The Most Parisian Of Palaces
Preserve and reveal the best of the past while setting the stage for a brilliant future. That was the challenge of the four-year-long renovation of the Hotel Lutetia, an iconic luxury hotel in Paris, and the only one of its caliber on the city’s Left Bank. Opened in 1910 to host clients of the nearby Bon Marché department store, the Lutetia became the meeting place of choice for the colorful denizens of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Its creamy, Art Nouveau walls and popular Brasserie discreetly welcomed merchants and musicians, debutantes, and the demi-monde. James Joyce wrote "Ulysses" while staying at the Lutetia. A young army officer named Charles de Gaulle spent his wedding night there. But by the turn of the millennium, the Lutetia was sorely in need of refreshment to bring it up to today’s standards for the top-rated hotels in Paris while preserving its historic beauty.
To accomplish this, the hotel’s owners, Alrov Properties & Hospitality, turned to Wilmotte & Associés, a prestigious Parisian firm with deep experience in five-star hospitality and an impeccable French pedigree. "This hotel really belongs to Paris," says Alfred Akirov, the chairman of Alrov. “I wanted an architect who understood and respected that.” The first challenge was to open up the building’s structure, to bathe the interior spaces with natural light. Out went the roof over a ground-floor restaurant to reveal a soaring interior courtyard paneled in period-perfect white Métro tile and decorated with a sparkling cream-and-gold mosaic of a sailing ship on the high seas—the symbol of the city of Paris.
This hotel really belongs to Paris. I wanted an architect who understood and respected that.
A Seamless Blend Of New And Old
The courtyard is now the heart of the Lutetia’s public area, surrounded by light-filled spaces for dining, drinking, reading and relaxing. Natural light also pours into the underground pool and spa area, and into the painstakingly redesigned and renovated guest rooms. Meanwhile, researchers pored over decades of old blueprints, photos and sketches to gain a feel for the Lutetia’s history and heritage. This led to some remarkable discoveries, such as the delicate, classical-themed ceiling frescoes hidden under thick layers of paint in what was the breakfast room at the front of the hotel. The frescoes have been restored to their original splendor and the room is now the lively Bar Joséphine, named for the American jazz singer Josephine Baker, who was a frequent guest.
As the decoration took shape, treasures from the Lutetia’s extensive art collection started appearing around every corner: sculpture by Philippe Hiquily, paintings by Arman. A vibrant stained-glass mural by the artist Fabrice Hyber, inspired by the hotel’s colorful history, adds a whimsical touch to the ceiling of the Saint-Germain restaurant and pairs perfectly with sleek bespoke furniture designed by Wilmotte in a timeless Art Deco style. The result is a seamless blend of new and old—an homage to the past and a promise that the best is yet to come. "The Lutetia is now what it was meant to be," says Isabelle Bouvier, general manager of the hotel. The renovation, she says, was meant "to restore all that was authentic while pushing into the 21st century. And it has succeeded, with joy."