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The Taste of Victor Hugo 

“I missed my vocation, said the Master of Contemplations, I was born to be a decorator”!

Hauteville House, an Ode to the flea market!

     Among all the residences of the poet, Hauteville House is  the most emblematic of his decorative taste.            Entirely furnished by him, it remains the house-work which Charles Hugo said was intended to           "education of the mind through living". For her, Hugo became foreman, led a team of painters and carpenters. to adorn mirror frames with flowers, butterflies and birds, bringing color into his work and creating a new register of images.And like his literary work Hugo will make his house a masterpiece.

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October 31, 1855  Victor Hugo leaves Jersey, second place of exile to go to an island still unknown  but which would become a land of asylum until 1870, then a land of vacation until 1878. The island of Guernsey, “island of fog”, as Madame Hugo nicknamed it.  


On a stormy day, he embarked on a frail skiff with a trunk containing important manuscripts not yet finished. There are among others the Contemplations, a part of Les Miserables, and a few other epics…


After spending a few days at the hotel, the Hugo family joined him and moved to 20 rue de Hauteville, then to a Georgian building, almost empty and, it was said, somewhat “haunted”. We camp, we rent second-hand furniture, whatever, the house is beautiful with the sea at its feet. From the windows, we admire the other islands of the Channel, the comings and goings of the boats. In the small garden, you can relax under the trellises and taste the grapes. Poor but happy. And it was then that the publication of  Contemplation  (April 1856) will change everything.  With success comes fortune. Victor Hugo buys the house, it will be "Hauteville House".  

He wrote to Georges Sand: “I have just bought a hovel here, with the first two editions of Contemplations. I'm going to build it up a bit and complete it…” And here he is, becoming an architect, cabinetmaker, upholsterer, sculptor, draftsman.

For 10 years he assiduously frequented all the flea markets on the island, the farms, the stalls and he transformed this rather ordinary-looking Georgian house into a  reliquary of carved wood, glass and tapestries, pearls and gold with dazzling reflections.               The whole, seen from our 21st century, somewhat resembling Ali Baba's cave and even  sometimes bordering on "the gothic-medieval over-overload!"

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Victore Hugo's bedroom and office
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the library made of cupboards bought in flea markets 

Indeed Hauteville House is unique in everything. The poet brings together German Gothic and French Gothic in a single ensemble with his sculpted oak virgins, the Chinese dragons, the delicate tapestry of Louis XV's mistress,  the hangings, the brocades, the chandeliers of Venice, the long gilded mirrors of the Age of Enlightenment. He seems to have a passion for mirrors, the house has 56 of them! It will take ten years to accomplish this prodigious work.

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the big red living room
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the dining room and its fireplace in Delft tiles "salvaged for almost nothing" during a sale of a
Hôtel de la ville and forming H like Hauteville, House and Hugo.

The decorative style of Victor Hugo often works on the oxymoron, or the antithesis: "the old Chinese Holland". He likes to combine Chinese and Gothic elements, Flemish tapestries and Turkish rugs, Delft tiles and Japanese porcelain. He composes his ceilings by framing Aubusson hangings with sculpted oak borders. He builds the fireplaces – emblems of the home par excellence – like veritable cathedrals. He integrates objects – bead tapestries, torch-bearing slaves, antique furniture and uses entire porcelain services as a decorative material. He invents his own furniture by reassembling the dismembered elements of old chests or cupboards.

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The small white living room, room for rest and meditation
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the "look-out", veranda on the roof, room for rest and writing
the "look-out", veranda placed on the roof, room for rest and writing, with its thick pile of faience to heat the winter and protect against humidity
Tiered sofas, covered with Turkish rugs, hide the slope of the roof, a basement and a tiled stove, a few mirrors, make up all the furnishings. In 1864, Hugo added a frieze and engraved and painted panels.
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Chez Juliette Drouette, tableware and porcelain service on the wall in a Chinese decor.

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Victor Hugo continued the development of the top floor between 1861 and 1862 by having an entirely glazed room built on the roof which he called the look-out, in the extension of his study which then became the antechamber. The look-out has become the emblem of the house, the place par excellence for writing. Facing the sea, on removable tablets Hugo will write some of his masterpieces: The Workers of the Sea, The Man Who Laughs, Theater in Freedom.

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Hauteville House seen from the garden


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