Renovating an historic grande dame hotel can be a daunting task. And when you are working with a Parisian building originally commissioned by Louis XV, the stakes are even higher. We learn how a team of French designers re-imagined the historic Hôtel de Crillon into a hotel that appealed to 21st century senses and sensibilities.
The long-anticipated reopening of the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris took place earlier this month. The result of the four-year renovation project is a refreshed property balancing historic conservation with 21st century transformation.
The process was painstaking. After all, this is an iconic place. The Neoclassical structure was commissioned by Louis XV in the 1750s, and became the residence of the Count de Crillon and family for years. It first transformed into a hotel in 1909 and it quickly became the place where fashionable Parisians celebrated the French art de vivre.
However, as the 20th century turned into the 21st, it became clear to the owners, members of the Saudi royal family, that this dowager needed a facelift. The owner’s representative and a handpicked project management team initiated the renovation of Hôtel de Crillon. They hired Richard Martinet as the chief architect, and assembled a team of Parisian-based master craftsmen, artisans and designers.
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts was also part of the process. According to the company’s president, Radha Arora, “Rosewood heard about the opportunity to operate the hotel about five years ago. We were driven to ensure that the property became part of our portfolio, because it would be a huge game-changer for us. The decision process took 18 months, but the owners ultimately liked our portfolio of unique hotels that focus on a sense of place.”
Arora notes that the renovation plan was already in action when Rosewood came into the picture in 2013. “We were brought on to guide the process and be a conduit to ensure the team worked together and articulated the vision in a seamless manner.”
That was no easy feat, as Artistic Director Aline Asmar d’Amman worked with three Paris-based designers to inject a modern attitude and a touch of Parisian irreverence into the guest rooms and public spaces, all the while preserving a sense of history. Renowned couturier Karl Lagerfeld was also brought in to design Les Grands Appartements.
Part of the main design team was Chahan Minassian, who normally works on high-end custom residences, chateaus and private yachts. He was responsible for re-envisioning Les Ambassadeurs (once a restaurant, now a bar); Jardin d’Hiver, a public space for a tête-à-tête and tea; L’Ecrin, a fine dining restaurant; Sense, a Rosewood Spa; the swimming pool; and several signature suites.
“French designers were specifically chosen because of our aesthetic and the cultural feeling that only locals understand as everyday life in Paris,” says Minassian. “Everybody did his own signature, but with knowledge of the general layout of the hotel. That being said, there is a continuity and homogeneity to the color scheme, so there is a flow from one space to another.”
“We were challenged by keeping historical obligations and bringing them forward with a new modern version,” says Minassian. In the suites he designed, he “curated various elements of old and new to create a sense of timeliness. I used luxurious, haute couture fabrics, and mixed 1940s furnishing with contemporary elements.”
Through the building, he says, “Timeliness was a key objective, but we didn’t want boring or literal historical recreations. We respected history, but needed to bring novelty and local know-how – that certain je ne sais quoi – to the design.”
Les Ambassadeurs is a perfect illustration of the transformation concept. The former restaurant was turned into a 60-seat cocktail lounge featuring a horseshoe-shaped bar. Minassian says lush carpets were brought in to temper the noise, and the decor “needed to be dressed down a bit” to make the room a bit more cozy.
Entering the Hôtel de Crillon is meant to feel like walking into the home of a sophisticated Parisian. According to Minassian, “Making the hotel feel like a comfortable home was a vital part of the vision. The objective was to make the public space like the French Embassy, a home for visitors and Parisians alike. We wanted visitors and French people intermingling in the public areas so people can understand what Parisians like and how they live.”
According to Rosewood’s Arora, the challenge was greater than first expected. “These types of building projects have to take into account strict laws and heritage regulations. The French rules are very particular regarding historic buildings, and we had to work closely with local authorities. We expected the project to take three years, maximum. But as you dig into a property such as this, you find new crevices and areas that have to be protected. The process was painstakingly slow, but the results speak for themselves.”
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Photo credit: A deluxe suite at the renovated Hotel de Crillon in Paris. Rosewood Hotels / Rosewood Hotels