THE ART OF LIVING
AS A SIMPLE FISHERMAN

From left to right, in the foreground, Mireille Rougeot, Jean Badovici, Robert Rebutato, Le Corbusier, Yvonne Le Corbusier on the terrace of the Étoile de Mer – In the background, Thomas Rebutato © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP – Photographer unknown

With its panoramic terrace overlooking the sea, its trellis, reed screening, bar and terraced garden, the Etoile de Mer is a perfect example of the art of living of the simple fisherman’s cottage on the Mediterranean.

 

It was initially to build a hut in which to store his fishing tackle and picnic equipment for his family that Thomas Rebutato, a plumber from Nice, bought a plot of land on the terraced hillside next to Villa E-1027, below the customs officers’ footpath along the railway line. In 1949, he gave up his plumbing business and converted the hut into a snack bar and later a restaurant. Le Corbusier, who was one of his first customers, quickly became a regular visitor to the establishment where he painted several murals that were much appreciated by the owner. They decorate the façade and the bedroom.

Le Corbusier, Thomas Rebutato and, behind him, a painting by Le Corbusier on the restaurant wall © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP - Photographe Willy Boesiger
Worth contemplating on the terrace of the Etoile de Mer: “At the Etoile de Mer friendship reigns” , 1950. Thomas Rebutato and the sea-urchin fisher as represented by Le Corbusier © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP – Photo by Manuel Bougot

 

THE MINIMALIST
DWELLING

The original design of the Etoile de Mer is testimony of what a minimalist dwelling by the sea could be.

Built by Thomas Rebutato on the basis of plans by F. Pietra, of Nice, the original Etoile de Mer comprises a main room with kitchenette, WC and a bedroom. On the sea side, the French windows open out on to a wide terrace  on which the bedroom window also looks out. Between the rear wall and the railway embankment, access is by a wooden door and a passageway. On the lower terrace, a wooden hut houses a shower.

This lightweight prefabricated construction with a frame consisting of wooden beams rests on concrete supporting blocks. The walls are made of fibre-cement panels and the sloping corrugated fibre-cement roof rests on wooden joists. The ceilings are made of hardboard sheets and the flooring is wooden parquet.

When he built his cabin, Thomas Rebutato originally intended to build another five nearby which he would have sold after setting up a small estate on his land.

 

EXPANSION
AND EMBELLISHMENT

 

Thomas Rebutato thus enlarged and embellished his house, installing a kitchen at the rear and cementing the staircase in order to create a new entrance at its foot. Once the main room had been converted into a bar, he decorated the counter and the walls with his paintings and the terrace wall with one by Le Corbusier.

Outside, all of the spaces go to make a real garden, in which Thomas’s taste for art brut expressed itself in borders formed of broken bottles, low walls and plant containers made of brick fragments and pebbles picked up on the beach. The terrace and arbour have now become a large summer dining area.

A WELL-HIDDEN
SAFE

Yvonne, Le Corbusier’s wife, was married to one of the world’s most famous architects. And she had a most unusual safe!

As Le Corbusier took all his meals at the Etoile de Mer, there was a communicating door between the bedroom of the Etoile de Mer and the Cabanon. Hidden in the thick panel of this door there was a tiny safe where his wife kept her jewellery.

Decorated by a painting by Le Corbusier, the partition and door separating the Rebutatos’ bedroom from the architect’s Cabanon © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP - Photo by Manuel Bougot

 

The paintings
and drawings

Detail of a painting by Thomas Rebutato in the bar of the Etoile de Mer © Consorts Rebutato – Photo by Manuel Bougot

The paintings by Le Corbusier on the wall of the terrace and in the bedroom continue to be maintained and restored as do those of Thomas Rebutato in the bar.

Both in Eileen Gray’s villa and on the walls of the Etoile de Mer and his Cabanon, the murals painted by Le Corbusier reveal a man truly inspired by the Mediterranean.

SEE THE BOOK “LE CORBUSIER, PEINTRE A CAP-MARTIN”

Thomas Rebutato
and his beautiful adventure

Thomas Rebutato © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP – Photo by René Maestri

Thomas, Egildo Rebutato, better known as “Robert”, was born in San Remo on 13 June 1907, and spent his childhood years in Beausoleil, a village close to the Principality of Monaco. A plumber and roofer by trade, he set up his own business in Nice in 1940. Of a rebellious nature, he found it no more than natural to join a group of Resistance fighters in the town until it was liberated on 27 August 1944. After the war, once the beaches became accessible again, he would take his wife Marguerite and their children Monique and Robert on summer Sundays to fish for sea-urchins and enjoy bathing on Buse beach at Roquebrune Cap-Martin.

