team of Chef Jean-Georges Klein at the end of 2017: a five-star hotel at Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, “one of the few first growth châteaux in Bordeaux and neighbor to the famous Château d’Yquem,” he reveals.
Denz and his team obviously embody savoir faire themselves, bringing just the right amount of modernity to the old country. It’s this supreme know-how, this French confidence that inspired René-Jules Lalique almost a century ago — and the sophisticated epicures today, who are still enchanted by the great artistic traditions of France’s most treasured hidden pearls.
Suites at Villa René Lalique range from 360 euros to over 1,320 euros per night. For more information, visit villarenelalique.com or email email@example.com.
By Alyson Pitarre
This article originally appeared in the spring 2017 edition of Homes & Estates magazine.