A Royal Past
LIVE LIKE A DUKE AND DUCHESS
A History of Le Moulin de la Tuilerie
Local sources point to the existence of a mill here since before 1500, although Le Moulin (the main building) can be traced back to 1734, evidenced by the dated sundial above the front entrance. The motto on the sundial, Lex His Horis Una Tibi, means ‘The rule of this sundial is the only one you need.’
The mill was always known as the Moulin Aubert, named after its first owner Monsieur Aubert, Until renamed Le Moulin de la Tuilerie by the Duchess of Windsor. The mill probably owes its current form to one Jean Guillery, who revived it around 1734. Guillery practised a specialised form of milling to extract the maximum amount of flour from the bran from the first milling. There was a working mill on the site until 1908.
At some point after the Great War the Moulin Aubert was bought by the artist and illustrator, Adrien Étienne (1885-1961) who became known as Drian. In the days before fashion photography Drian became the go to illustrator of women’s fashions for magazines in the 1920s and 30s but was also an accomplished painter. Drian used the house as a weekend retreat from Paris, and it became a salon where many famous artists would come and paint and stay. These included Picasso and Fernand Leger. In the 1930s, he met Edward, then Prince of Wales, and also painted a portrait of his then mistress, Wallis Simpson. After the 2nd World War the Windsors returned to France from the Bahamas and lived in a Villa in the Bois de Boulogne, Chateau Le Bois. This was leased to them by the city of Paris, but the Duke was craving a country estate of their own. They came to an agreement with Drian and they took a year long lease of the site in 1951. The Duke became so enamoured with the place that in 1952 they bought it from Drian.
After buying the site the Windsors set about renovating the estate and gardens. Rumoured to have cost 50,000 Francs and taking two years to complete. As this was to be a weekend retreat modelled on the great English Country House it was vital to create guest accommodation and staff quarters for all their friends to come and stay. For this they converted all the outbuildings. Le Pigeonnier became an outside dining room or Logere with a kitchen, attached to this a large barn was converted into the Orangery (which is really a large Salon) La Maison des Amis and La Célibataire became guest rooms and the stables became further bedrooms and study. The Maison de la Gardien became the house-keepers quarters. Now known as the Lodge. The Moulin itself was used for dining and dancing, with the Duke and Duchess having separate wings for sleeping and bathing and the Orangery became a huge sitting room housing the Dukes military collection.
The Duchess renamed the site Le Moulin de la Tuilerie after the group of nearby houses and oversaw the internal works under the guidance of Stéphane Boudin, a well known interior designer who went on to do the White House for the Kennedys in Washington D.C. The gardens were designed by Russel Page, the great English garden designer of the post war period. The general configuration of the site still survives today and there are glimpses of the original decoration to be found (Le Pigeonnier has Boudin’s original mosaic wall decoration in the sitting room). Within the gardens traces of Page’s work can still be found, the cascades coming from the hill behind the stream (La Mérantaise), the faux mill races behind the stables and through the croquet lawn and the Dukes own walled garden behind the Lodge.
Almost every weekend when they were resident in Paris, the couple would make the expedition out to Gif, he in his Chevrolet, she in a blue Cadillac, preceded by their staff in a Citroën a day earlier to get everything ready. Joining them most weekends would be a glittering guest list of nobility and celebrities of the day. The Windsors were leading lights of international café society, and entertained the glitterati of the 1950s and 60s here, including Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton, and Cecil Beaton
It was to be the only house the Windsors ever actually owned.
Following the Duchess selling up in 1972 it was then owned successively by a Swiss business man and a Lebanese doctor. The present owner Mr Roland Duce acquired the estate in 2005. Following 20 plus years of being empty he embarked upon its first major restoration since the Windors in 1952. This involved a great deal of vegetation being removed from everywhere, ivy had spread into every room in every building! All the electrics where renewed and the ancient plumbing was brought up to date. Gradually the estate was converted to allow it to be used once more as guest accommodation. The latest areas to be restored are the Stables and Le Pigeonnier.
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