THE ETOILE DE MER
A SIMPLE FISHERMAN’S THAT BECAME A RESTAURANT

Thomas Rebutato dreams of buying a plot of land close to this beach and building a fisherman’s cabin in which to store his fishing tackle and picnic equipment.
 
An opportunity arose in 1947, in the form of a 1000 m² plot next to the modern “white villa” belonging to the Parisian architect, Jean Badovici. On this plot which slopes down to the rocks below the customs officers’ path, Thomas Rebutato then has the idea of building a small development of six 25 to 30 m² cabins, five of which he would sell,  keeping one for himself. He contacts an architect in Nice and a prototype is built in 1948-49.
 
In 1949,he decides to wind up his business and invest in his cabin prototype, converting it into a restaurant. The ‘Etoile de Mer - Chez Robert’ was born.
 

On opening day Thomas Rebutato, aided by his 12-year-old son Robert, sees his first customer arrive. A guest of Jean Badovici, he has come to negotiate board for about ten persons for a week. That man was none other than Le Corbusier who was working with his team in E1027 on his Bogota city project..

In August 1950, he painted, on a wooden panel, a portrait of Thomas in a cap and cook’s apron, opposite André, the sea-urchin fisher. “At the Etoile de Mer friendship reigns” was to be the title of the work which he gave his friend, who hung it up on the wall of the bar-restaurant. 

In July 1952, Le Corbusier installed his Cabanon on the adjacent plot; it had been prefabricated in Corsica by the joinery firm Barberis. After securing the Rebutatos’ consent to its being placed right up against the Etoile de Mer, the architect installed a communicating door between the two buildings.

Once the Cabanon had been completed, Le Corbusier painted a mural at the entrance. On the other side of the wall in which the communicating door had been installed between the Cabanon and the Etoile de Mer, another of his paintings depicts the Rebutato family. Le Corbusier offered to buy from Robert the plot on which he had built the Cabanon in exchange for the construction of 5 holiday cottages on one of the pétanque pitches on the Rebutatos’ land. These are spartan but functional dwelling units whose design was based on the same principles as the Cabanon. They were erected on stilts, by Barberis, during the summer of 1957. The notarial transfer-of property-act was signed in January 1961.

From 1957 to 1970, Thomas and Marguerite used the cottages as accommodation for holidaymakers

Thomas died in February 1971, at the age of 63, leaving Marguerite to carry on running the business on her own. The restaurant closed down but the Etoile de Mer continued to provide furnished accommodation in the holiday cottages, allowing guests to use the kitchens that Thomas had installed under the stilts, as well as ablution facilities. The bar remained open, selling drinks and sandwiches, until Marguerite died in 1987.
 
Thomas Rebutato at the bar of the Etoile de Mer, decorated by his paintings, which pay tribute to sea creatures © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP - Photo by René Maestri

 

Restoration

Impression of Le Corbusier’s hand on the wall of the Etoile de Mer © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP – Photo by Guillemette Gardette

A restoration programme is due to begin shortly on the Etoile de Mer.

The mural on the façade which accompanies the painting entitled “At the Etoile de mer friendship reigns” was painted by Le Corbusier as soon as the picture was hung up on the terrace in August 1949. A man in black sits à la Matisse next to a recumbent woman; the footprints are those of Le Corbusier and Thomas Rebutato.

This painting, having been battered by the elements – sun, rain, salt-laden winds - has already been restored several times. Picture restorer Marie-Odile Hubert is about to carry out a further restoration job.

The gardener’s
little paradise

View over the gardens from the terrace of the Etoile de Mer © Photo by Médiéval-AFDP

With its native Mediterranean vegetation, the garden of the Etoile de Mer is also representative of art brut. In this gardener’s paradise, which constitutes a perfectly coherent whole, the shade and the sun fashion contrasting moods. The trellis and the reed screening which shelter the terrace-promontory, the flight of concrete steps, the inclusion of coloured pottery fragments and pebbles, the collection of succulents are a perfect illustration of the seaside cottage dweller's art. The result is a garden full of surprises.

