The Monte Carlo spirit: Inside the dream house of Monaco's design royalty
by Sacha Bonsor
Monaco’s design royalty welcome Sacha Bonsor to their dream house
“When I showed Espen the plan for this room," says Sabrina, eyes twinkling, “it was a case of... [sharp intake of breath] ‘Mais non! Darling, you can’t have something like this!’ So I said: ‘You don’t have to come in here. This can be just for me.’”
We are standing in a cavernous, windowless spa, surrounded by soft-coloured hydrangeas in the form of a spectacular, shimmering, floor-to-ceiling mosaic, designed by Sabrina’s own studio and made by Sicis, the Italian company famed for popularising the ancient art. There is a hairdresser’s chair, a massage table, mirrors and cabinets full of face creams and oils. “Of course, my husband now loves to have a massage in here!”
This is the only room that caused any contention in Espen and Sabrina Øino’s makeover of their summer house: a five-bedroom, multi-storey property perched on the side of a steep hill on the French Riviera, 20 minutes outside of Monaco, with some views of the Mediterranean. “On a clear day you can see all the way to Saint-Tropez and across to Corsica.”
Eight years ago, the design couple, dubbed by this magazine as the “king and queen of Monaco” thanks to their extensive number of yacht-owning clients-cum-friends, were on the brink of giving up on their dream. Three years into their search for an old house that they could take apart and put back together again, in order to escape the city for weekends and holidays, and spend time with family and friends, Espen had all but lost hope.
“It was on the last day of our search. Espen said ‘Go on your own, I’m tired of looking; let’s just stay in Monaco.’ It was a July day, and raining like crazy. The house was very ugly but I fell in love with the location and with the potential. And when I saw the lemon tree at the bottom of the garden, I knew that we would have a long table under it and eat there throughout the summer. So I told the agent I would come back the next day with my husband and take it. She looked at me as if to say, ‘This one is crazy, she’ll never come back!’”
Dividing up the significant design task that lay ahead of them was easy. As with their work on yachts, Espen, whose most famous vessels include Dilbar, REV and Ocean Victory, took on the exterior, while Sabrina, who founded the interior design studio Sabrina Monte-Carlo in 1999, took on the interior. “It was a huge challenge for us. When we do a yacht, we do what the client asks, plus we start from scratch. But with a house, we had to work within limits, and also within laws.”
The starting point was the three cypress trees that stand in front of the house. Rather than be irritated by their blocking of the view, Espen created trilogies of floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the house, echoing their silhouette, cleverly creating lines of light and vision around them, and even working the motif into the house’s discreet “logo” – found in various locations, such as on the front door handles.
Their yacht design experience helped enormously with a house that, because it was placed on a steep hill, had small and complicated spaces – as on a boat. The lemon tree at the bottom of the garden that had so enraptured Sabrina on her first visit does indeed now hang over a large table, which is laid every day and easily sits 40-plus for long summer lunches. At one end is a covered, fully kitted-out kitchen, replete with oven, dishwasher, ice maker, cellar, barbecue and crockery. “It is just like a top deck,” says Sabrina. “It has everything in situ, we don’t have to move. We have three kitchens in total, and each one is totally self-sufficient.”
The second one is beside the pool, where Sabrina’s expertise in interior design makes itself apparent (while 60 per cent of her business revolves around supplying superyachts with interiors, it is the remaining 40 per cent of residential work where she exerts her interior design savoir faire). Colour and texture sit alongside each other in a perfectly formed example of Mediterranean chic – here a teak tabletop, salvaged and shipped from a Balinese forest many moons before having anywhere to put it, there some Dolce & Gabbana leopard silk cushions; here a turquoise Paola Lenti pouffe, there a Monsieur Tricot hanging light.
“I love to mix up all my furniture – the old with the new – and to blend textures – silks, linens, velvets.” On Sundays, she says, when “the men want to watch the Grand Prix” on the television, Sabrina and her girlfriends retire to a corner of sand and sunbeds that she calls her beach: “A girl place where we can sit and talk and look at the view. I wanted to have a cool house, very friendly, very easy-going, with lots of places to be and chat and rest.” This sense of fun runs throughout the interiors, where the extensive art collection – Massimo Vitali, Arik Levy and Ran Hwang to name but a few – bought over many decades, sits easily alongside comfortable sofas, Tai Ping carpets and splashes of colour.
Sabrina started with the garden so that by the time she had a house to live in, she had an outdoor space too. “Everyone says it takes seven years for a garden to look old, and it did. So from the inside we have the green from the garden and the blue from the ocean, and that’s enough.”
As we near the end of the afternoon, I wonder whether Sabrina is “done”. Does she feel that her dream house is complete? “Oh la la!” she exclaims, offended at the thought. On her current to-do list: another piece of art for the garden; injecting more “fun” into one of the bedrooms; replacing the fabrics of the cushions beside the pool; and building a “gym in a glass box” above the house with perhaps the best view of any gym in the world. But this is viewed as pleasure rather than work. “This is my favourite place to be. I wish I could stay here all year round,” she says. “The house makes me feel good.” And I have no doubt that her many weekend guests would agree.
All images courtesy of Mark Luscombe-Whyte.