There is no shortage of world-famous luxury hotels in Paris. In fact, within the official French government rating system, there exists a unique category, the Palace distinction, bestowed specifically on hotels that exceed five-star standards. Of the 31 properties in France with this lofty designation, 12 are in Paris.
But Le Meurice has the distinction of being the City of Light’s original Palace hotel, having first opened in 1835 in the über-exclusive First Arrondissement.
Dripping in Louis XVI-style opulence, the hotel—located right in front of the Tuileries Garden—has seen its fair share of illustrious guests. Royalty (Queen Victoria), Presidents (Franklin D. Roosevelt), legendary artists (Salvador Dalí), and Hollywood elites (Elizabeth Taylor) have called it their home-away-from-home. When it comes to hospitality icons, few are as beloved as Le Meurice.
So when it was time to usher in a new era via a multiphase refurbishment of its 160 guest rooms, the hotel made a surprising decision to assign the project to Studio Lally & Berger, an up-and-coming design agency in Lyon, founded by two young creatives: Margaux Lally and Luc Berger. Their selection was a massive departure from the last time Le Meurice geared up for a face-lift, when celebrated Paris native Philippe Starck was tasked with reimagining various public spaces between 2007 and 2016.
But for Le Meurice today, it was Lally & Berger’s youthful perspective that sealed the deal. “Luc and Margaux had the advantage of being young but at the same time very professional,” says Charles Jouffre, Le Meurice’s decade-long interior designer. “And it’s with their freshness that we were able to avoid falling into clichés.” Work on the hotel was one of the duo’s very first post-university projects.
The transformation of 29 rooms and suites—rates starting at $1,500 a night—has just been completed. This unveiling is the first part of a larger renovation plan for the hotel that will make over more rooms starting in 2020.
But through this initial phase of the redesign, Lally & Berger’s vision for Le Meurice’s future is immediately apparent. While the older spaces featured a heavy, old-world sense of luxury (think: thick drapes, dramatic floral prints, and Versailles-ready furniture), the refurbished units are brighter and more playful.
Of course, the foundation remains tethered to the Louis XVI aesthetic, but the newly added twists and tweaks breathe new life into that visual narrative. “We revisited the classical codes we found in the hotel’s other guest rooms,” Berger says. “But the idea [behind the new rooms] was to feel as if you are in the same hotel but in another era.”
You still have ornate chandeliers, sculpted decorative busts, gilded mirrors, abstract-pattern carpet, and the floor-to-ceiling marble bathrooms that reinforce the regal, 18th-century style for which Le Meurice is known. But eye-catching flourishes like vivid wallpaper featuring whimsical birds and white lattice headboards as well as swapping heavy silk for cashmere or using rustic wood furniture instead of more marble add rich texture to the decor—texture so unexpected that it might blur some of those historic lines.
“Our way of working is to define the codes of a space and to make it almost timeless,” Lally explains. “We want people to not be sure if they’re seeing decor from the past or from the future.”
This juxtaposition is perhaps most immediately visible in the showpiece of the renovation: the Belle Etoile suite. Visually, this over-the-top penthouse—which fetches $27,500 per night—is unlike any other in the building. A cool palette of blue, gray, and green provides a modest foundation for the suite’s 3,444-square-foot interior. Then, it’s all about a patchwork of handcrafted details: chevron-patterned parquet floor, dainty embroidery on broadcloth curtains, a sculptural chandelier made of glass palmettes (a subtle nod to the Tuileries just outside), and an Art Deco–inspired desk.
And the nearly all-marble bathroom with massive windows on three sides is one you could lose hours in. Everything was carefully selected—as if whoever is staying there was the one who put it all together with knickknacks and treasures collected over a lifetime of travels. “We wanted for each client to be able to take possession of the suite, as if it were their own apartment,” Berger says. “We imagined this suite like a Parisian town mansion, a place with character and personality.”
Prior to the renovation, many of the windows of the penthouse were blocked, but they’ve since been opened up not only to bathe the entire suite with light, but also to give guests a glimpse of Paris from every corner.
“You can be working with the Pompidou Centre in front of you; waking
up opposite Montmartre; putting on your makeup with a view of the column on the
Place Vendôme; having lunch while looking out over the Louvre or relaxing while
taking in the dome of the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower,” Berger adds. “This
gives a magical dimension to each daily gesture.”
Beyond the sharp design, it’s the Belle Etoile suite’s position—overlooking the city—that is most impressive. There is also a massive 3,229-square-foot wraparound terrace, under which nearly all of Paris is laid bare. “You have the impression that you’re all alone with the city at your feet,” Lally says of the surprisingly intimate ambience on the lush, beautifully manicured patio. “And it’s as if all Paris’s monuments were there just for you.”
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