Robert Rebutato – the apprentice of Le Corbusier

The narrow track alongside the railway at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is becoming well worn. It was always busy, being patrolled by customs officers in the late 19th who were on the lookout for smugglers. Below the grand houses of the area, in one of which the Empress Eugenie lived, there were little shacks used by fisherman and others. It was here that Eileen Gray built a house for her boyfriend Jean Badovici.

E1027 balcony

E1027 balcony

When finished in 1929 – and shown off in Badovici’s own magazine, L’Architecture Vivante – it was a sensation. Badovici continued to use it after his relationship with Gray ended and it was here that he entertained his friends Le Corbusier and his wife Yvonne. They loved the setting so much that in 1951 Le Corbusier built a very modest holiday cabin as a present for Yvonne.  Next to it was a snack bar, the Ėtoile de Mer (starfish), which had been opened by a plumber from Nice, Thomas Rebutato. He had always wanted to provide simple food – pasta, fresh fish and salads – for the holidaymakers and fishermen who visited this hidden-away part of the Cote d’Azur. Le Corbusier and Yvonne enjoyed a warm friendship with Thomas and his wife, Marguerite, and their two children, Robert and Monique. When young Robert decided that he would become an architect, Le Corbusier guided him through his training and took him under his wing in Paris.

I love the whole story of that friendship. Le Corbusier designed a little terrace of holiday cabins for Thomas in exchange for the land to build his own holiday house. When I first visited it, we were also allowed into the Ėtoile de Mer but couldn’t take photographs of the interior as it was still used by the Rebutato family. Next door,  E-1027 was all boarded up, with signs promising that it would soon be renovated.

the holiday cabins next to  the Etoile de Mer

the holiday cabins next to the Etoile de Mer

Now, of course, E-1027 is the jewel in the crown of this magical corner, open to tours. The station at Cabbé houses a proper visitor centre and the whole enclave – E-1027, the cabanon, l’Ėtoile de Mer – is open, operating under the collective term Cap Moderne.

When I completed my novel Loving Le Corbusier, one of the things I was most conscious of was that, although it was a work of fiction, the main characters were real. Most had died, of course, but Robert was still alive. And so I contacted him in his home in Paris, and told him what I had written. I asked if he would like to read the scenes in which he appears and gulped when he said yes. Waiting was agony.

Young Robert with Le Corbusier & Yvonne (image: Fondation Le Corbusier)

Young Robert with Le Corbusier & Yvonne

At the beginning of the year, he wrote to apologise for taking so long getting back to me. He said that he had been interested in all the research I had done and said that, although he had not witnessed all of what I had written, it seemed ‘likely’. He wanted, however, to point out two mistakes I had made. The first was (and I shudder even at the memory of it) a simple typo – I had called E-1027 E-1017. The other was that I mentioned Jean Badovici’s girlfriend Madeleine coming to the Ėtoile de Mer and he told me that by the 1950s Jean had a different girlfriend. I knew this but had decided to keep Madeleine simply because it was only one scene and it seemed complicated to introduce someone else after her character had become so familiar in the war years. But after Robert had pointed it out, I decided I must correct it, and added in Mireille, the real girlfriend of the time.

the roof and beyond, Le Corbusier's cabanon

the roof and beyond, Le Corbusier’s cabanon

I was incredibly moved that Robert had read my words. I kept thinking how fond Yvonne had been of him, and that he had been one of the last people to see Le Corbusier alive. And so I was saddened to learn that he died a month after writing to me, before the novel was published. I wish he had lived to see the UNESCO listing of Le Corbusier’s work but I suspect he knew it would happen.

He has left a fabulous legacy, supporting Cap Moderne, and handing over ownership of the Ėtoile de Mer so that it will be preserved forever. If you read French then I can recommend his memoir Robertino, l’apprenti de Le Corbusier, written by Louise Doutreligne, which was published last year. And if you’re in the south of France then do visit  Cap Moderne (and check out the photos on its website). It’s a paradise that echoes to the many voices of the past and it will always shine brightly in my mind.


Categories: Architecture, WritingTags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. It sounds like heaven!
    And, oh the views …
    How wonderful of Robert to read your book and to give you feedback as well. He sounds like a true creative.
    On reading ‘Loving Le Corbusier’ one of the many great things that stood out for me was all the research you must have done. It really shines through and adds depth, insight and colour to this fascinating tale.

    • Thank you – it’s difficult to know just how much research to to put in (and more importantly, leave out) but it’s vital, and such a pleasure. That final ‘okay’ from Robert was important for me. After all, he knew Yvonne and I’m not sure what I would’ve done if he had said, no, she wasn’t like that at all..!

      (I think Roquebrune has become my soul-place now.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted

eme de moca

Architecture, experiences, design, moca...


Literary Geography

UNSW Built Environment's Blog

Information from students and staff at Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.

joe moran's words

on the everyday, the banal and other important matters

a little bit of Ingrid

the little things, the little moments...they aren't little!

French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.

Wee Notions

Notes on a napkin


If you don't look around once in a while, you might miss it - Ferris Bueller's Day Off

by Philip Butler

Documenting Great Britain's surviving Art Deco & early modernist architecture one photograph at a time.

The Secret Bookseller

The Secret Bookseller is a blog written by an Independent Bookshop Manager about running a bookshop, publishing, customers and bookselling



Rebecca Renner

Journalist | Essayist | Fiction Writer

kidlat habagat

Portraits of Urban life

Heritage Calling

A Historic England Blog

A Sense of Place

Ronnie Hughes

Jerry Coleby-Williams

Sustainable Gardening in our Continually Surprising Climate

Mathieu Proctor

Urban Planning + Design

The Australian Ugliness?

Continuing Robin Boyd's provocations about aesthetics in Australia

Savidge Reads

The Chronicles of a Book Addict

Barnabas Calder

Raw Concrete: the Beauty of Brutalism

Ticket to Adventures

Travel blog from around the world, near and far.

Kelly Schuknecht

Writer, Editor, Publisher, Book Marketing Consultant

Write or Wrong

Uninspiration for the uninspired


architecture for travellers



...Irishpisky.... an oldish chap sees the world...

The worlds biggest fridge magnet

The simple musings of a Post Bariatric Surgery, self confessed fat bloke

Half Baked In Paradise

Searching, settling, sauteeing and spritzing

Paris here and there

An insider's guide to Paris

The Wine Wankers

G’day, you’re at the best wine blog ever! We're all about wine; without the wankery.

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Bite The Book

Book Reviews and Views

Long Haul Lumière

Exploring our planet through neon-clad noise

%d bloggers like this: