Restoring the Villa Windsor
In 1986 Mayor Jacques Chirac approached Mohamed with a proposition. Impressed by his fastidiousness in restoring one of France’s national treasures, l’Hotel Ritz in Paris, he wondered if Mohamed would take on another Parisian gem, the Villa Windsor.
Date of building: early 1900s
Location: Bois de Boulogne, France
Timescale: 2 years
King Edward VIII abdicated from the British throne when his government refused to allow his marriage to a double-divorcee, an American called Wallis Simpson. He loved her deeply and gave up the monarchy so they could marry; they moved to France and in 1952 leased a house from the City of Paris in the Bois de Boulogne, where they lived in exile as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. After their deaths, the Villa returned to state ownership and was leased to Mohamed in 1986.
Mohamed was keen to see that the Villa’s restoration was a fitting tribute to the couple’s romantic legacy and employed a number of ways to achieve this. The discovery of some 12, 000 photos found in the Duke’s bathtub, provided him a valuable insight into the couple’s lives and their time at the Villa, as did the accounts he gained from former staff and guests of the Windsors.
To complete the picture, Mohamed traced the very workmen the Windsors had employed to furbish the Villa originally, and asked them to help restore or recreate items they had originally provided for the couple some 40 years before.
Experts were called in to carry out the extensive structural refurbishment. The Villa was underpinned, re-roofed and a suite of basement galleries added to display the Duke and Duchess’s possessions.
The Villa’s décor was truly unique, showcasing both the Duke’s regal heritage and the Duchess’s eye for style. Untouched since the Duchess’s death in 1986, it was a treasure trove of priceless memorabilia that included the swords the Duke had worn to his father’s coronation, a menu card from Buckingham Palace from 1914 annotated by Queen Mary with names of the Prince’s fellow officers who had fallen on the Western Front and a silver basket from Winston Churchill.
Every single item was all carefully labelled and removed to be returned once the major construction activity was complete. Skilled craftsmen repaired or recreated the Villa’s furnishings including a silver-woven carpet depicting ostrich feather plumes which was meticulously restored by the couple’s original carpet makers.
The result was an extensive catalogue of the life and times of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Mayor Jacques Chirac honoured Mohamed with the rare Plaque de Paris, awarded to only 15 other individuals since its institution and he was promoted to the status of Officier of the Legion of Honour by the French president.