Magda and Robert Rebutato kept the terraces and plants well maintained. They introduced a few new plants, with good results and in line with horticultural tradition. A few of these plants have matured but it is vital to preserve this dream-like world in its original state and merely plant a few extra flowers here and there.

The terraced garden of the Etoile de Mer and the Holiday Cottages, accessible by a narrow flight of concrete steps, is planted with thyme and rosemary, cacti and succulents, palms and olive trees. The paths are embellished with borders made of bottle fragments laid by Thomas Rebutato. Low walls and plant containers made of brick fragments and pebbles picked up on the beach reveal his taste for art brut.

 

Cabins An idea born
of a friendship

Le Corbusier’s holiday cottages, south wall © Fondation Le Corbusier / ADAGP - Photographe Manuel Bougot

In 1956, in exchange for the plot of land on which he erected the Cabanon, Le Corbusier built five holiday cabins for Thomas Rebutato, conceived as a prototype of holiday living. The interior of the cabins is designed on some of the same principles as the Cabanon.

Visits by prior booking only.

BOOKING IS COMPULSORY FOR ALL VISITORS

Private individuals may book directly on line: https://capmoderne.monuments-nationaux.fr/

Or by par e-mail to contact@capmoderne.com 
For administrative reasons and because the number of visitors is strictly limited, priority will be given to bookings made on line.
Group bookings may be made by e-mail to  contact@capmoderne.com 

Built on stilts by the joinery firm of  Charles Barberis, the Holiday Cabins illustrate Le Corbusier’s research on an economic modular holiday home suitable for mass seaside tourism. Each of them can accommodate two persons in an 8 m² space, and a window in the form of a “T” on its side, inspired by the modern concept of the elongated window, frames the seascape.

Before designing the Cabanon, Le Corbusier had devised the holiday home projects ROB and ROQ, one of them for his friend, Thomas Rebutato.

The ROB (for Robert) project was designed for Cap Martin in collaboration with his friend Thomas Rebutato (who preferred to be called Robert). These “Holiday Cabins”, which were originally intended to be built on the rocks below the Etoile de Mer, were an application of the ”226 x 226 x 226” patent derived from the Modulor. The idea was to create a honeycomb-structured living space made of steel sections, offering generous freedom of space for the dwelling. Study on the ROB project continued until 1953 when a storm showed how vulnerable the site was. Neither of the two projects was implemented but the Holiday Cabins, consisting of a series of five rooms for holidaymakers, are the outcome of continued research along similar lines.

SEE “THE CABANON”

BIOGRAPHY OF LE CORBUSIER

FROM RESTAURANT
TO HOLIDAY ACCOMODATION

The Holiday Cabins enabled Thomas and Marguerite Rebutato to add another dimension to their Etoile de Mer restaurant business.

From 1957 on Thomas Rebutato and his wife Marguerite were able to provide lodging as well as board for holidaymakers attracted by the prospect of a care-free summer by the seaside.

Quite apart from their architectural value, these cabins enabled Thomas Rebutato to profit from his land just as he had dreamt of doing a few years earlier. When he built his prototype cabin for the Etoile de Mer, on the basis of plans drawn up by the architect F. Pietra from Nice, he had at first intended to build and sell another five cabins alongside it as part of a small estate. Shortly after Le Corbusier died, he built three small kitchens under the cabins’ pilotis. After her husband died in 1971, Marguerite Rebutato kept the sandwich bar and continued to provide accommodation for holidaymakers in these furnished rooms until 1984.

FROM RESTAURANT
TO HOLIDAY ACCOMODATION

unités de camping - photo Manuel Bougot

The Holiday Cabins enabled Thomas and Marguerite Rebutato to add another dimension to their Etoile de Mer restaurant business.

 

From 1957 on Thomas Rebutato and his wife Marguerite were able to provide lodging as well as board for holidaymakers attracted by the prospect of a care-free summer by the seaside.

Quite apart from their architectural value, these cabins enabled Thomas Rebutato to profit from his land just as he had dreamt of doing a few years earlier. When he built his prototype cabin for the Etoile de Mer, on the basis of plans drawn up by the architect F. Pietra from Nice, he had at first intended to build and sell another five cabins alongside it as part of a small estate. Shortly after Le Corbusier died, he built three small kitchens under the cabins’ pilotis. After her husband died in 1971, Marguerite Rebutato kept the bar and continued to provide accommodation for holidaymakers in these furnished rooms until 1984.