Refuge In Cap-Ferrat

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / Feb 12 2017 / 15:30 PM

Ali Behnam Bakhtiar’s luminous house on the French Riviera is a place for art and design as well as friends and family. Rebecca Anne Proctor speaks with Ali and his brother Sassan in Cap-Ferrat

Refuge In Cap-Ferrat
An exterior view of Ali Behnam Bakhtiar’s house in Cap-Ferrat
Refuge In Cap-Ferrat
A Heech sculpture by Parviz Tanavoli
Refuge In Cap-Ferrat
Artwork in the office space includes Rokni Haerizadeh’s We Will Join Hands in Love and Rebuild our Country (left) and Shirin Neshat’s Ibrahim (right) and an ancient Florentine sculpture in the foreground
Refuge In Cap-Ferrat
Sassan next to Parviz Tanavoli’s Heech Lovers

The peninsula of Cap-Ferrat is intoxicating for both its glamour and remarkably unspoilt natural surroundings. The charm of this forested area on the French Riviera is one that has long attracted many of the world’s most coveted names in entertainment, art and fashion. Just a few decades ago you could have easily bumped into the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Somerset Maugham – both of whom had homes here. There’s an old-style Riviera glamour that permeates the air combined with serene views of the sea and the rocky Provençal coastline – an ambiance that transfixes all who visit this heavenly part of France. It is here that designer Ali Behnam Bakhtiar has built his home as well as established a collection of modern and contemporary Iranian and international art with his brother Sassan.

Ali Benham Bakhtiar

Ali Behnam Bakhtiar at home. Photography by Ben Sage

“This has become a sort of hang out place,” says Bakhtiar who is also based in Dubai. “I work a lot and travel a lot and whenever I come back here it is my Zen place. I do yoga every morning and I walk on the beaches and I get a lot of inspiration for my work and for my designs. It is a place that brings me back to my core.” Through its architecture and design Ali has sought to further accentuate the house’s leisurely and peaceful feel. Streams of light pour in from windows located in every area, including the bathrooms, endowing the abode with a constant sense of serenity and lightness. “I wanted openness in the house – I wanted lots of transparency,” he exclaims. “You have views from every corner. I created each of the windows to be like a story from every place. You have views of the mountains, sea, and gardens and you can see these views from any part of the house. From morning till evening you can have these beautiful and mesmerizing views. You literally live in and out of the surrounding garden.”

When Ali bought the house 15 years ago it was in a very different condition from what it is now. Ali changed everything – the landscape, interiors and architecture. “I wanted the house to be multi-layered,” he says. “From each bedroom you can have access to the garden and swimming pool on both floors. Downstairs there are five master bedrooms with bathrooms, showers and dressing tables. Upstairs there is a large open space with a central fireplace and a formal indoor and outdoor dining area. The first floor basically comprises the kitchen and breakfast area.” In redesigning and rebuilding the house Ali also emphasised its wellness aspect. “Now we have the swimming pool and spa area under the terrace of the pool and gym as well as a massage area,” he says. “I have staff that comes in whenever they are needed. I do yoga everyday and when the weather is good I do it out by the pool.” 

Cap-Ferrat house

A view of the pool area and surrounding terraces. Photography by Ben Sage

In addition to being a refuge from the busy outside world, Ali’s house is also a hangout area for friends and family. “When I entertain I bring my guests to the roof terrace and then to the garden and then to the terrace near the living room and we finish with dessert by the pool.” Ali’s architecture and design offers visitors the possibility of several experiences. “It’s like a journey throughout the house and that’s what I wanted to create – a story throughout the whole house,” he adds. Ali’s brother Sassan, who lives in Cap-Ferrat, renowned for his vibrant mixed media artworks incorporating traditional Persian symbolism with contemporary forms and photography, has his art studio just a few blocks away. “I wake up in the morning, I go to the studio, I go to see Ali and Ali comes to see me,” says Sassan who considers Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat very much his hometown and who was even married in Ali’s home. “When my parents are in town the house becomes a place where we all meet together. We are a very close family and it is here that we discuss family and business matters and generally enjoy each other’s company.” As two brothers, Ali and Sassan work together regularly and share with each other their thoughts on art and design – aspects that the house also brings together. “We really took the house back to its grandeur,” adds Sassan. “I often relay my thoughts on contemporary Iranian art to Ali. We discuss artwork and design regularly.”

Nicky Nodjoumi

Nicky Nodjoumi’s Shades of Jubilation. Photography by Ben Sage

Artworks can be found in every corner of the home. From works by Iranian artists Parviz Tanavoli, Farideh Lashai, Nicky Nodjoumi and several works by Sassan as well as works by international names, such as Botero, Armand, and César, the artwork on display offers a constant sense of creativity and inspiration to Ali and his visitors. “We took many works from Farideh Lashai when she was alive,” adds Sassan. One of her works entitled Iran enlightens the space. “We also have a nice Sepehri artwork,” says Sassan. “I love Nicky Nodjoumi – I love the way he goes about his paintings, his expression and his style. There’s also a beautiful Reza Derakshani that we have.”

True to his craft, it is the design of the house that plays a large role in bringing out the character of each artwork. “I wanted the staircase to be an art piece as well,” says Ali of the half moon staircase aligned with artworks. As soon as you enter the home, the staircase is on your right and you are immediately prompted to behold the art that Ali has on display. “I live through my art and I live through my design,” he adds. “It is important to me because this is what I see all the time and I need to see things that inspire me.” Regular visitors will often find a constant rotation of the artworks as well as new ones in the home. Sassan and Ali work together to ensure that there is a constant flow of new works on the walls placed in different areas of the home. “When you move a painting from a living room to a bedroom, it becomes almost like another painting,” says Ali. “You start seeing different things in the painting that before you didn’t see.”

Pool

The Pool. Photography by Ben Sage

Change is ironically a constant in any creative person’s life and work. Ali mentions the variety of projects he is currently working on in the French Riviera (he currently has around 14 taking place there), as well as in the Middle East and also in India where he is currently finalising a property that will be like a palace hotel just outside of Jaipur. In the midst of all of this he is also renovating his Cap-Ferrat house. I joke that we may need to speak again if the house changes too much. He laughs and notes that he is just “adding some interior finishes on the wall as well as some very beautiful antique pieces.” The house itself is a work of art. “It is a work of art in constant process,” he agrees. “I constantly have different visions and inspirations and my design is something that reflects in my life as well.”