In 1952 and 1953, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor bought a home, but they also leased a home. They purchased the Moulin de la Tuilerie, known as The Mill, where they would spend their weekends and summers, and they leased 4 route du Champ d’Entraînement, now known as Villa Windsor, as well. It had become clear that their dreams of ever returning to England would not come true, and now they needed to make a home somewhere.
In June 1952, they learned that the painter Etienne Drian had put his estate up for sale, and they went to visit the village of Gif-sur-Yvette to inspect the property that would be known as the Mill. The estate was 26 acres, divided in half by the river Merantaise and four stone buildings had been converted into lodgings. They soon fell in love with it and purchased it the following month for 80,000 US dollars. It would be the only property they owned outright during their marriage. The largest of the four buildings would be their main residence, and Wallis immediately set about fitting it with modern appliances. The gardens around the Mill were especially loved by the Duke. He later wrote that he could “garden as one should, in old clothes, with one’s hands, among familiar plants.”1
On 22 June 19532, they signed the lease on Villa Windsor in the Bois de Boulogne, just 15 minutes by car from the centre of Paris. Villa Windsor had two acres of gardens with tall hedges and a railing – to ensure their privacy. It also came at an excellent price – the French government let them lease it for a token rent of 50 US dollars per year.
Wallis called on the help of interior designer Stephane Boudin. Author Valentine Lawford later wrote of the villa, “It is hard to believe that there can ever have been an interior more surpassingly clean – where crystal was more genuinely scintillating and porcelain more luminous, or where wood and leather, polished to the consistency of precious stone, could more truthfully be said to shine.”3
They each had a suite of rooms on the second floor. This was separated by a boudoir that overlooked the garden, and that is where they met each morning, had tea in the afternoon and ate dinner on trays, if they were not entertaining. The Duke’s bedroom was a re-creation of the one he had at Fort Belvedere.
It was in this villa that both the Duke and Duchess would eventually pass away.
In her memoirs, Wallis wrote of rebuilding their lives, “Now of an afternoon as I sit on the terrace, watching David as he moved from plant to plant with his Alsatian gardener, checking the growth of each, I often think of how well he has succeeded in making a new life for both of us – not quite the kind of life we envisaged back at Wasserleonburg4, but still one that is good.”5