Conservation & Preservation

Billionaire François Pinault gives €3m for refurbishment of Victor Hugo’s Guernsey home

Hauteville House revamp includes overhaul of furniture and facades overseen by the Les Misérables creator

Victor Hugo’s former residence, Hauteville House, on the isle of Guernsey

The French luxury goods billionaire François Pinault has contributed €3m towards restoring Victor Hugo’s former residence, Hauteville House, on the isle of Guernsey. The writer, known for masterpieces such as Les Misérables, was forced into exile after opposing the Second Empire of Napoleon III, retreating to the Channel Island where he lived from 1856 to 1870.

The total cost of the renovations is €3.6m; other funders include Paris Musées and the Paris-based organisation, Heritage Foundation, which raised €45,000 through a crowdfunding programme. “This residence reflects his personality, his genius and his work. It is itself a work of art,” Pinault says.

The restoration of the building, located above St Peter Port, will begin later this month and is due to last a year, with the public re-opening scheduled for April 2019. “The renovation programme focuses on protecting the building from water and wind to ensure better conservation for the works and décor that will be restored. Despite regular maintenance and other work done over the last fifty years, the building is fragile,” a project statement says.

The house was given to the City of Paris in 1927 by Hugo’s descendants including his granddaughter Jeanne; Paris Musées manages the property. In a deal struck with the city in 2016, Pinault is due to open a new museum in the former stock exchange (Bourse de Commerce) next year.

The extensive overhaul of Hugo’s house involves restoring the furniture—including a Boulle table and wing chairs—in the red salon reception room and cleaning the twisted columns in the oak gallery located on the second floor.

An adjoining wood-framed extension known as the workshop-solarium, built in 1858 by Hugo, will also be refurbished. Modern construction techniques will be used to resolve the issue of the “overall solidity of the edifice and to protect it over the long term from leaks and humidity”, say the conservators.

A glass-covered attic space called the Look-out, where Hugo wrote works such as The Legend of the Ages poetry series, needs to be made watertight. The décor in the Look-out also needs to be restored to its original visual identity based on period photographs, the conservators add.