In early April 1965, the Nivens were photographed at their Swiss home in Château-d’Oex by Italian women’s magazine Grazia. The resulting feature included rare glimpses of the inside of their chalet, about which almost nothing good has ever been written – except by David himself, who defended it as his “cuckoo-clock”.
A journey around the chalet
The 1965 photos show the chalet looking brighter and more homely than in David’s friends’ descriptions. It certainly had its less attractive aspects, but these photos may help to adjust your mental picture of the place.
Hjördis often got roped in with negative descriptions of the Niven homes, perhaps partly because she was tied to them rather more than David, who was usually off on his travels – a fact which he guiltily acknowledged to his Italian visitors.
“Niven is too busy to enjoy his chalet. The actor, who in the last three years has shot eight films in ten different countries, can never find the time to rest in his ‘retreat’ in Switzerland. The couple adopted two Swedish girls, Kristina who is now three and a half, and Fiona, twenty months. The actor spends the little free time with them which cinematic commitments leave.”
“The first floor of the villa opens into this vast library-lounge, fully lined with wood panels.”
For interest’s sake, the image below was taken in the same room almost thirty years later . The large painting and black figurine are still in-place. (And is that a needlepoint Niv on the mantlepiece?)
Anyway, pardon me, let’s get back to 1965:
“Even the bedroom walls are covered with wood,” the accompanying article said. “The house has five bathrooms (there are two guest bedrooms), and oil-fired central heating with radiators.”
As with their previous houses, Hjordis kept a separate bedroom as somewhere that she could assert her personality. “Hjördis’ room is a charming jumble of soft toys, perfume bottles, socks and chiffon scarves. David’s is factual and practical,” according to Vecko Revyn in 1961. Or, in other words, Hjördis’ room was cozy yet untidy, and David’s… wasn’t.
“The furnishings are inspired by simplicity. Some beautiful local handicrafts have been included, such as tables, cupboards, and rustic chairs. In the dining room, brightly patterned armchairs and a wheelbarrow full of flowers stand out against the solid colours of the wood panels and carpet.” [Hmmm… a wheelbarrow…]
“This chest, dated 1759, is decorated with bright village colours, and adorns the dining room. Above it hangs a picture executed by a local farmer.” [You do not surprise me].
The chest can also be seen, just about, on the far right of the colour dining room photo above.
“In the same room hangs the first – and perhaps only – painting by Prince Rainier of Monaco. As Grace Kelly and Hjördis Niven share the same birthday [nearly], the two couples, who have known one another for some time, celebrate the anniversary together. It was during one of these lunches that David Niven, an amateur painter, managed to persuade the prince to try out the brushes.”
No, it’s not the milkman, or delivery man, or gas-man, or plumber. It’s Bernardo the butler. Having his cooking sampled by Hjördis.