How do you create a vacation home that looks like a dream love house for a family?

In France at the end of 2020, the American series The Queen’s Gambit, a back-wing abandonment, became a hit on Netflix. At the time, Sandra Benhamou and her husband Michael were holed up in their apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, pondering about chess. Why is there no decent chess room in Paris? And in low-key places like the Chess Forum in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, New York, there were chess tables for two and impromptu games that went on late into the night.
So they found a place next to a sushi roll restaurant in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, on rue du Sabot. Benhamou, an interior designer based in Paris, began her work. Ten months later, the place was open for business.
The name of the bar is Blitz Society,” says Benhamou of the 50-seat bar with its carefully condensed food menu. If a person says they play ‘Blitz,’ it means they like to play fast chess.” Blitz Society serves “comme à New York” hot dogs, with plain beef sausage and mustard. And like the Chess Forum, its stone walls are covered with photos of players playing on movie sets, in roadside cafes, and on the street.
I like to tell stories in my designs,” Benhamou says over a cup of tea in his design studio, which opened in 2011 and is now located near the Palais de Bourbon in Paris. I like to create an authentic atmosphere, drawing inspiration from history and the overall cultural context of the place.” Rear Wing Abandonment was a logical choice for Benhamou, 50, who began her career in the film industry, working in film marketing and international distribution for Miramax in New York in the late 1990s. Her husband, Michael, was working in finance, running his own stockbroking firm. In those days, the couple would often walk from their downtown apartment to relax at chess clubs and jazz bars around Washington Square.
Today, Benhamou still sometimes storyboards a project, piecing together a world she can inhabit in her mind’s eye while weighing aesthetic choices: whether it’s the Art Deco stemware for Castelbrac, a gorgeous wallpapered hotel in Brittany, or the hand-thrown ceramics, skirted benches, and stained oak wood of the new concept senior apartment in Levallois-Perret, a northwest suburb of Paris, that she’s been working on for the past few years. Or the new concept senior residence in Levallois-Perret, in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, with its hand-thrown ceramics, skirted benches and stained oak mailboxes. At the Belloy Saint-Germain on the Left Bank, she drew inspiration from Arthur Rimbaud and the emerging circle of poets known as the Zutistes-who transformed the building from the Hôtel des Étrangers into a clubhouse. It was the Zutistes who transformed the building from the Hôtel des Étrangers into a clubhouse.
Two years before founding the studio, Benhamou had already begun looking for a weekend home on the Normandy coast. “We used to enjoy that lifestyle in the Hamptons,” she says of the leisurely summers spent with her husband in Quiog, New York, with their two young children (they now have three).



An estate outside Deauville, with its chocolate-colored beams and fairytale-style towers, looks as if it was designed just for them. And the same is true of Deauville, a seaside resort. Born out of a swamp in the 1860s, Deauville had a train to Paris in 1863 and a Belle Époque casino in 1912. But Deauville’s architectural character didn’t really emerge until the 1920s, when it was inaugurated with nearly a kilometer of wide, boarded-up pedestrian promenade (La Promenade des Planches) and a complex of changing rooms, beauty parlours, stores, steam rooms, laundries, massage parlours and mosaic-tiled fountains, known as the Ponte de la Ville. tiled fountains, the Pompeian Baths, all of which are located near the beach.
Both projects are the work of French architect Charles Adda. And on a nearby hillside, Adda also designed the house that the Benhamou couple had their eye on. It’s an Anglo-Norman four-bedroom home with an upright half-timbered structure that gives it the old-fashioned charm of a black-and-white icebox cake. The heating system and plumbing are rudimentary, but otherwise it achieves a level of Pompeii Baths luxury: checkerboard-patterned chimneys, bedrooms with balconies, and a small raised platform off to the side of the living room for party-goers.
As the third owners of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Benhamou renovated the fireplaces and built a conservatory that is cozy even on harsh winter nights. In the center of the still-intact living room bandstand (where jazz singers likely sang), Raymond Pettibon’s painting of two apes playing in the wind is flanked by a pair of 1960s snowflake-plaster wall sconces, and Benhamou jokes, “We use this place as a step classroom. ”
The home hasn’t been substantially renovated in 50 years, and the Benhamou’s first traveled around the Anglo-Norman Art Deco style, studying the building materials of the time so they could replicate them. If they stumbled upon discarded terra cotta roof tiles or local red bricks, they didn’t hesitate to take the plunge. When it comes to redesigning the interiors, Benhamou notes, “Of course, we had to redo all the windows, electricity and plumbing.” This included an expanded kitchen with a double oven and stainless steel countertops, as well as a lavish bathroom where guests can linger and indulge for hours.
Benjamin Desprez, who with his wife, Hélène Bréhéret, runs a charming Parisian antiques store specializing in chiseled tables, chairs, lockers, and the like made by Jean Touret and other mid-century cabinetmakers, says that, in his opinion, Benhamou “initially took an interest in us for the very reason that we had a natural interest in the house. Desprez says that, in his opinion, Benhamou’s “initial interest in us was due to our focus on natural materials and historic pieces”.
The Jacques Adnet cabinet in the foyer and the Pierre Chapo geometric chaise longue in the living room came from the Desprezes’ antique store. Next to the chaise longue is a grid-patterned table from 1971 by the radical Italian architectural group Superstudio, whose laminate is particularly suited to use as a chessboard. Above the table is a somber tapestry by artist Jack Pierson, embroidered with the phrase “Like Paris in the rain on 2nd Ave.”
Following her instincts, Benhamou vetoed the idea of regularizing the garden, which sits on a Norman hillside. She explains, “I prefer the English style.” Her landscaper, Jean-Luc Bonnet, agreed with her, planting lush roses and hydrangeas around the home and on the private terrace. And this is still Normandy, France, not Kent, U.K. Bonnet gave the English-style garden a touch of Gallic flair by planting rows of linden trees and large swaths of boxwood pruned into neat rectangles-what he calls the “hedging” game. “Even in naturalistic gardens, Bonnet explains, “there has to be a linear, cut-out structure in order for it to work and be readable.”

During the summer just ended, the Benhamou’s replaced the overgrown thatched roof of the wine press room. The press room is actually a cider barn that Michael has been using as a painting studio. Now it will be converted into a guest house. Like all weekend homes, the remodeling seems never-ending. But Benhamou is working on it. Not long ago, she redecorated the fireplace in the living room, borrowing alternate compositions from the French modernist architect Pierre Chareau – the result is a purely narrative 1930s style created by Charles Adda himself. Above the fireplace, she hung a grainy photograph by Richard Prince of a man with a lit cigarette hanging from his hand, which Benhamou says amounts to “a home where we live with all our things. If her efforts in Deauville have proved anything, it’s that the colorful world she’s pieced together here is her own.


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