Moinard Bétaille Polishes Up the Hotel Cala di Volpe in Sardinia
“Nobody does it better,” sings Carly Simon in her 1977 theme from The Spy Who Loved Me. She means the movie’s protagonist James Bond, of course, but let’s extend her compliment to Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, which, about a decade ago, purchased Hotel Cala di Volpe in Porto Cervo, Italy, the groovy Sardinian beachfront bolt-hole where Bond sheltered in the film. The name translates as Fox Cove Hotel and it remains a hospitality landmark thanks to its cameo, according to Claire Bétaille, co-partner with founder Bruno Moinard of Moinard Bétaille. “We believe it is still in everyone’s mind, because generally we conceive architecture as a story, just like a movie.”
Moinard Bétaille is in the process of completely restyling the hotel with a nod to the jet set. The rustic structure recalls an old fishing village from the nearby Costa Smeralda on the Mediterranean Sea in Northern Sardinia, but dates only to 1963. The inspiration came straight from self-taught Jacques Couëlle, a pioneer of the architectural sculpture movement. Couëlle was hired to build the hotel by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan Ismaili—the same real estate developer and boldface spiritual leader who still endows the coveted Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
“The fantasy was to offer the most prestigious guests on the planet a chance to go barefoot and live a simple life in nature,” Bétaille recalls. Couëlle’s late son, self-described “gypsy architect” Savin Couëlle, built a new wing of guest rooms with the same glam-Flintstones vibe during the region’s ’70’s celebrity heyday. But even as competitors raised the bar for luxury globally, Cala di Volpe’s standards and maintenance lagged. “Step-by-step modifications had destroyed the original spirit of the hotel,” Moinard adds. Air-conditioning was noisy and poorly integrated, and minibars were “just a fridge in the middle of the room.” Bétaille remembers the old guest rooms as “quite square,” with tile bathrooms she found “super strict and rigid.” The two won the chance to renovate the 122-room property in
a design competition. Following careful study, the firm tackled three prototype rooms in an initial phase, presenting them for approval from the management and treasured repeat guests.
What has become a six-year transformation enters its final phase this winter when the hotel will refresh the final dozen rooms after closing for the season. Taken together, the interventions extend the lessons of Couëlle’s sculptural interiors. The redesign loosens up the guest rooms with new radiused stonework, handmade plaster arches, and room dividers composed from kaleidoscopic glass chunks placed by Bétaille personally. New clear-glass shower doors are cut with a curve, limestone floor slabs from a local source have been placed in an eccentric pattern inspired by flagstone versions the interior architects spotted in period snaps of Couëlle houses, and beds have been oriented toward the sea view (previously they had faced wall-mounted TVs). Each monumental headboard is plastered individually in-place, threaded with LEDs and accented using locally woven baskets hung as wall art. Topsy-turvy canopies are composed of juniper branches laced with reeds like a rustic Sardinian hut. “There’s no duplication,”
Moinard notes. “Come back to stay in another room, and you will find it to be in the same spirit but never exactly the same.”
Construction workers who brought in branches too straight were sent back to the pile to find ones more artfully warped and bristling with eccentricity. This is all wildly removed from the typical modern marble and marquetry aesthetic of Moinard and Bétaille, who have had ongoing projects for such legacy luxury clients as Cartier and the Hôtel Plaza Athénée. (They also created the Veuve Clicquot VIP Guesthouse, which graced the cover of Interior Design in June of 2012.) Understandably, both admit that such endless variations—not to mention the artfully warped branches—were impossible to draw. So, the team was fortunate to travel dozens of times to Sardinia, offering feedback and organizing tweaks.
Film stills show how Bond’s set decorators smothered the hotel lobby with lush climbing houseplants—now long gone—though the architecture remains largely intact. Dingy wax got scrubbed from the tile floors, and walls were repainted. On location, Moinard and Bétaille finalized the paint color: a soft seashell white chosen when Sardinian daylight proved yellower than light in Paris. They also completely reimagined the lobby lighting, installing linear LEDs for energy efficiency and to highlight treasured features. These have emerged enhanced and sometimes enlarged.
The lobby also needed taller wooden stools once the bar was elevated, for better visual access to the seascape out the window. Local craftsmen who extended the artisanal patterned copper-and-stucco bar skirt created a completely new check-in desk using the same materials. Quite frankly, they could not have done it better.
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