It was the perfect
backdrop to a ’70s-era James Bond movie with a landscape of exotic locations, a beautiful Russian spy, a steel-toothed villain, and a supercar that turned into a submarine. And it was an entirely authentic role, too – Cala di Volpe’s star turn in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me reflected this
Sardinian hotel’s reputation as a legendary hotspot, adored by the likes of Prince
Karim Aga Khan and fellow members of the international jet set.
The work of celebrated French architect Jacques Couëlle, whose free-form architecture is known for its organic forms and textures that blur the lines between nature, architecture and sculptural art, the hotel was first opened in 1963, and stood as a stark contrast to the angular modernism of the time. Entrusted with restoring this significant property in 2018 were Bruno Moinard and Claire Bétaille of interior design agency Moinard-Bétaille – a four-year project not without challenges and pressures. How does one do a restoration that’s sensitive to an architectural work of art, yet create something that meets the demands of the modern guest?
For Moinard-Bétaille, keeping the soul of the hotel intact was critical. And that meant adapting to the empire of materials that reign supreme at Cala di Volpe: powerfully sculpted plaster, roughly textured wood, thick colourful glass, warm terracotta, textured fabrics, and custom-designed furniture. “Hotels have a soul, each its own,” observes Bruno, “and each has its own way of being inhabited. Each suite is distinctive, each bar is a piece of civilisation, each lobby is an introduction to a unique experience. Each hotel is a theatre, with its sets, its characters, its secrets – and sometimes its intrigues.”
The renovation started with the lobby, corridors, rooms and suites, and finished with the restaurants, terraces and outdoor spaces. “Everything must change for everything to remain the same,” says Claire, quoting a character from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s 1958 novel Le Guépard (The Leopard ). “It was this idea that was our guide, and our ambition was simple: to remain faithful to Jacques Couëlle’s creativity, and to show that he is more modern than ever.”
To this end, the spectacular hotel lobby’s structural elements – the vaults, arcades, beams and massive pillars – were all faithfully restored, and were crucial to retaining Cala di Volpe’s mood and visual rhythm. As a counterpoint, the lighting was revised for more softness during the day and warmth in the evening, and a full range of furniture was created.
Another big focus for Moinard-Bétaille was the hotel’s corridors – key elements in a guest’s experience of any hotel as they move through it. The openings and windows were all covered with wooden bars, softening the light and creating tree-like shadows that fall across striped carpets concealing a scattering of little foxes – a mischievous reminder of the hotel’s name. (Cala di Volpe means “Cove of the Fox”.)
Given Couëlle’s organic, cave-like style, it’s no surprise that the rooms are all unique in shape, with rounded corners and half-partitions creating soft, intimate and peaceful spaces. Shiny, dark juniper wood creates a beautiful contrast against the matte white masonry, while large beds topped by a canopy of reeds enjoy sea views. Moinard-Bétaille also had specific furniture designed – a pebble-like rounded chest of drawers in solid walnut with bronze feet; glass-topped bronze side tables cast in the shape of seaweed; console desks fashioned in stone; and tables in solid local woods.
“We wanted to give this magical place back its lustre, but also its function in today’s world,” says
Bruno. “Year after year, as the work progressed, we moulded Cala di Volpe into a coherent hotel concept, speaking a single language, writing a single story.”
The lasting impression of this unique and important piece of architecture is that nothing has really changed in appearance – yet everything has been refreshed, renovated and rearranged. Mission accomplished, as James would say…
“Our ambition was simple: to remain faithful to JACQUES COUËLLE’s creativity, and to show that he is more modern than ever.” Designer Claire Bétaille