Thomas, Egildo Rebutato, better known as “Robert”, was born in San Remo on 13 June 1907, and spent his childhood years in Beausoleil, a village close to the Principality of Monaco. A plumber and roofer by trade, he set up his own business in Nice in 1940. Of a rebellious nature, he found it no more than natural to join a group of Resistance fighters in the town until it was liberated on 27 August 1944. After the war, once the beaches became accessible again, he would take his wife Marguerite and their children Monique and Robert on summer Sundays to enjoy bathing on Buse beach at Roquebrune Cap-Martin.
A HUMBLE CABIN THAT BECAME A RESTAURANT
Thomas Rebutato dreams of buying a plot of land close to this beach and building a fisherman’s cabin in which to store his fishing tackle and picnic equipment.
An opportunity arose in 1947, in the form of a 1000 m² plot next to the modern “white villa” belonging to the Parisian architect, Jean Badovici. On this plot which slopes down to the rocks below the customs officers’ path, Thomas Rebutato then has the idea of building a small development of six 25 to 30 m² cabins, five of which he would sell, keeping one for himself. He contacts an architect in Nice and a prototype is built in 1948-49.
In 1949, unforeseen circumstances led him wind up his business and invest in his cabin prototype, converting it into a restaurant. The ‘Etoile de Mer - Chez Robert’ was born.
On opening day Thomas Rebutato, aided by his 12-year-old son Robert, sees his first customer arrive. A guest of Jean Badovici, he has come to negotiate board for about ten persons for a week. That man was none other than Le Corbusier.
In August 1950, he painted, on a wooden panel, a portrait of Thomas in a cap and cook’s apron, opposite André, the sea-urchin fisher. “At the Etoile de Mer friendship reigns” was to be the title of the work which he gave his friend, who hung it up on the wall of the bar-restaurant. He was later to frame it with a mural.
In July 1952, Le Corbusier installed his Cabanon on the adjacent plot; it had been prefabricated in Corsica by the joinery firm Barberis. After securing the Rebutatos’ consent to its being placed right up against the Etoile de Mer, the architect installed a communicating door between the two buildings.
Once the Cabanon had been completed, Le Corbusier painted a mural at the entrance. On the other side of the wall in which the communicating door had been installed between the Cabanon and the Etoile de Mer, another of his paintings depicts the Rebutato family. Le Corbusier offered to buy from Robert the plot on which he had built the Cabanon in exchange for the construction of 5 holiday cottages on one of the pétanque pitches on the Rebutatos’ land. These are spartan but functional dwelling units whose design was based on the same principles as the Cabanon. They were erected on stilts, by Barberis, during the summer of 1957. The notarial transfer-of property-act was signed in January 1961.
From 1957 to 1970, Thomas and Marguerite used the cottages as accommodation for holidaymakers
Thomas died in February 1971, at the age of 63, leaving Marguerite to carry on running the business on her own. The restaurant closed down but the Etoile de Mer continued to provide furnished accommodation in the holiday cottages, allowing guests to use the kitchens that Thomas had installed under the stilts, as well as ablution facilities. The bar remained open, selling drinks and sandwiches, until Marguerite died in 1987.